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MacCormack v. Adel Wiggins Group

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 8, 2017

DIANE MACCORMACK, NANCY BROUDY and KAREN LOFTUS, as Special Personal Representatives of BERJ HOVSEPIAN, deceased, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE ADEL WIGGINS GROUP, individually and as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the TRANSDIGM GROUP, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CAROL E. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the motion of defendant Crane Co. to dismiss based on collateral estoppel. The plaintiffs have filed a memorandum in opposition. The issues are fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs are the special personal representatives of Berj Hovsepian (Hovsepian), now deceased. Hovsepian was a civilian employee of the United States Navy from 1958 until 1964, in Boston, Massachusetts. He contracted asbestos-related mesothelioma, allegedly as a result of exposure to products that were manufactured, sold, distributed or installed by the defendants, including Crane Co.

         In December 2009, Hovsepian brought an action against defendant Crane Co. and other entities in the Superior Court for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He asserted claims of common law negligence, [1] breach of express and implied warranties, [2] and “malicious, willful, wanton and reckless conduct or gross negligence.”[3] Defendant Crane Co. moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff failed to (1) “present evidence that Berj Hovsepian worked with or around a Crane Co. product, ” (2) “present evidence that Berj Hovsepian worked with or around asbestos-containing original or replacement parts that were manufactured or supplied by Crane Co., ” (3) “prove that any materials used with a Crane Co. product actually contained asbestos, ” (4) “prove that any work with or around a Crane Co. product substantially contributed to Berj Hovsepian's disease, ” among other arguments. [Doc. #333-2 at 4-5 (emphasis in original)]. On August 10, 2012, the Superior Court granted Crane Co.'s motion for summary judgment.

         In December 2015, Hovsepian initiated an action in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri, against defendant Crane Co. and others, and asserting claims identical to those in the Massachusetts case. The action was removed to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1442(a)(1) and 1446. After Hovsepian's death, the plaintiffs continued the lawsuit as his special personal representatives.

         II. Legal Standards

         Motion to Dismiss

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. The factual allegations of a complaint are assumed true and construed in favor of the plaintiff, “even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1 (2002)); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989) (“Rule 12(b)(6) does not countenance . . . dismissals based on a judge's disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations”); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) (a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it appears “that a recovery is very remote and unlikely”). The issue is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the plaintiff is entitled to present evidence in support of his claim. Id. A viable complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 570; see also Id. at 563 (“no set of facts” language in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), “has earned its retirement.”). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555.

         The Eighth Circuit has “implicitly endorsed the use of a motion to dismiss to raise res judicata.” C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. v. Lobrano, 695 F.3d 758, 763 (8th Cir. 2012). “Indeed, [i]f an affirmative defense . . . is apparent on the face of the complaint . . . that [defense] can provide the basis for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).” Id. at 764 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A district court may consider public records or other materials connected with the pleadings in its evaluation. Noble Sys. Corp. v. Alorica Cent., LLC, 543 F.3d 978, 982 (8th Cir. 2008). Plaintiffs challenge the use of a motion to dismiss to raise collateral estoppel or res judicata. [Doc. #336 at 2]. They cite no authority for this contention. But, ample Eighth Circuit precedent demonstrates otherwise. See, e.g., Nance v. Humane Soc'y of Pulaski Cty., No. 15-3512, 2016 WL 4136972 (8th Cir. Aug. 4, 2016) (affirming a district court's 12(b)(6) dismissal premised on collateral estoppel grounds); A.H. ex. rel. Hubbard v. Midwest Bus Sales, Inc., 823 F.3d 448 (8th Cir. 2016) (affirming a district court's dismissal on the grounds of res judicata); Johnson v. Vilsack, 833 F.3d 948, 951 n.4, 953-54 (8th Cir. 2016) (discussing whether an administrative agency determination justified a motion to dismiss on res judicata grounds, and noting that “[e]ach of the documents the district court considered was a public record, which a court can rely on even at the motion to dismiss stage”); Jaakola v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Trust Ass'n, 609 Fed.Appx. 877 (8th Cir. 2015) (affirming a district court's dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) on res judicata grounds). Accordingly, the Court disagrees with the plaintiffs' argument that a summary judgment motion is required to assert a res judicata argument, and the Court will proceed with its analysis.

         Collateral Estoppel

         Res judicata encapsulates two preclusion concepts - issue preclusion and claim preclusion. Lovilia Coal Co. v. Harvey, 109 F.3d 445, 449 (8th Cir. 1997) (citing Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 77 (1984)). Issue preclusion, or collateral estoppel means that “‘once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, ‘the determination is conclusive in a subsequent action between the parties, whether on the same or a different claim.'” Id. at 449-50 (quoting Tyus v. Schoemehl, 93 F.3d 449, 452 (8th Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted) (abrogated on separate grounds)); see also Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153 (1979). The same issues cannot be re-litigated. Ideker v. PPG Indus., Inc., 788 F.3d 849, 852 (8th Cir. 2015). Collateral estoppel is therefore critical for judicial efficiency and for “promot[ing] the comity between state and federal courts that has been recognized as a bulwark of the federal system.” Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 95-96 (1980) (citing Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43-45 (1971)). Moreover, it “fosters reliance on judicial action by minimizing the possibility of inconsistent decisions.” Montana, 440 U.S. at 154.

         28 U.S.C. § 1738 provides that “judicial proceedings of any court of any such State . . . shall have the same full faith and credit in every court within the United States . . . as they have by law or usage in the courts of such State.” 28 U.S.C. § 1738. Allen explained how § 1738 interacts with common law res judicata doctrine, reasoning that “though the federal courts may look to the common law or to the policies supporting res judicata and collateral estoppel in assessing the preclusive effect of decisions of other federal courts, Congress has specifically required all federal courts to give preclusive effect to state-court judgments whenever the courts of the State from which the judgments emerged would do so.” Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 96 (1980); see also Kremer v. Chem. Constr. Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 466 (1982) (reaffirming that federal courts should “give the same preclusive effect to state court judgments that those judgments would be given in the courts of the State from which the judgments emerged”). This rule still holds when a federal question case (in federal court) follows a state court proceeding, and even still when that federal question was not or could not actually be litigated in state court. See Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. Of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 85 (1984); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Epstein, 516 U.S. 367 (1996). Accordingly, in the instant case, the law of Massachusetts will determine the preclusive effect of the parties' previous litigation.

         III. ...


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