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Shields v. General Electric Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 9, 2020

MARTIN SHIELDS
v.
GENERAL ELECTRIC CO., et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          JUAN R. SÁNCHEZ, C.J.

         This personal injury action arises out of decedent Diane L. Shields's (Mrs. Shields) exposure to asbestos during her employment at the Motor Coils Manufacturing Company (Motor Coils) plant in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff Martin Shields (Mr. Shields), as administrator of Mrs. Shields's estate and in his own right, brings negligence, wrongful death, and survivorship claims under Pennsylvania law. Defendants Wabtec Corporation (Wabtec), successor to Motor Coils, General Electric Co. (General Electric), and CBS Corporation, successor to Westinghouse Electric Corporation (CBS) have each moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Because Mr. Shields's claims are preempted by the Locomotive Inspection Act, 49 U.S.C. § 20701, et seq., the Court will grant Defendants' motions.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         For many years, Motor Coils operated a manufacturing and refurbishing facility in Braddock, Pennsylvania (Braddock Plant).[2] The Braddock Plant specifically manufactured and refurbished traction motors used in railroad locomotives. See Shields Dep. 22, Apr. 26, 2018.[3]Approximately 65% of the work completed at the Braddock Plant involved refurbishing traction motors. Id. at 173-74. The Braddock Plant refurbished approximately eight to ten traction motors per day, including traction motors that were made by General Electric and Westinghouse Electric Corporation.[4]

         Mrs. Shields worked as a laborer at the Braddock Plant from 1990 to 1996. Mrs. Shields's position required her to clean pinion gears-a subpart of the traction motors. The Braddock Plant was a single-room building with no partition between the refurbishing area and the cleaning area where Mrs. Shields worked. See Id. at 30-31. Mrs. Shields was exposed to asbestos in the Braddock Plant because her workstation was located in close proximity to the refurbishing area-which produced large amounts of dust. See Id. at 31. Mrs. Shields also had secondary exposure to asbestos when she laundered Mr. Shields's dusty work clothing. In May 2014, Mrs. Shields was diagnosed with lung cancer. After undergoing rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Mrs. Shields passed away in February 2015.

         In April 2016, Mr. Shields commenced the instant action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. On June 6, 2018, Wabtec removed the action to this Court. This case was initially consolidated under In re Asbestos Products Liability Litigation (No. IV), MDL 875 (E.D. Pa.) and assigned to the Honorable Eduardo C. Robreno for pretrial matters. On July 9, 2019, Defendants filed separate motions for summary judgment asserting Mr. Shields's claims are preempted by the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA). On September 18, 2019, the case was reassigned to the undersigned. The Court heard oral argument on Defendants' motions on November 29, 2019. The motions are now ripe for disposition.

         DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Material” facts are those facts “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the [non-moving] party.” Id.

         “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). To defeat summary judgment, “the non-moving party must present more than a mere scintilla of evidence; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant].” Burton v. Teleflex Inc., 707 F.3d 417, 425 (3d Cir. 2013) (alteration in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation omitted).

         Defendants argue they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Mr. Shields's claims are preempted by the LIA's broad field preemption. Mr. Shields contends LIA preemption does not apply to the traction motors at issue in this case.

         The Supremacy Clause of Article VI provides that “federal law ‘shall be the supreme Law of the Land . . . any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.'” Kurns v. R&R Friction Prods. Corp., 565 U.S. 625, 631 (2012) (quoting U.S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2). Three types of federal preemption exist: express preemption, implied conflict preemption, and field preemption. Kurns v. Chesterton, 620 F.3d 392, 395 (3d Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom. Kurns, 565 U.S. at 625. Field preemption “arises when a state law or regulation intrudes upon a ‘field reserved for federal regulation.'” Id. at 396 (quoting United States v. Locke, 529 U.S. 89, 111 (2000)). “Where Congress occupies an entire field . . . even complimentary state regulation is impermissible.” Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387 (2012).

         The LIA sets forth safety standards applicable to all “locomotives, ” their “tender, ” and “all parts and appurtenances.” 49 U.S.C. § 20701. The LIA confers to the Secretary of Transportation, the “general” power to address “the design, the construction and the material of every part of the locomotive and tender and of all appurtenances.” See Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., 272 U.S. 605, 611 (1926). The LIA does not contain an express preemption clause. In Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., the United States Supreme Court held that the LIA manifests the intention to occupy the entire field of regulating locomotive equipment. Id.

         Recently, in Kurns v. Railroad Friction Products Corp., the Supreme Court reaffirmed the wide-breadth of the LIA's field preemption. See 565 U.S. at 637. In Kurns, the plaintiff alleged he developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos from locomotive brake shoes and insulation on locomotive boilers. See Id. at 628.. The plaintiff brought state law claims for defective design and failure to warn. Id. at 628-29. The Supreme Court held that the field of preemption under the LIA was “‘the entire field of regulating locomotive equipment,' to the exclusion of state regulation[, ]” which provides for no exceptions for state common law duties or standards of care. Id. at 637 (quoting Napier, 272 U.S. at 611-12).

         With respect to the LIA's preemption of Mr. Shields's claims, there are two issues before the Court. The Court must determine (1) whether the traction motors at issue are parts and appurtenances under the LIA; and (2) if so, whether Kurns precludes Mr. Shields's common law claims. The Court concludes that the traction motors at issue are ...


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