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MacCormack v. Air & Liquid Systems Corp.

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

September 11, 2017

DIANE MACCORMACK, NANCY BROUDY And KAREN LOFTUS, as Special Personal Representatives of BERJ HOVSEPIAN, Deceased, Plaintiffs,
v.
AIR & LIQUID SYSTEMS CORPORATION, A/K/A BUFFALO PUMPS, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Jean C. Hamilton UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Air & Liquid Systems Corporation's Motion for Summary Judgment based on the Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel, filed July 13, 2017. (ECF No. 372). The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs are the special personal representatives of Decedent Berj Hovsepian (“Hovsepian”). 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 in this case, including Air & Liquid Systems Corporation, as successor by merger to Buffalo Pumps, Inc. (hereinafter “Buffalo”).

         In December 2009, Hovsepian brought an action against Buffalo and a number of other entities in the Superior Court for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. (ECF No. 374-1). As relevant here, in an amended complaint filed April 11, 2012, Hovsepian asserted claims of common law negligence, breach of express and implied warranties, and “malicious, willful, wanton and reckless conduct or gross negligence.” (ECF No. 374-2, PP. 13-20, 28-29).[1] Buffalo moved for summary judgment in the Massachusetts action, arguing, among other things, that Hovsepian and his wife failed to “present evidence that Berj Hovsepian worked with or around a Buffalo pump”, “prove that any materials used with a Buffalo pump actually contained asbestos”, and “prove that any work with or around a Buffalo pump substantially contributed to Berj Hovsepian's disease.” (ECF No. 374-3, PP. 1-2). The motion was unopposed, and on August 10, 2012, the Massachusetts Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of Buffalo. (ECF Nos. 374-4, 374-5).

         On or about December 15, 2015, Hovsepian alone initiated an action in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri, naming Buffalo and others as Defendants, and asserting claims similar to those in the Massachusetts case. (ECF No. 8). The action was removed to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1442(a)(1) and 1446. (ECF No. 1). Upon Hovsepian's death, Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint, proceeding as special personal representatives.[2] (ECF No. 324).

         As noted above, Buffalo filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on July 13, 2017, asserting Plaintiffs' claims against it are barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel.[3] (ECF No. 372).

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         The Court may grant a motion for summary judgment if, “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The substantive law determines which facts are critical and which are irrelevant. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome will properly preclude summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Summary judgment is not proper if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

         A moving party always bears the burden of informing the Court of the basis of its motion. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts demonstrating that there is a dispute as to a genuine issue of material fact, not the “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247. The nonmoving party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials of its pleadings. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256.

         In passing on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The Court's function is not to weigh the evidence, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 249.

         B. 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 n. 1 (1984)), cert. denied, 118 S.Ct. 1385 (1998). 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, 453 (8th Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted) (abrogated on other 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 therefore is critical for judicial efficiency, and for ‚Äúpromot[ing] the comity between state and federal courts that has been recognized as a bulwark of ...


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