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Braun v. Manville Corp. Asbestos Disease Compensation Fund

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 6, 2017

CREIGHTON E. MILLER Administrator for Estate of Joseph F. Braun, Plaintiffs,
v.
MANVILLE CORPORATION ASBESTOS DISEASE COMPENSATION FUND, ET AL., Defendants. MDL No. 875

          MEMORANDUM

          EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

         Presently before the Court is the Thompson Hine Defendants' motion for summary judgment based upon their argument that Plaintiff's Jones Act claims have abated as there is no statutory beneficiary. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

         This case was transferred in April of 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”). See 2:02-md-0875. The Thompson Hine Defendants include: (1) American President Lines, Ltd., (2) Matson Navigation Company, Inc., and (3) The Oceanic Steamship Company. (ECF No. 43-1.)

         Plaintiff, the administrator of the estate of decedent Joseph F. Braun (“Decedent” or “Mr. Braun”), alleges that Decedent was exposed to asbestos while working aboard ships owned by Defendants (and, in at least some instances, as an employee of Defendant(s)), and that he developed an asbestos-related illness(es) as a result of this asbestos exposure, which caused his death. This action was filed in 1989, asserting claims against Defendants under the Jones Act and the general maritime common law. (See ECF No. 77-5 at 25-28.) Mr. Braun died in October of 1986. (ECF No. 77-5 at 25.) He was survived by his wife, Helen Braun (“Mrs. Braun” or “Decedent's Widow”). (See ECF Nos. 50 and 50-1.) Thereafter, however, during the pendency of this action, on November 28, 2000, Mrs. Braun also died. (ECF No. 50-1.) (The Court notes that there is information in the record that Mr. Braun also had a son, Richard Braun, who is apparently also now deceased, but who may also have survived his father, and who is perhaps now survived by a spouse and/or child (which may include, specifically, a Demetria Braun, who has been identified as a dependent of Decedent Mr. Braun and for whom there is no indication in the record of death). See ECF No. 43-2 at 4-5, Responses to Interrog. Nos. 5 and 6.)

         The Thompson Hine Defendants have moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's Jones Act claims have abated because there is no statutory beneficiary. Although these Defendants initially asserted that all of Plaintiff's Jones Act claims have abated, their reply brief contends that it is only the survival claims (and not the wrongful death claims) that have abated. (ECF No. 52.)

         The Court also notes that the motion addresses only Plaintiffs' Jones Act claims (which sound in negligence) and does not address Plaintiffs' claims for unseaworthiness brought pursuant to the general maritime common law. (See ECF No. 77-5 at 25-28 (Ex. 4 to Def. Mot. Dismiss (Complaint)); see also, e.g., 2:02-md-00875, ECF No. 1827-1 at 2-6, ¶¶ 7-9 (representative MARDOC complaint asserting both statutory and common law claims)). Therefore, even if the motion were granted in its entirety, it does not necessarily follow that it would entitle Defendants to dismissal from the action. As such, the motion is properly identified as one for partial (rather than full) summary judgment.

         I. The Applicable Law

         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, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (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 the burden to the non-moving party who must “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

         B. Substantive Law

         The parties agree that the claims in this case are governed by maritime law, and that there are Jones Act claims against the Thompson Hine shipowner defendants. Because the claims all arise from alleged asbestos exposure aboard ships, it is clear that maritime law applies because the “connection” and “locality” tests are satisfied. See Conner v. Alfa Laval, Inc., 799 F.Supp.2d 455 (E.D. Pa. 2011) (Robreno, J.); Deuber v. Asbestos Corp. Ltd., No. 10-78931, 2011 WL 6415339, at *1 n.1 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 2, 2011) (Robreno, J.).

         II. Defendants' Lack of Statutory Beneficiary Motion

         A. Defendan ...


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