Hassebrock et al v. Air & Liquid Systems Corporation et al

Filing 160

ORDER on Application of Maritime Law and for Trial by Jury by Judge Ricardo S. Martinez. (SSM)

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  1 2 3 4 5 6 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 7 8 9 10 GLENN M. HASSEBROCK and BETTY HASSEBROCK, husband and wife, 11 12 13 14 15 16 Plaintiffs, Case No. C14-1835RSM ORDER ON APPLICATION OF MARITIME LAW AND JURY TRIAL v. AIR & LIQUID SYSTEMS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants. 17 This matter comes before the Court sua sponte on the issue of whether maritime law or 18 state law governs the remaining claims of Plaintiffs, and whether Plaintiffs have a right to a 19 20 21 jury trial. The Court has reviewed briefing on these issues from Plaintiffs, Dkt. #159, and Defendant Crane Co. (“Crane”), Dkt. #158, and issues the following as guidance for trial. 22 The parties appear to agree that maritime law applies to this matter, but Crane asserts 23 that state law should apply to certain aspects of Plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs argue they have a 24 right to a jury trial having filed in state court, and although Crane points to legal authority to 25 26 challenging this, Crane does not explicitly argue against a jury trial. See id. at 4. For the 27 reasons set forth below, the Court finds that maritime law applies to Plaintiffs’ remaining 28 claims and trial will be before a jury. ORDER ON APPLICATION OF MARITIME LAW AND JURY TRIAL - 1   1 A. Applicability of Maritime Law 2 The Court considers the applicability of maritime law a threshold issue. Maritime law 3 applies to claims that meet both a “locality test” and a “connection test.” Taghadomi v. United 4 States, 401 F.3d 1080, 1084 (9th Cir. 2005). Under the locality test, the court must determine 5 6 “whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether injury suffered on land was caused by 7 a vessel on navigable water.” Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 8 U.S. 527, 534 (1995). Under the connection test, the Grubart Court relied upon a two-part 9 inquiry from Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358 (1990). The Grubart/Sisson two-part inquiry 10 focuses on whether (1) the incident has a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce, 11 12 13 and (2) the general character of the activity giving rise to the incident shows a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. Grubart, 513 U.S. at 534. 14 If the above tests are met, the Court must next determine what specific maritime laws 15 can apply to the claims of the case. See Nelson v. Air & Liquid Sys. Corp., No. C14-0162JLR, 16 2014 WL 6982476, at *10 (W.D. Wash. Dec. 9, 2014). Maritime law reflects the prevailing 17 18 view of the law of the land. East River S.S. Corp. v. Transamerica Delaval, Inc., 476 U.S. 858, 19 864, 106 S.Ct. 2295, 90 L.Ed.2d 865 (1986); see also Saratoga Fishing Co. v. J.M. Martinac & 20 Co., 520 U.S. 875, 878, 117 S.Ct. 1783, 138 L.Ed.2d 76 (1997) (explaining that maritime law 21 “is an amalgam of traditional common-law rules, modifications of those rules, and newly 22 23 created rules, drawn from both state and federal sources.”) (internal quotations omitted). As 24 such, maritime law recognizes a general theory of liability for negligence and also incorporates 25 principles of products liability, including strict liability. Nelson, supra at *10 (citing East River, 26 476 U.S. at 865–66). 27 28 ORDER ON APPLICATION OF MARITIME LAW AND JURY TRIAL - 2   1 Plaintiffs point to several federal court cases applying the Grubart/Sisson tests to cases 2 of asbestos exposure while aboard ships on navigable waters and while under repair or 3 construction at drydock and concluding that maritime law applied. See Nelson, supra at *8-9; 4 Cabasug v. Crane Co., 956 F. Supp. 2d 1178, 1189 (D. Haw. 2013); Deuber v. Asbestos Corp., 5 6 No. 2:10-CV-78931-ER, 2011 WL 6415339, at *1 n.1 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 2, 2011). The Court finds 7 that the facts of this case meet the locality and connection tests, and finds support for this 8 position in the sufficiently similar fact patterns of Nelson, Cabasug, and Deuber. 9 10 Defendant Crane appears to acknowledge that maritime law can apply to Plaintiffs’ claims, but argues that the Court should apply state law where it does not conflict with 11 12 maritime law with regard to each “aspect” of Plaintiffs’ claims, e.g. duty and causation. Dkt 13 #158 at 2-4 (citing Pac. Merchant Shipping Ass’n v. Aubry, 918 F.2d 1409, 1422 (9th Cir. 14 1990); Askew v. Am. Waterways Operators, Inc., 411 U.S. 325, 341 (1973); and Greenly v. 15 Mariner Mgmt. Group, Inc., 192 F.3d 22, 25-26 (1st Cir. 1999)). Pac. Merchant Shipping and 16 Askew address whether state statutes regulating maritime employees were preempted by federal 17 18 admiralty law, and do not appear to support applying state common law to an aspect of a claim 19 otherwise governed by maritime law. Greenly appears to support the opposite of Crane’s 20 position. Greenly, 192 F.3d at 25-26 (“Although a court sitting in admiralty jurisdiction must 21 apply federal maritime rules that directly address the issues at hand, it may—and should— 22 23 resort to state law when no federal rule covers a particular situation.”). Crane fails to convince 24 the Court that maritime law is inappropriate for Plaintiffs’ claims of negligence and product 25 liability. 26 27 Crane fails to cite to Nelson, where Crane was a defendant facing similar allegations and where the Court addressed many of the issues addressed in Crane’s briefing. 28 ORDER ON APPLICATION OF MARITIME LAW AND JURY TRIAL - 3 After   1 determining the applicability of maritime law, Nelson addresses what substantive law should 2 apply to claims of negligence and product liability, finding that maritime law should be cited, 3 and addressing the specific standard that should apply for causation and duty for products 4 manufactured by others under maritime law. Nelson, supra at *10-13. The Court will apply 5 6 7 maritime law to Plaintiffs claims. B. Right to a Jury Trial 8 Plaintiffs argue that, although substantive maritime law applies to Plaintiffs’ claims, the 9 Court’s jurisdiction is “at law” rather than under admiralty, citing to Pope & Talbot, Inc. v. 10 Hawn, 346 U.S. 406, 410–11 (1953) and Kulesza v. Scout Boats, Inc., No. CIV.A. 99-3488, 11 12 2000 WL 1201457, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 8, 2000). Plaintiffs cite to Fed. R. Civ. P. 9, 1966 13 Amendment to Advisory Committee Notes, stating that, in a case under maritime law, a party 14 may demand a jury trial if the case is filed as a civil action but not if it is filed as a suit in 15 admiralty. Plaintiff also cites to the “savings to suitors” clause of 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1), which is 16 cited by Manrique v. Fagan, No. 08-60501-CIV, 2009 WL 700999, at *3 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 16, 17 18 2009) (“[I]t is settled that, pursuant to the ‘saving to suitors’ clause, a federal court, on diversity 19 grounds, may adjudicate an in personam maritime action and afford the parties non-maritime 20 ‘at-law’ remedies, including a jury trial.”). 21 Crane argues that “the right to a jury trial applies to all claims unless the party changed 22 23 their stance on which law applied in the midst of the litigation,” citing to Ghotra v. Bandila 24 Shipping, Inc., 113 F.3d 1050, 1054-55 (9th Cir. 1997). Based solely on Ghotra, Crane argues 25 that because Plaintiffs have “invoke[ed] maritime law only as a last minute effort” they should 26 lose their right to a jury trial. 27 28 ORDER ON APPLICATION OF MARITIME LAW AND JURY TRIAL - 4   1 Crane appears to misconstrue Ghotra, which states in relevant part, “…a plaintiff with in 2 personam maritime claims has three choices: He may file suit in federal court under the federal 3 court's admiralty jurisdiction, in federal court under diversity jurisdiction if the parties are 4 diverse and the amount in controversy is satisfied, or in state court. The difference between 5 6 these choices is mostly procedural; of greatest significance is that there is no right to jury trial if 7 general admiralty jurisdiction is invoked, while it is preserved for claims based in diversity or 8 brought in state court.” Ghotra, 113 F.3d at 1054. 9 10 Plaintiffs have never invoked admiralty jurisdiction, and they filed in state court. The Court finds that Plaintiffs have clearly retained a right to a jury trial under Ghotra and the 11 12 13 relevant law cited by Plaintiffs. DATED this 21 day of October, 2015. 14 A 15 16 RICARDO S. MARTINEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 ORDER ON APPLICATION OF MARITIME LAW AND JURY TRIAL - 5

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