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Johnson v. Sunoco, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 7, 2017



          R. BARCLAY SURRICK, J.

         Presently before the Court is Defendant American Overseas Marine Corporation (“AMSEA”) and Defendant General Dynamics Corporation's (“GDC”)[1] Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 17.) For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The relevant facts of this case are set forth in our February 28, 2017 Memorandum and Order denying Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand. (See Feb. 28 Mem., ECF No. 36; Feb. 28 Order, ECF No. 37.)

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges that, from 1992 to 2005, Plaintiff Rudolph Johnson worked as a mechanic and seaman on the USNS STOCKHAM and the USNS ALGOL United States navigation vessels. (Compl. ¶ 4, AMSEA and GDC Mot. Ex. 2, ECF No. 17.) In this role, Johnson repaired engines, cleaned tanks, and performed other miscellaneous tasks. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that during the course of his employment, Johnson, on almost a daily basis, was exposed to a variety of benzene-containing solvents, and “manufactured, refined, designed, produced, processed, compounded, converted, packaged, sold, distributed, marketed, re-labeled, supplied and/or otherwise placed into the stream of commerce by Defendants.” (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiffs further contend that while working on the vessels, Johnson was also exposed to the benzene-containing solvents by means of inhalation, ingestion, and dermal absorption. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 27.) This exposure was a result of both the contamination to his clothing, as well as his dermal contact with air vapors. (Id.)

         On September 23, 2013, Johnson was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (“MDS”). (Id. ¶ 7.) In 2014, Johnson's MDS mutated into acute myeloid leukemia (“AML”). (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that Johnson contracted MDS and AML as a result of his exposure to benzene. Plaintiffs also contend that as a result of the MDS/AML that Johnson contracted, he suffered various adverse side effects and illnesses, forcing him to undergo extensive medical treatment, thereby causing him “pain, suffering, disability, disfigurement, deformity, impairment, mental anguish, anxiety, humiliation, and increased susceptibility to infection.” (Id. ¶ 28.) In addition, Plaintiffs claim that Johnson has suffered substantial financial damages as a result of his condition. (Id. ¶ 30.)

         In asserting their claims against Defendants, Plaintiffs allege, inter alia, that:

Defendants knew and foresaw that their benzene-containing solvent products were used in the manner in which Rudolph Johnson use[d] them, that benzene and benzene-containing solvents would be released into the atmosphere while using their benzene-containing solvent products, and . . . Johnson and others similarly situated would work with, inhale, ingest, dermally absorb, handle or directly and indirectly come into contact with, and/or otherwise be exposed to benzene, which created a hazardous and unsafe condition and risk to the health of Rudolph Johnson and others similarly situated.

(Id. ¶ 39.)

         Defendants contend that AMSEA operated the USNS STOCKHAM and the USNS ALGOL pursuant to instructions contained within federal government contracts. (Defs.' Remand Resp. 5, ECF No. 24.) Defendants aver that AMSEA was conducting its activity pursuant to orders from a federal officer, and therefore the claims and defenses are properly evaluated in federal court. (Id. at 2.)

         B. Procedural History

         On September 23, 2016, Plaintiffs Rudolph and Lois Johnson filed a complaint in this products liability action against CRC Industries, Inc. (“CRC”), and other defendants in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. On October 20, 2016, Defendants removed the case to this Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1442(a)(1) and 1446. (Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1.) On November 21, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Remand. (ECF No. 20.) On December 9, 2016 CRC filed a Motion to Transfer Venue to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. (ECF No. 30.) Pursuant to Plaintiffs' request in its Motion in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Transfer Venue (ECF No. 32), we stayed this ruling pending the ruling on Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand. On February, 28, 2017, a Memorandum and Order were entered denying Defendants' Motion to Remand. (Feb. 28 Mem.; Feb. 28 Order.) On March 6, 2017, CRC's Motion to Transfer Venue was denied. (ECF No. 38.) On November 9, 2016, AMSEA and GDC filed the instant Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 17.) On November 23, 2016, Plaintiffs filed their Response in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 21.)

         II. ...

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