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Kephart v. Abb, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 18, 2015

HOWARD KEPHART and DIANE KEPHART, Plaintiffs,
v.
ABB, INC., Defendant; Third-Party Plaintiff,
v.
THE BABCOCK & WILCOX COMPANY, et al., Third-Party Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF COURT

KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

I. Synopsis

Before the Court in this matter are three motions: (1) a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 94) filed by Third-Party Defendants Babcock & Wilcox Company, Babcock & Wilcox Investment Company, and Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group ("B & W" or "B & W Defendants"); (2) a motion for partial summary judgment (ECF No. 108) filed by Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff ABB, Inc. ("ABB"); and (3) a motion for consolidation of oral argument (ECF No. 111) filed by Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff ABB, Inc. The primary issue argued by the parties is whether Pennsylvania's statute of repose, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5536, provides protection from liability in this action to Third-Party Defendants B & W and to Defendant ABB. Based on the record before the Court and after a careful review of Pennsylvania's statute of repose and the relevant case law, the Court finds that the statute of repose bars ABB's contribution claims against the B & W Defendants, but does not bar Plaintiffs' products liability and negligence claims against ABB. Accordingly, and for the reasons explained below, the Court will GRANT B & W's motion to dismiss and will DENY ABB's motion for partial summary judgment. Further, the Court will DENY ABB's motion for consolidation of oral argument.

II. Jurisdiction and Venue

The Court exercises diversity jurisdiction over this removal action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a) and 1441. The Court has supplemental jurisdiction over the contribution claims in the third-party complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2).

III. Background

A. Factual Background

This case arises from personal injuries sustained by Plaintiff Howard Kephart ("Kephart") when a boiler exploded at the State Correctional Institute at Houtzdale ("SCI Houtzdale") where Kephart worked as a utility plant operator. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 57 ¶ 7). The following allegations are contained in Plaintiffs' amended complaint (ECF No. 57). In 1995, a dual-fuel boiler system was installed at SCI Houtzdale. ( Id . ¶ 8). Also at this time, a Bailey Control Programmable Logic Controller System ("Controls System") was installed to provide automated control of the boilers. ( Id .). The Controls System was designed to display an error message in the event of a system error so that the boiler could be shut down, repaired, and restarted. ( Id . ¶¶ 9-10).

On December 30, 2009, the Controls System displayed an error message for Boiler # 1, which was operating as an oil-fired boiler. ( Id . ¶ 11-12). Workers shut down Boiler # 1, and a mechanic attempted to repair it. ( Id . ¶¶ 11-16). After two attempts to relight Boiler # 1 and during a pre-ignition purge, the boiler exploded, causing injuries to Kephart. ( Id . ¶ 17). Plaintiffs allege that the explosion resulted from the flooding of the boiler with fuel, which was caused by a "defect in the design and/or operation of the [Controls System]." ( Id . ¶¶ 18-20). Plaintiffs further allege that Bailey Controls, Inc. designed and manufactured the Controls System, and that ABB is the successor to Bailey Controls, Inc., and is therefore liable. ( Id . ¶¶ 3-4).

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs Howard and Diane Kephart initiated this action against ABB in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County on April 18, 2012. ( See ECF No. 1-2). The complaint alleged that ABB was liable, as the successor to Bailey Controls, for designing and manufacturing the defective Controls System, which caused the boiler to explode resulting in Kephart's injuries. The complaint asserted claims for strict products liability, negligence, and loss of consortium. After filing an answer on May 8, 2012, ABB removed the case to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and the case was subsequently assigned to this Court. ( See ECF Nos. 1, 6).

On December 30, 2013, with leave from the Court ( see ECF No. 55), Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint (ECF No. 57); and on January 21, 2014, ABB filed an answer with affirmative defenses (ECF No. 65). In the amended complaint, Plaintiffs added allegations that ABB was negligent in failing to properly "service, configure, and repair" the Controls System between 2007 and December 30, 2009. (ECF No. 57 ¶ 21).

Thereafter, on April 24, 2014, with leave from the Court ( see ECF No. 83), ABB filed a third-party complaint (ECF No. 84) against the B & W Defendants for contribution. In response, the B & W Defendants filed the currently pending motion to dismiss (ECF No. 94) the third-party complaint, and the parties filed briefs (ECF Nos. 95, 97, 101, 113-1). The B & W Defendants contend that the statute of repose bars ABB's contribution claims.

On July 7, 2014, ABB filed a motion for partial summary judgment against Plaintiffs, along with a brief, a concise statement of material facts, and an appendix of exhibits. (ECF Nos. 108, 109, 110). ABB contends that it did not design the Controls System and, alternatively, that the statute of repose bars Plaintiffs' claims against ABB. Plaintiffs filed a response to the motion on August 6, 2014, along with a brief in opposition, a concise statement of material facts, and an appendix of exhibits. (ECF Nos. 119, 120, 121, 122). ABB then filed a brief in reply. (ECF No. 126).

The parties have fully briefed the Court on the pending motions, which are now ripe for disposition. The Court will separately address each motion below.

IV. B & W Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

A. Background

On April 24, 2014, ABB filed a third-party complaint for contribution (ECF No. 84) against the B & W Defendants. The B & W Defendants have filed a motion (ECF No. 94) to dismiss the third-party complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Specifically, the B & W Defendants contend that the third-party complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted because ABB's contribution claims are barred, as a matter of law, by Pennsylvania's statute of repose. The B & W Defendants also contend that ABB has failed to attribute any tortious conduct to any of the individual B & W Defendants. The parties have fully briefed the Court on these issues (ECF Nos. 95, 97, 101, and 113).

ABB alleges the following facts in the third-party complaint, which the Court will accept as true for evaluating the pending motion to dismiss. The Kepharts' complaint in the original underlying action alleges that Bailey Controls defectively designed a Controls System, which provided automated control of the boiler system that was installed in 1995 at SCI-Houtzdale. (ECF No. 84 ¶ 17). The Kepharts' complaint also alleges that the Controls System's defects and deficiencies caused a boiler to explode on December 30, 2009, at SCI-Houtzdale, resulting in personal injuries to Mr. Kephart. ( Id . ¶ 19). The third-party complaint, however, alleges that "Bailey Controls did not design the [Controls] System, as alleged by the Plaintiffs, but merely sold certain component parts that were chosen for the System by others." ( Id . ¶ 21).

Instead, ABB alleges, the Controls System and the boiler system were designed, manufactured, sold, programmed, and commissioned by B & W. ( Id . ¶ 22). Specifically, B & W engineered and sold two FM103-97 saturated steam boilers to be used in the construction of SCI-Houtzdale; B & W supplied the boilers, burners, blowers, safety valves, controls, and coal micronizing equipment; and B & W provided the information that was used as a basis for the boiler specifications and the boiler arrangement drawings on the construction project. ( Id . ¶¶ 23-25). B & W subcontracted with TCS to develop the control logic programming for the Controls System, among other things. ( Id . ¶¶ 28-30). However, B & W was responsible for the selection of the Controls System's components, control logic, software programming, and overall design of the system; and B & W remained actively involved in overseeing, directing, monitoring, checking, and correcting the work of its subcontractor, TCS. ( Id . ¶¶ 33-34).

B. Motion to Dismiss Standard of Review

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) allows a party to seek dismissal of a complaint or any portion of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Although the federal pleading standard has been "in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years, " the standard of review for a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge is now well established. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209 (3d Cir. 2009).

In determining the sufficiency of a complaint, a district court must conduct a two-part analysis. First, the court must separate the factual matters averred from the legal conclusions asserted. See Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. Second, the court must determine whether the factual matters averred are sufficient to show that a plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id . at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). The complaint need not include "detailed factual allegations." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

Moreover, the court must construe the alleged facts, and draw all inferences gleaned therefrom, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See id . at 228 (citing Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003)). However, "legal conclusions" and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action... do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Rather, the complaint must present sufficient "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 263 n.27 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

Ultimately, whether a plaintiff has shown a "plausible claim for relief" is a "context specific" inquiry that requires the district court to "draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The relevant record under consideration includes the complaint and any "document integral or explicitly relied on in the complaint." U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997). If a complaint is vulnerable to dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the district court must permit a curative amendment, irrespective of whether a ...


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