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Shamir v. Agilent Technologies

April 5, 2010

RUTH SHAMIR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AGILENT TECHNOLOGIES, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

Consolidated Under

MDL DOCKET No 875

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff, Ruth Shamir, commenced this action on behalf of her deceased husband, Mordechai Shamir, for his exposure to asbestos-containing products. Mr. Shamir died of mesothelioma on April 7, 2007. (Pl.'s Br. 2.) Plaintiff brought the action against Hewlett-Packard and Agilent Technologies (collectively "HP") as successors in interest to the original manufacturers of the products in question. (Pl.'s Br. 1.) On January 5, 2010, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that this claim is barred by the New Jersey Workers' Compensation Act ("NJWCA") by virtue of Mr. Shamir's status as an employee of HP during the time of the exposure. Before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss, and Plaintiff's response in opposition to Defendant's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

The products in question are gas chromatographs that contain thermal conductivity detectors and electric wiring, both of which were insulated by asbestos. Beginning in 1961, a company called F&M Scientific Company (F&M) began manufacturing these devices. In 1965, HP acquired F&M and F&M was merged out of existence. HP took over the manufacturing of the devices and continued to develop the line of business it acquired from F&M. In 1999, HP separated this part of its operations to create Agilent, currently the world's largest manufacturer and distributor of gas chromatograph columns.

Mr. Shamir was hired by HP in 1966 as an electronics technician. In 1968, he became a lead electronics technician in the HP repair center in Paramus, New Jersey, where he worked until 1973. He was then promoted to engineer, and retired as an employee of Agilent in 2001. During his tenure at the repair center, his job was to repair the thermal conductivity detectors that were manufactured by F&M. He was responsible for unpacking, disassembling, cleaning, and re-insulating the devices, and was exposed to dust and fiber during each of these stages.

Plaintiff asserts that Mr. Shamir's injuries were caused by products that were manufactured by F&M and put into the stream of commerce before HP acquired F&M. Therefore, Plaintiff seeks to hold HP liable as successors in interest to the manufacturer, and argues that this claim is not barred by the NJWCA because of HP's "dual capacity" as both a manufacturer and an employer. Plaintiff concedes that New Jersey courts have reached divergent results when applying the dual capacity doctrine, but notes that they have applied it to circumstances that are factually similar to the instant case. In sum, Plaintiff asks this court to deny Defendants' motion to dismiss or, alternatively, to delay a ruling until discovery can be completed regarding the manufacturing of the injurious products at issue.

Defendants, in response, argue that the injuries alleged fall within the purview of the NJWCA because they were "arising out of and in the course of employment." N.J.S.A. § 34:15-7. Defendants assert that the dual capacity doctrine is disfavored, and perhaps even inapplicable, under New Jersey law. Because Mr. Shamir's claims fall under the workers' compensation statute, Defendants argue, Plaintiff's exclusive remedy is exists under the provisions of the NJWCA. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted and Plaintiff's claim is dismissed.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the Court must "accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party," however, the Court need not credit bald assertions and legal conclusions. DeBenedictis v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., 492 F.3d 209, 215 (3d Cir. 2007) (quotation ommitted); Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that the complaint's "'[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise the right to relief above the speculative level.'") (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 & n.3 (2007)).

The Supreme Court recently expounded on the standard for dismissal, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). Iqbal established that in order "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570 (2007)).

III. ANALYSIS

The dual capacity doctrine is an exception to the immunity statutorily conferred on employers in exchange for their presumed liability for work related injuries. This exception, however, is not easily obtained. "The unmistakable intention of the legislature was that the sole liability of an employer for a work related injury of an employee was that provided in the Act." Holliday v. Personal Products Co., 939 F. Supp. 402, 409 (E.D. Pa. 1996), aff'd without opinion, 114 F.3d 1172 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting Ramos v. Browning Ferris Indus. of South Jersey, Inc., 510 A.2d 1152, 1155 (N.J. 1986)). New Jersey courts have favored an "economic reality" approach over the dual capacity doctrine. See Volb v. G.E. Capital Corp., 651 A.2d 1002, 1008 (N.J. Sup. Ct. 1995) (holding that the "corporate identity of affiliated corporations should not be disregarded"). The economic reality approach provides that if the alleged tortfeasor is "in fact the same corporate entity as the employer," the tort claim is barred ...


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