Manhattan Supreme Court
NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) – Companies facing lawsuits in New York City’s controversial asbestos court are using U.S. Supreme Court decisions from recent years that prevented plaintiffs lawyers from suing in whatever court they felt like.
For example, Genuine Parts Company and NAPA Auto Parts recently asked that claims brought on behalf of a deceased Kansas man be thrown out of the court, known as New York City Asbestos Litigation (NYCAL).
Steven Hall, who died of mesothelioma, only lived in Kansas and Texas, and his medical treatment occurred there, too.
Meanwhile, GPC has its corporate headquarters in Georgia, and NAPA is a Michigan corporation with its principal place of business in Georgia.
The claims “have nothing to do with the State of New York,” the companies said in an Oct. 9 motion to dismiss.
“Further, plaintiff’s claims against NAPA and GPC arise from work performed with automotive brakes purchased and utilized in the State of Kansas. Furthermore, any brakes attributable to NAPA and GPC purchased in Kansas were not manufactured nor remanufactured in New York,” the motion says.
“On these facts, New York law does not confer jurisdiction over GPC or NAPA. Even if New York law conferred jurisdiction over these defendants in this case, exercising jurisdiction over GPC and NAPA would violate its due process rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and impermissibly burden interstate commerce in violation of the United States Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.”
The lawsuit was filed Jan. 10, 2017, by Seth Dymond of Belluck & Fox on behalf of Steven Hall, who later died of mesothelioma. In the realm of asbestos litigation, mesothelioma claims are worth far more than other lung cancers and sometimes lead to the multimillion-dollar verdicts that make headlines.
The lawsuit named dozens of companies and made a request for punitive damages, a point of contention between asbestos lawyers and the companies they sue. Currently, defendants are fighting a case management order that allows plaintiffs to seek punitive damages.
To prevent the Hall case from ever reaching that stage, GPC and NAPA cite a trio of U.S. Supreme Court decisions reached since 2014.
In Daimler AG v. Bauman, a unanimous court held Daimler couldn’t be sued in California for alleged conduct by its Argentinian subsidiary that happened outside of the U.S.
In BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, an 8-1 court said two workers couldn’t sue BNSF in Montana under the Federal Employers Liability Act. The alleged injuries did not occur in Montana, neither man lived there and BNSF was not “essentially at home” in the state, Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote.
And in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, the court said a group of out-of-state plaintiffs couldn’t join their claims with those of other Californians in a courtroom in that state, as BMS wasn’t headquartered or incorporated there. It was also an 8-1 decision.
“Applying the Supreme Court’s analysis in BMS to the instant action, there can be no specific jurisdiction as to GPC or NAPA in this case,” the motions says. “Here, plaintiffs’ claims against these defendants do not ‘arise from’ any activity by these defendants in New York or any GPC or NAPA real property in New York.
“Instead, Mr. Hall specifically testified before his death that his only alleged exposure to asbestos from brakes associated with GPC and NAPA occurred in the State of Kansas.”
The companies bolster their argument with a NYCAL decision from Justice Peter Moulton, who ruled last year to dismiss claims against American Biltrite, which produces Amtico floor tile.
American Biltrite argued it is incorporated in Delaware, its principal place of business is in Massachusetts and it was last registered to do business in 1982.
Meanwhile, the plaintiff’s alleged injuries relating to Amtico tile occurred in Missouri. Lawyers attempted to bring in American Biltrite into NYCAL by claiming the company “aggressively marketed its injurious product in New York,” among other theories.
“The only common thread between the products of other defendants and Amtico’s floor tile seems to be their alleged asbestos content, which is too broad a connection to confer jurisdiction,” Moulton wrote.
“Endorsing such a broad jurisdictional exercise is at odds with New York’s long-arm statute, since plaintiff’s analysis would seemingly endorse jurisdiction in practically all states, without limitation.”