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Kurns v. Chesterton

February 3, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Goldberg, J.


This case involves state law tort claims brought by plaintiffs, George Corson, and his wife, Freda Jung Corson, alleging that Mr. Corson had been exposed to asbestos products over the course of his twenty-eight year career as a machinist/welder for the Milwaukee Road Railroad.*fn1 The lawsuit asserts that Mr. Corson, who passed away subsequent to the filing of the complaint, contracted mesothelioma through exposure to defendants' products.

Presently before the Court are defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment, which assert that plaintiff's claims for products liability and negligence are preempted by federal law.*fn2 Plaintiff contends that preemption does not apply and further argues that this Court is bound by a Pennsylvania state court's previous denial of summary judgment in this case. For the reasons stated herein, defendants' motions will be granted.


On June 13, 2007, plaintiffs initiated suit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas against fifty-nine defendants. On January 29, 2008, Mr. Corson died from mesothelioma, a cancer that his expert attributed to his lifelong occupational exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing products. On May 13, 2008, the case was removed to this Court. As the remaining plaintiff, Mrs. Corson seeks in excess of $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.*fn3

Presently, the only remaining defendants are Railroad Friction Products Corporation [hereinafter "RFPC"] and Viad Corporation [hereinafter "Viad"]. Plaintiff alleges that RFPC manufactured/sold brake pads containing asbestos that were installed by plaintiff. Plaintiff further alleges that Viad was a successor in interest to Baldwin Locomotive, which manufactured/sold engine valves, also installed by plaintiff. The locomotive products plaintiff allegedly came in contact with - brake pads and engine valves, and the work plaintiff performed as a machinist/welder, are important factors in resolving the pending motions.


This court must view the evidence presented by the parties in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the non-moving party in this instance. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc. 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992). If, after examining "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits," the court finds there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact," then "the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving parties must carry the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, entitling the defendants to summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). If the defendants are able to meet their burden, the plaintiffs must go beyond the pleadings to set forth "specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2).

A motion for summary judgment must be granted against a party that fails to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, because such a failure as to an essential element necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23. If there is only one reasonable conclusion from the record regarding the potential verdict under the governing law, summary judgment must be awarded to the moving party. Id.


A. Federal Preemption

Federal preemption is premised upon the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, which states, "[t]his Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land...any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding. U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2. The Supreme Court has interpreted the Supremacy Clause as invalidating all state laws that interfere with, or are contrary to, federal law. Hillsborough County v. Automated Med. Labs., 471 U.S. 707, 712 (1985) (quoting Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (9 Wheat. 1, 211), (1824)). As a result, a federal preemption analysis always starts with a question of congressional intent, and then proceeds to a discussion of state law interaction with the federal law or regulation. English v. Gen. Elec. Co., 496 U.S. 72, 78-79 (1990). See also Medtronic v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470, 485 (1996) ('[t]he purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone' in every preemption case).

Defendants RFPC and Viad maintain that they are entitled to summary judgment because Congress intended to occupy the field of regulation regarding locomotives and locomotive parts and equipment. Both defendants rely on the Boiler Inspection Act, 49 U.S.C. § 20701, (now known as the Locomotive Inspection Act, but historically referred to as the "BIA") as the statute that Congress intended to preempt all state law regulating locomotives and locomotive parts used in interstate commerce. (Defs. RFPC and Viad's Memo. of Law in Support of Mot. for Sum. J., pp. 2, 11).

In pertinent part, the BIA states: "A railroad carrier may use or allow to be used a locomotive or tender on its railroad line only when the locomotive or tender and its parts and appurtenances - (1) are in proper condition and safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal injury." 49 U.S.C. § 20701 (1994). The Supreme Court has held that the BIA (along with the "Safety Appliance Act"*fn4 , or "SAA") was enacted to serve the congressional purpose of protecting "employees and others by ...

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