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Constantinides v. CBS Corp.

September 30, 2010

PETER & ELPIS CONSTANTINIDES PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CBS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



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

CONSOLIDATED UNDER

MDL 875

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is the report and recommendation ("R&R") issued by Chief Magistrate Judge Thomas J. Rueter, and joined by Magistrate Judges David R. Strawbridge and Elizabeth T. Hey ("the Panel"), and defendant CBS Corporation's ("Westinghouse") objections thereto. The Panel recommends that the Court deny CBS Corporation's motion for summary judgment.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

Peter Constantinides initiated this action in August 2008 in the Circuit Court of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County Florida, alleging negligence and strict liability claims against several defendants based on their failure to warn of the dangers associated with asbestos exposure. (R&R at 1). The case was subsequently removed the District Court and transferred to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as part of MDL-875, the consolidated asbestos personal injury multidistrict litigation.

Mr. Constantinides was diagnosed with Mesothelioma in 2007. (R&R at 2). His only lifetime exposure to asbestos occurred during fifteen months while he served in the United States Navy on the U.S.S. Iowa from 1954 to 1956. Id. Mr. Constantinides was employed as a fireman's apprentice and then as a fireman on the U.S.S. Iowa, where one of his main assignments was to work in the boiler room. Id. The boiler room contained numerous pipes and machinery encased in external asbestos insulation and/or containing gaskets and other internal parts which were encased in asbestos. Id.

Defendant Westinghouse*fn2 moved for summary judgment on two grounds. First, that plaintiffs had failed to establish causation, and second, that the United States Navy qualifies as a sophisticated purchaser under Florida law. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., doc. no. 99, at 2). The Panel denied Westinghouse's Motion for Summary Judgment on causation grounds, finding that plaintiff had raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Westinghouse's products caused his asbestos-related injuries. The Panel did not issue a ruling on the bare metal or sophisticated user defenses, as their referral order was limited to issues of causation.

Defendant Westinghouse raises two objections to the Panel's R&R. First, it objects to the Panel's finding that there remains a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the exposure at issue is attributable to Westinghouse products. (Def.'s Objects., doc. no. 154, at 1). Second, Westinghouse objects to the Panel's finding that the record supported a finding that Westinghouse products were the "but for" cause of the injury, as required by Florida law.

Defendant Westinghouse moves for summary judgment on two additional grounds. First, that Westinghouse is not responsible for asbestos insulation that it neither manufactured or applied to products, and second, that the United States Navy was a sophisticated user of asbestos, thereby breaking the causal chain between Westinghouse and Mr. Constantinides' injuries.

II. LEGAL STANDARD*fn3

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), "[a] judge of the Court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. A judge of the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." Id.

When evaluating a motion for summary judgment, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that the Court must grant judgment in favor of the moving party 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 . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). A fact is "material" if its existence or non-existence would affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of fact is "genuine" when there is sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving party regarding the existence of that fact. Id. at 248-49. "In considering the evidence, the court should draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party." El v. SEPTA, 479 F.3d 232, 238 (3d Cir. 2007).

"Although the initial burden is on the summary judgment movant to show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, 'the burden on the moving party may be discharged by showing-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case' when the nonmoving party bears the ultimate burden of proof." Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Singletary v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 266 F.3d 186, 192 n.2 (3d Cir. 2001)). Once the moving party has thus discharged its burden, the nonmoving party "may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must--by affidavits or as otherwise provided in [Rule 56]--set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2).

III. DISCUSSION

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1)(C), the Court must apply a de novo standard of review to the portions of the R&R ...


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