United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
SCOTT D. MCCLURG, et al., Plaintiffs,
MALLINCKRODT, INC., et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
G. FLEISSIG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
in these consolidated actions seek damages under the
Price-Anderson Act (“PAA”) as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 2014, 2210, for injuries allegedly sustained as
a result of multiple decades of exposure to hazardous, toxic,
and radioactive substances handled by Defendants
Mallinckrodt, Inc. and Cotter Corporation at various times
between 1942 and 1973, at or near Plaintiffs' residences
in north St. Louis County, Missouri.
matter is now before the Court on Defendants' motion
(Doc. No. 427) for partial reconsideration of the Court's
prior denial of Defendants' motion to dismiss, on
statute-of-limitations grounds, and for judgment on the
pleadings with respect to those Plaintiffs who filed claims
to recover for the deaths of their decedents more than three
years after the deaths. Defendants seek this relief based on
a new Missouri Supreme Court opinion. For the reasons set
forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion.
2014, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaints,
partly on statute-of-limitations grounds. As relevant here,
Defendants argued that Plaintiffs whose PAA claims alleged
death as a result of exposure to the substances at issue were
governed by Missouri's three-year statute of limitation
for wrongful death actions, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.100.
Defendants argued that such claims accrued at the time of
death and that because several Plaintiffs filed suit more
than three years after the death of their decedents, those
claims had to be dismissed as time-barred.
response to Defendants' motions to dismiss, Plaintiffs
conceded that Missouri's three-year statute of
limitations applied to their PAA claims alleging wrongful
death. But Plaintiffs argued that federal common law governed
the accrual date for those claims, and that under federal
law, “[a] claim ‘accrues' when the plaintiff
knows or reasonably should know both the existence and cause
of the injury.” See Slaaten v. United States,
990 F.2d 1038, 1041 (8th Cir. 1993) (applying federal common
law to determine when a claim under the Federal Tort Claims
Act accrues). Alternatively, Plaintiffs argued that to
the extent their claims were deemed to accrue earlier under
state law, such state law was preempted by the Comprehensive
Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of
1980 (“CERCLA”), 42 U.S.C. §§
February 27, 2015, the Court denied Defendants' motions
to dismiss on statute-of-limitations grounds. (Doc. No. 262.)
The Court held that it did not need to resolve whether
federal or state law governed the accrual date of
Plaintiffs' claims in this case because even under
Missouri law, Plaintiffs' claims did not accrue until
they knew or reasonably should have known of the wrongful
nature of their decedents' deaths. The Court relied on
the holding of the Missouri Court of Appeals in Boland v.
St. Luke's Health System, Inc., No. WD 75364, 2013
WL 6170598, at *7 (Mo.Ct.App. Nov. 26, 2013)
(“Boland I”), that under Missouri law,
“[a] wrongful death cause of action does not
necessarily accrue at the time of death; rather, it accrues
at the time that a diligent plaintiff has knowledge of facts
sufficient to put him on notice of an invasion of his legal
months later, on August 18, 2015, a 4-3 majority of the
Missouri Supreme Court reversed Boland I and
unequivocally held that, under Missouri law, “a
wrongful death claim accrues at death, ” subject to
only two exceptions contained in the statute of limitations
itself, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.100, and not applicable
here. Boland v. St. Luke's Health Sys., Inc.,
471 S.W.3d 703, 710 (Mo. 2015), as modified (Oct.
27, 2015) (“Boland II”). The court made
clear that Missouri does not delay accrual of wrongful death
claims based on a discovery rule such as the one advocated by
Plaintiffs. Id. at 710.
state high court in Boland II also considered
whether the statute of limitations could be equitably tolled,
or whether the defendants could be equitably estopped from
asserting a statute-of-limitations defense, due to the
defendants' alleged fraudulent concealment of the
tortious nature of the deaths in that case. Id. at
710-11. The court held that no such equitable exception for
fraudulent concealment could apply. Id. The court
reasoned that, despite the “harsh result, ” it
was obligated to follow the mandate of the state legislature,
which had created a “special statute of
limitation” for wrongful death, itself a creature of
statute. Id. at 705, 712-13.
three dissenting judges in Boland II agreed that,
under § 537.100, a wrongful death claim accrues at death
and cannot be equitably tolled. However, the dissenting
judges would have allowed equitable estoppel to bar the
defendants from asserting the statute-of-limitations defense
based on their fraudulent concealment. Id. at 714-19
(Draper, J., dissenting in part).
same day that Boland II was issued, a different 4-3
majority of the Missouri Supreme Court issued a seemingly
conflicting opinion in State ex rel. Beisly v.
Perigo, 469 S.W.3d 434 (Mo. 2015). In
Beisly, the court again considered the effect, if
any, on § 537.100's statute of limitations when a
defendant fraudulently concealed his wrongdoing, making it
impossible for the plaintiff to bring her wrongful death
action within three years of the decedent's death. 469
S.W.3d at 436. As in Boland II, a majority of the
court in Beisly held that § 537.100 was a
special statute of limitations for wrongful death claims;
that wrongful death claims accrued at death; and that the
statute of limitations could not be tolled for reasons not
provided in § 537.100 itself. Id. at 438-40.
However, contrary to its holding in Boland II, the
court in Beisly held that a defendant who
fraudulently concealed his wrongdoing could be equitably
estopped from asserting a statute-of-limitations defense.
Id. at 444-45. In so holding, the court reasoned:
The application of equitable estoppel does nothing to engraft
a tolling mechanism or otherwise extend the statute of
limitations beyond what is stated expressly in the statute.
The cause of action still accrues at the decedent's
death, and the statute of limitations begins to run at that
time. Equitable estoppel does not toll the running of the
statute. Rather, it forecloses the wrongdoer, who concealed
his or her actions fraudulently, from asserting the defense.
Id. at 444.
September 2, 2016, Defendants in the present case filed their
motion to reconsider and for judgment on pleadings.
Defendants argue that, in light of Boland II, the
Court should reconsider its prior denial of Defendants'
motion to dismiss on statute-of-limitations grounds and
should grant Defendants judgment on the pleadings with
respect to those Plaintiffs who filed PAA claims asserting
wrongful death more than three years after their
decedents' deaths. Defendants' motion originally
identified 74 such Plaintiffs, see Doc. No. 427-1,
but in their reply brief, Defendants acknowledge that two of
these Plaintiffs timely filed their claims on the last day of
the three-year period.
response, Plaintiffs argue that, in light of the conflicting
rulings of Boland II and Beisly and absent
further guidance from the Missouri Supreme Court, the Court
should decline to reconsider its prior holding. Plaintiffs
also reassert the arguments they raised in opposition to
Defendants' original motion to dismiss, that federal law
governs the accrual date of Plaintiffs' claims and that,
to the extent the ...