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Blanyar v. Genova Products Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

June 30, 2017


          Argued October 26, 2016

         On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. No. 3-15-cv-01303) District Judge: Hon. Malachy E. Mannion

          Sol H. Weiss, Esq. [ARGUED] Paola Pearson, Esq. David S. Senoff, Esq. ANAPOL WEISS Counsel for Appellants.

          Justin P. Bagdady, Esq. [ARGUED] James J. Walsh, Esq. BODMAN PLC Fredrick J. Dindoffer, Esq. BODMAN PLC J. Benjamin Nevius, Esq. Ronald L. Williams, Esq. FOX ROTHSCHILD LLP Counsel for Appellee.

          Before: FISHER, [*] VANASKIE, and KRAUSE, Circuit Judges.


          VANASKIE, Circuit Judge.

         Appellants, former employees of Appellee Genova Products Inc. ("Genova"), challenge the District Court's decision to dismiss their putative class action for medical monitoring as barred by the applicable two year statute of limitations. While acknowledging that their exposure to the alleged toxic substances upon which they base their medical monitoring claims ended more than two years before commencing this litigation, Appellants contend that the limitations period should have been tolled by the discovery rule and should not have begun to run until they discovered the toxicity of the substances present in the Genova workplace, a discovery they claim was first made less than two years before this action was initiated. The District Court concluded that the discovery rule did not save Appellants' action because information concerning the dangers of the chemicals to which Appellants were exposed had been widely available for decades before they filed their complaint. For the reasons that follow, we will affirm the dismissal of Appellants' lawsuit.


         Genova manufactures vinyl pipes and rain gutters. It operated a plant in Hazleton, Pennsylvania from 1975 to 2012, employing as many as 240 workers in the late 1990s. Appellants are all former employees of the Genova Hazleton plant. Appellant Louise Blanyar last worked at the Genova Hazleton plant in 2004. Appellant Lawrence Buchman left Genova's employ in 2006. Appellant Edward Yachera terminated his employment with Genova in 1987. The putative class action includes persons who last worked at the Genova Hazleton plant in 2009. Genova ceased operations at its Hazleton facility in 2012, more than two years before Appellants commenced this litigation.

         Appellants claim to have discovered previously unavailable Material Safety and Data Sheets ("MSDSs") which reveal that, while working for Genova, they were exposed to carcinogens and other toxic chemicals linked to various diseases or conditions. Appellants allege that the MSDSs show that the materials used in the manufacture of Genova's products contained toxins subject to state and federal safety disclosure laws and other regulations. According to Appellants, Genova violated these laws and regulations, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") Hazard Communication Standard, 29 C.F.R. § 1910.1200, by failing to inform them about the chemicals to which they were exposed and by failing to provide the requisite protective equipment. While none of the members of the putative class have suffered an injury or illness linked to the substances used at Genova's plant, Appellants assert that they are entitled to medical monitoring because they are at increased risk of illness.[1]

         Appellants' complaint identifies sixteen specific chemicals associated with increased incidences of various cancers and diseases, including both Vinyl Chloride ("VC"), a gas, and Polyvinyl Chloride ("PVC"), a powder made from VC. They state that PVC is "one of the most widely used plastic materials, " and that the health hazards of both substances are "well-studied and well-documented." (App. 38 ¶ 22; 39 ¶ 28.) Appellants note that the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization have classified VC as a known human carcinogen and that the Center for Disease Control recognizes it as a "significant potential threat to human health." (App. 38 ¶ 25.) Appellants also cite medical literature dating back to the 1980s that shows increased incidences of several types of cancer, respiratory illness, and reproductive conditions in workers exposed to VC and PVC. According to Appellants' complaint, OSHA set strict standards for manufacturers who work with or around VC. See 29 C.F.R. § 1910.1017 (2017). These standards were first set in the 1970's. See 39 Fed. Reg. 23, 582 (June 27, 1974).

         On May 15, 2015, more than two years after the Hazleton plant closed in 2012, Appellants brought this medical monitoring action in state court on behalf of themselves and all those similarly situated, including all cohabitating family members.[2] Genova removed the action to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act and on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The complaint alleges that Genova's negligence resulted in Appellants' occupational exposure to these toxins which has substantially increased their risk of developing serious diseases. To detect and mitigate the long term health consequences of their exposure, Appellants propose several "well-established and specialized medical monitoring procedures." (App. 41 ¶ 42.) According to Appellants, these procedures can allow for early diagnosis and treatment, and the management, mitigation, or even prevention of long term health consequences.

         Genova moved to dismiss, arguing that Appellants' claims were barred by the statute of limitations.[3] Appellants did not dispute the applicable two year statute of limitations for a medical monitoring claim, but contended that the statute should be tolled under the discovery rule as they were unable to reasonably discover their cause of action within the prescribed time period.[4] The District Court granted Genova's motion without prejudice, holding that the discovery rule did not apply because Appellants' complaint attested to the prevalence of information regarding the dangers of PVC and VC years before this lawsuit was brought. Blanyar v. Genova Prods., Inc., No. 15-cv-1303, 2016 WL 740941, at ...

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