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Kurns v. A.W. Chesterton Inc.

September 9, 2010

GLORIA GAIL KURNS, EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF GEORGE M. CORSON, DECEASED; FREIDA E JUNG CORSON, WIDOW IN HER OWN RIGHT
v.
A.W. CHESTERTON INC., ET AL.; BOC INC., AIRCO WELDERS SUPPLY INC.; RAILROAD FRICTION PRODUCTS CORPORATION; VIAD CORP. GLORIA GAIL KURNS; FREIDA E. JUNG CORSON, APPELLANTS



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Civil No. 08-2216) District Judge: Hon. Mitchell S. Goldberg.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chagares, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued January 11, 2010

Before: RENDELL, AMBRO, and CHAGARES, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Appellants Gloria Gail Kurns and Freida E. Jung Corson brought suit on behalf of the decedent, George M. Corson, asserting a number of state law causes of action related to his alleged exposure to asbestos during his years employed by a railroad company. While the suit was filed in state court, the matter was removed to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, and the District Court granted the appellees Viad Corporation and Railroad Friction Products Corporation's motions for summary judgment, holding that the plaintiffs' claims were all preempted by the Locomotive Inspection Act, 49 U.S.C. § 20701, et seq. ("LIA"). The plaintiffs appeal from the District Court's entry of summary judgment on behalf of the appellees and argue that their claims are not preempted by federal law. For the reasons set forth below, we will affirm.

I.

From 1947 to 1994, George M. Corson (the "decedent") worked as a welder, machinist, and supervisor for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, & Pacific Railroad. He was employed at different facilities in Montana and South Dakota. Much of his job involved removing insulation from locomotive boilers and putting brake shoes on the locomotives. The plaintiffs claim that throughout this time period, the decedent was repeatedly exposed to asbestos from the insulation and the brake shoes. After his retirement, the decedent was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, the only known cause of which is exposure to asbestos. He passed away after the initiation of this litigation, and is represented by both his widow and the executor of his estate.

The plaintiffs sued the two appellees, as well as a number of other defendants (fifty-nine defendants in all), in Pennsylvania state court, seeking to recover compensatory and punitive damages for the harmful effects to the decedent's health resulting from his exposure to asbestos. The plaintiffs alleged that the decedent installed brake pads containing asbestos that were manufactured and sold by Railroad Friction Products Corporation ("RFPC"). They further alleged that Viad was a successor in interest to a different company that manufactured and sold engine valves, also containing asbestos, which the decedent installed. Viad moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiffs' claims were preempted by federal law, but the state court denied that motion. All of the defendants then moved for summary judgment on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence linking their products to the decedent's exposure to asbestos. The state court granted these motions with regard to all of the defendants except Viad and RFPC.

The plaintiffs brought this case in state court because one of the other original defendants defeated diversity jurisdiction, but when the state court granted that defendant's motion for summary judgment and that party was released from the case, there was complete diversity of citizenship between the parties. At that point, Viad and RFPC removed the case to the District Court. Once in federal court, the defendants again filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiffs' claims were preempted by federal law.

On February 5, 2009, the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of RFPC and Viad, holding that the plaintiffs' state law product liability tort claims were preempted by federal law, namely the LIA.*fn1 The District Court held that the LIA occupies the field of regulating locomotives and locomotive parts used in interstate commerce based on the Supreme Court's decision in Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co., 272 U.S. 605, 613 (1926), in which the court explained that the LIA occupies the field of locomotive equipment.*fn2 The District Court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that federal law only preempted state regulations involving locomotives which were "in use" at the time, and that since their case involved the actual installation, repair, and removal of locomotive parts, federal preemption did not apply. The Court held that there was no indication in the law that Congress intended to make such a distinction. Finally, the Court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the Federal Railroad Safety Act ("FRSA") materially abrogated the scope of federal preemption of the entire field of railroad parts. The Court held that the FRSA had not changed the scope of LIA preemption to such an extent that it would no longer preempt the plaintiffs' claims.

The plaintiffs filed a timely appeal from the District Court's order.

II.

The District Court had diversity jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). This Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We review a district court's order granting summary judgment under a plenary standard of review. Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276 (3d Cir. 2002). Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we view all evidence in the light most ...


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