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Riggs v. Mead Corp.

August 12, 2010

REBEKAH RIGGS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MEAD CORP. ET AL., DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Rebekah Riggs ("Plaintiff") commenced this wrongful death action on behalf of her deceased husband, Farrell Riggs ("Decedent"), for his exposure to asbestos or asbestos-containing products for which the various defendants are allegedly liable. Defendant MW Custom Papers, LLC ("Defendant"), the successor in interest to named defendant The Mead Corporation ("Mead") moves for summary judgment on two grounds. First, Defendant asserts that the corporate form and Alabama's shareholder immunity defense bar Plaintiff's claims. Second, Defendant contends that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the one-year statute of limitations that applies to all cases of asbestos exposure prior to May 1979. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed this action asserting claims for the wrongful death of Decedent who allegedly suffered from asbestosis. Plaintiff alleges that Decedent's disease was caused by exposure to asbestos or asbestos-containing products during his employment at the Cement Asbestos Products Company ("CAPCO") facility in Ragland, Alabama (the "Ragland Facility"). (See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 2.) Decedent was employed as a machinist at CAPCO from 1977-1980.*fn1 (See Pl.'s Mem. at 3.)

Defendant is the successor in interest to Mead. (See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 1.) Plaintiff's claims against Mead arise because it was a shareholder of CAPCO from 1968 until 1974.*fn2 (See Pl.'s Mem. at 3.) At all relevant times, CAPCO owned and operated the Ragland Facility where it manufactured products made from a combination of cement and asbestos. (See id. at 4.) Defendant argues that a mere ownership interest cannot give rise to products or premises liability claims, as it is shielded by the corporate form. (See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 3-5 (citing to Gilbert v. James Russell Motors, Inc., 812 So. 2d 1269, 1273 (Ala. Civ. App. 2001) ("corporate structure is intended to protect shareholders and officers from liability arising from the operation of the corporation")).

Defendant moved for summary judgment on two grounds. First, Defendant asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff fails to demonstrate how Mead, as a corporate shareholder of CAPCO, is liable for Decedent's injuries. (See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 3.) Second, assuming that Mead is liable for any injuries stemming from its ownership of CAPCO, Defendant contends that any claim is barred by the applicable Alabama statute of limitations. (Id. at 5.)

Plaintiff contends that Mead voluntarily assumed a duty of safety at the Ragland Facility and was negligent in exercising those duties. (See Pl.'s Mem. at 6.) Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Mead "voluntarily asserted control over safety and industrial hygiene programs at the [Ragland] facility" and that Mead's liability extends beyond the sale of its ownership interests. (Id. at 7, 9.)

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A. APPLICABLE LAW

This matter is before the Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. This case was originally filed in the Alabama Circuit Court in St. Clair County, Alabama. It was removed to the Northern District of Alabama and was subsequently consolidated under MDL-875 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

1. Procedural Law

The Court, as the MDL transferee court, will apply federal procedural law as interpreted by the Third Circuit, the circuit where the transferee court sits. See Various Plaintiffs v. Various Defendants (Oil Field Cases), 673 F. Supp. 2d 358, 362 (E.D. Pa. 2009) (citing In re Korean Air Lines Disaster of Sept. 1, 1983, 829 F.2d 1171, 1178 (D.C. Cir. 1987)). Therefore, the Court will apply Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) as interpreted by the Third Circuit.

2. Substantive Law

In applying substantive law, the transferee court must distinguish between matters of federal and state law. Where the Court has jurisdiction based upon diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, the Court will apply state substantive law as determined by the choice of law analysis required by the state in which the action was filed, in this case Alabama. See id. at 362-63 (citing Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 639 (1964) (evaluating applicable law after change of venue under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1404(a)); In re Dow Sarabond ...


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