United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
WILLARD E. BARTEL, Adm'r for JAMES T. MCQUEEN, Deceased, Plaintiff,
CHARLES KURZ & COMPANY INC., et al., Defendants.
EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, District Judge.
This case was transferred in January 2011 from the United State District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where it became part of the consolidated asbestos products liability multidistrict litigation (MDL 875). The case was assigned to the Court's maritime docket ("MARDOC"). Willard E. Bartel ("Plaintiff"), Administrator of the Estate of James T. McQueen, alleges that James McQueen ("Decedent" or "Mr. McQueen") was exposed to asbestos while working aboard various ships. Plaintiff asserts that Decedent developed an asbestos-related illness as a result of his exposure to asbestos aboard those ships.
For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendants' motion.
In September of 1996, Mr. McQueen brought claims against various defendants, including various shipowners represented by Thompson Hine LLP ("Defendants" or "the Thompson Hine Shipowners"). By way of Order dated March 14, 1997, Judge Charles Weiner dismissed those claims administratively, leaving open the possibility for the action to be pursued at a later, unspecified date. Approximately nine years later, on October 15, 2005, Mr. McQueen filed a voluntary petition under Chapter 7 in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida. The bankruptcy case was closed approximately six months later, on March 1, 2006. On January 24, 2011 - approximately five years after the bankruptcy case was closed and over fourteen years after Mr. McQueen first filed his asbestos action - the MDL Court reinstated Mr. McQueen's asbestos action which had been dismissed by Judge Weiner in 1997. A summary of this timeline of events is as follows:
September 1996 - Asbestos action filed
March 1997 - Asbestos action administratively dismissed
October 2005 - Bankruptcy action filed
March 2006 - Bankruptcy action closed
January 2011 - Asbestos action reinstated
The Thompson Hine Shipowners have moved for summary judgment, arguing that (1) Plaintiff's claims are barred by way of judicial estoppel because Mr. McQueen failed to disclose the asbestos action as an asset in his bankruptcy filing, and (2) Plaintiff cannot pursue the asbestos action because it is now owned by the bankruptcy estate.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-248 (1986)). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or non-existence might affect the outcome of the litigation, and a dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
In undertaking this analysis, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. "After making all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there is a genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party." Pignataro v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Reliance Ins. Co. v. Moessner, 121 F.3d 895, 900 (3d Cir. 1997)). While the moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, meeting this obligation shifts ...