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Ruppel v. Crane Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 30, 2014

HENRY RUPPEL, Plaintiff,
v.
CRANE CO., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

DONALD G. WILKERSON, Magistrate Judge.

Now pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant, Crane Company, on September 23, 2013 (Doc. 409). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is DENIED.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint in this action in the Circuit Court of the Third Judicial Circuit in Madison County, Illinois on May 14, 2012, alleging that he sustained injuries as a result of exposure to asbestos-containing products attributable to Crane Company and various other defendants. General Electric Company subsequently removed Plaintiff's suit to this Court. Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint alleges state law claims of negligence, negligent manufacturing, and spoliation against a number of defendants, including Crane Company ("Crane"). Crane filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on September 23, 2013 (Doc. 409), asserting it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on all counts. Plaintiff timely filed a response on November 27, 2013 (Doc. 446), after being granted an extension of time to respond. The Court notes that Crane argues for summary judgment on the claim of spoliation to which Plaintiff indicated that the spoliation claim will be dismissed. Accordingly, the Court does not address Defendant's argument as to this claim in this Memorandum.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Henry Ruppel[1], alleges he was exposed to asbestos-containing products while employed by Westinghouse Electric Corporation ( See First Amended Complaint). Plaintiff worked for Westinghouse at the National Reactor Testing in Idaho Falls, Idaho from 1957 to 1959 on the "S1W" and "A1W" plants as a shift supervisor, where he was primarily responsible for overseeing construction of the "A1W" (Doc 409-2, Def.'s Ex. B, p. 3). Plaintiff spent approximately 50-66% of his time in the plant while supervising (Doc. 446-3, Plf.'s Ex. A-2, p. 51). During his tenure on the "S1W" and "A1W" plants, Plaintiff saw Crane valves and Pacific valves[2]; however, Plaintiff never personally worked on any Crane or Pacific valves (Doc. 409-3, Def.'s Ex. C, p. 220-221). While working at the "S1W" facility, Plaintiff observed repairs and maintenance work being done on Pacific valves (Doc. 446-2, Plf.'s Ex. A-1, p. 125-126). Further, while working at the "A1W" facility, Plaintiff worked near and around Crane and Pacific valves, as he spent significant time in each room of the "A1W" facility (Doc. 446-3, Plf.'s Ex. A-2, p. 83).

In his supervisory position, Plaintiff monitored the installation, maintenance, and repair of the valves (Doc. 446-3, Plf.'s Ex. A-2 p. 52). In particular, during Plaintiff's employ on the "A1W, " he observed employees adjusting valves, replacing packing and gaskets on the valves, scraping gaskets from the valves, and insulating valves. These activities occurred approximately 2-3 times per month during the two years Plaintiff worked at the "A1W" facility, and created significant amounts of visible dust that Plaintiff breathed in.

Following Plaintiff's work on the "A1W", he was reassigned to the construction of the "USS Enterprise" in Newport News, Virginia (Doc. 446-3, Plf.'s Ex. A-2, p. 47). Plaintiff's tenure on the "USS Enterprise" spanned from 1959 to approximately 1961 (Doc. 446-3, Plf.'s Ex. A-2, p. 65). In this position, Plaintiff was the reactor plant supervisor and witnessed the installation of various types of equipment, including valves (Doc. 446-3, Plf.'s Ex. A-2, p. 65). Plaintiff identified both Crane and Pacific as manufacturers of at least some of the valves that were installed and otherwise maintained in his presence (Doc. 446-3, Plf.'s Ex. A-2, p. 78). With respect to installation of the valves, Plaintiff saw the insulation, testing, adjustment, and repacking of these valves (Doc. 446-3, Plf.'s Ex. A-2, p. 72). When employees were removing packing from the valves, Plaintiff noted that it caused the air to be dusty all around, implying that he breathed in the dusty air (Doc. 446-3, Plf.'s Ex. A-2, p. 74). While assigned to the "USS Enterprise, " Plaintiff spent approximately two-thirds of his time aboard the ship (Doc. 446-3, Plf.'s Ex. A-2, p. 65). During this time, Plaintiff testified that the valves were being installed or otherwise being worked on approximately 50 percent of the time (Doc. 446-3, Plf.'s Ex. A-2, p. 78).

With respect to the valves manufactured and sold by Defendant Crane, they contained asbestos-containing parts (i.e. gaskets and packing materials) until the mid-1980s (Doc. 446-5, Plf.'s Ex. C, p. 8). It was apparent to Crane that these asbestos-containing parts would need to be replaced in order to keep the valves functioning properly (Doc. 446-5, Plf.'s Ex. C, p. 13). Conveniently, Crane sold replacement products, including asbestos gaskets, for its valves (Doc. 446-5, p. 9). Moreover, Crane was aware that the gaskets and packing on its valves (presumably whether original or replacement), would bake onto the valves, which required a scraping of the gaskets in order to remove the materials (Doc. 446-6, Plf.'s Ex. D, p. 14-15).

DISCUSSION

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper only if the moving party can demonstrate that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). See also Ruffin-Thompkins v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., 422 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir. 2005); Black Agents & Brokers Agency, Inc. v. Near North Ins. Brokerage, Inc., 409 F.3d 833, 836 (7th Cir. 2005). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no material facts are in genuine dispute; any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue must be resolved against the moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 160 (1970). See also Lawrence v. Kenosha County, 391 F.3d 837, 841 (7th Cir. 2004). A moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law where the non-moving party "has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of a nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. The Seventh Circuit has stated that summary judgment is "the put up or shut up moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events." Steen v. Myers, 486 F.3d 1017, 1022 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hammel v. Eau Galle Cheese Factory, 407 F.3d 852, 859 (7th Cir. 2005) (other citations omitted).

Government Contractor Defense

Crane asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment because it is shielded from liability pursuant to the government contractor defense. In Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., the Supreme Court held that, under certain circumstances, government contractors are shielded from state tort liability for products manufactured for the United States' armed forces. 487 U.S. 500 (1988). In Boyle, the Supreme Court articulated a three-part test to determine if the government contractor defense applies. According to the Boyle test, Crane must demonstrate the following in order to prevail on summary judgment: (1) the United States approved reasonably precise specifications for Crane's equipment; (2) ...


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