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In re TMI

July 18, 1996

IN RE: TMI

DOROTHY L. ALDRICH; FAITH ALLEMAN; PHILIP ANGELI; MICHAEL J. ANOKA; RUTH V. ANOKA; CATHERINE J. BALINOSKY; REGIS E. BEASLEY; LOUIS BORDA; BETTY MARIE BOYLESTEIN; GEORGE L. BOYLESTEIN; SHIRLEAN BURHANAN; RUTH E. BUTLER; FRANK J. CAKA; SUSAN H. CHYNOWETH; DANIEL M. CHYNOWETH; CATHERINE COSTELLO; JOHN T. COSTELLO; MARTHA A. COSTIK; RICHARD N. COSTIK; MARY MARGARET EARHART; EDWARD FERGUSON; MARCO G. GLAD, JR.; LINDA I. GLAD; BARBARA GRANDON;HELEN M. HANK; EDWARD JOHN HERTZOG; MARIE H. HERTZOG; DIANNE HINDERMYER; GEORGE VANCE HITZ; MARJORIE B. HITZ; CAROL C. HOCH; LOUIS A. HOCH; ESTATE OF ROBERT P. HOLMES; THELMA M. NAGY; BARRY OBERCASH; GEORGEANN PRISTELLO; JAMES J. PRISTELLO; JAMIE LYNN PRISTELLO; KENNETH R. SNYDER; PATRICIA SOUTHARD; JOSEPH STEWART; CHARLOTTE EVELYN STEWART,

APPELLANTS



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

(D.C. Civil Action No. 88-cv-01452)

Before: SCIRICA, McKEE and SAROKIN, Circuit Judges

SCIRICA, Circuit Judge.

Argued May 1, 1995

(Filed July 18, l996)

OPINION OF THE COURT

In the wake of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979, more than two thousand individuals brought suit for personal injuries. The forty-two plaintiffs in this appeal missed Pennsylvania's two year limitations date, and filed suit in Mississippi in order to fall within that state's six year statute of limitations. These plaintiffs now challenge the retroactive application of the choice of law provision of the Price-Anderson Amendments Act of 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-408, 102 Stat. 1066. Retroactive application of the choice of law provision would require application of Pennsylvania's statute of limitations to all actions arising from the Three Mile Island accident and would bar plaintiffs' claims filed in Mississippi. Plaintiffs argue retroactive application of the choice of law provision violates federal constitutional guarantees of due process. Alternatively they argue that even if the Pennsylvania statute of limitations applies, Pennsylvania law provides for a grace period in which to file their claims. Because retroactive application of the choice of law provision was a rational exercise of Congress' legislative power, we hold it does not violate due process. Additionally, we hold Pennsylvania law does not provide for a grace period under the circumstances of this case.

The same plaintiffs also challenge summary judgment rendered against them in actions they filed in Pennsylvania state court after the two year limitation date. They assert the statute of limitations should have been tolled under Pennsylvania law. Because plaintiffs have failed to raise a material issue of fact, we will affirm summary judgment.

I. Facts and Procedural History

On March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear power facility located near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania released radiation into the atmosphere. As a result, thousands of area residents and businesses filed suit against the owners and operators of the facility, alleging various injuries. *fn1 In 1985, each of the forty-two plaintiffs involved in this appeal filed suit in Pennsylvania state court, Mississippi state court, and Mississippi federal court to recover for personal injuries allegedly suffered in the incident. The Mississippi actions were filed within that state's six year statute of limitations for personal injury actions.

In September 1986, defendants moved for summary judgment in plaintiffs' Pennsylvania state court actions contending each claim related to health problems diagnosed more than two years before plaintiffs commenced their suits. The Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania entered summary judgment for defendants, finding plaintiffs' claims barred by Pennsylvania's two year statute of limitations. In re TMI Litig. Cases Consolidated II, No. 426 S (1985) (Dauphin Co. February 20, 1987); In re TMI Litig. Cases Consolidated II, No. 426 S (1985) (Dauphin Co. July 6, 1987). The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed. In re TMI Litig. Cases Consolidated II, No. 00426 Harrisburg 1987 (Pa. Super. July 15, 1988).

Subsequently, Congress enacted the Price-Anderson Amendments Act of 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-408, 102 Stat. 1066, which created a federal cause of action--the "public liability action"--for injuries resulting from nuclear incidents, 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 2014(hh) (1988), *fn2 and provided for jurisdiction over and the consolidation of such actions in the federal district court in the district where the accident occurred, 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 2210(n)(2). *fn3 Defendants removed the Pennsylvania and Mississippi state cases to federal court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 2210(n)(2). At the time of removal of the Pennsylvania state cases, the time to appeal the grant of summary judgment to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had not yet expired. The Mississippi federal actions were transferred to the Middle District of Pennsylvania pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 1404(a).

After consolidation of the cases in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment with respect to the Mississippi state and federal court actions on the grounds that plaintiffs' claims were untimely under the Price-Anderson Amendments Act of 1988. Section 11(b) of the Amendments Act, the choice of law provision (codified at 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 2014(hh) (1988)), provides that "the substantive rules of decision in [any public liability action] shall be derived from the law of the State in which the nuclear incident involved occurs."Section 20(b) of the Amendments Act, the effective date provision (codified as a note to 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 2014), provides that "the amendments made by Section 11" of the Amendments Act "shall apply to nuclear incidents occurring before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this Act." 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 2014 note (emphasis added). The district court held that Section(s) 20(b), read in conjunction with Section(s) 11(b), compels retroactive application of Pennsylvania's two year statute of limitations to the causes of action brought by the plaintiffs, mandating the dismissal of the Mississippi state and federal cases as time barred. In re TMI Litig. Cases Consol. II, No. 88-1452, slip. op. at 2-6 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 16, 1993). Plaintiffs do not dispute this reading of the Amendments Act on appeal.

Plaintiffs asserted before the district court that retroactive application of the choice of law provision would violate constitutional guarantees of due process. They also argued that Pennsylvania law, incorporated as federal law by the Amendments Act, would provide a grace period in which to file their claims. The district court rejected both arguments, id. at 15-20, and plaintiffs now appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment.

The district court also adopted the prior judgment rendered by the Court of Common Pleas against plaintiffs in the Pennsylvania state cases. Id. at 23. Plaintiffs sought reconsideration of the grant of summary judgment, arguing that under the intervening holding of the Pennsylvania Superior Court in Marinari v. Asbestos Corp., 612 A.2d 1021 (Pa. Super. 1992), their claims arising from "second injuries" should not have been dismissed. *fn4 Upon reconsideration, the district court ordered plaintiffs to specify which plaintiffs had "second injuries" subject to the Marinari rule. In re TMI Litig. Cases Consol. II, No. 88-1452, slip. op. at 13 (M.D. Pa. June 1, 1994). On July 12, 1994, the parties entered into a stipulation that Marinari did not relate to the "initial injury" claims which were the subject of defendants' motion for summary judgment and that any "second injury" claims would be treated in a separate class action. In re TMI Litig. Cases Consol. II, No. 88-1452 (M.D. Pa. July 14, 1994). The district court then entered summary judgment against plaintiffs on the "initial injury" claims and dismissed them as time barred. In re TMI Litig. Cases Consol. II, No. 88-1452 (M.D. Pa. July 22, 1994). Plaintiffs appeal this order, arguing the statute of limitations had not expired on "initial injury" claims.

The district court had jurisdiction over these "public liability actions" under 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 2210(n)(2), and we exercise jurisdiction over the district court's final orders under 28 U.S.C. 1291. Our review of the district court's grant of summary judgment is plenary. See F.D.I.C. v. Bathgate, 27 F.3d 850, 860 (3d Cir. 1994).

II. Statutory Construction

The district court held the language of Section(s) 20(b) is unambiguous and "by its very terms clearly requires the retroactive application of all of the provisions of Section(s) 11, including the choice of law provision." In re TMI Litig. Cases Consol. II, No. 88-1452, slip. op. at 3 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 16, 1993). Although plaintiffs have not challenged the district court's reading of the Amendments Act on appeal, we exercise plenary review of the district court's construction of the Act. Moody v. Sec. Pac. Business Credit, Inc., 971 F.2d 1056, 1063 (3d Cir. 1992).

Section 20(b) unambiguously calls for the retroactive application of the choice of law provision in Section(s) 11(b). The choice of law provision in turn provides that "the substantive rules for decision" shall be derived from Pennsylvania law. Since the statute of limitations is a substantive rule of decision, Menichini v. Grant, 995 F.2d 1224, 1228 n.2 (3d Cir. 1993); 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. Section(s) 5524 (1981), we believe the Pennsylvania statute of limitations applies retroactively to plaintiffs' causes of action filed in Mississippi. *fn5 Congress could have exempted statutes of limitations from retroactive application, but it did not. Accordingly, plaintiffs' Mississippi causes of action are time-barred, unless some constraint imposed by the Constitution or state law prevents this result. *fn6

III. Due Process

The district court held the choice of law provision of the Price-Anderson Amendments Act requires application of Pennsylvania law, including the Pennsylvania statute of limitations, to the Mississippi state and federal cases. Plaintiffs argue the retroactive application of Pennsylvania's statute of limitations to bar properly filed and already pending causes of action ...


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