U.S. District Judge Staci Yandle has remanded an asbestos suit to Madison County after concluding that defendant Solar Turbines should have known that the government contractor defense was an issue earlier in the litigation.
According to Yandle’s May 12 order, plaintiffs Shandi and Billy Speedy field their lawsuit in Madison County Circuit Court on Dec. 8, 2014, and later filed an amended complaint on Jan. 22, adding Solar Turbines Inc. as a defendant.
Shandi Speedy claims she was just 25 years old when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a disease that typically takes 4o years or more to manifest. She claims her injury is a result of secondary asbestos exposure from her father’s work clothes, skin and hair as a child.
Her father worked with and around asbestos-containing products while repairing vehicles, aircraft and mobile equipment while serving in the military and as a civilian during his employment at a NAPA store and through personal automotive work.
Solar Turbines Inc. responded by filing a motion to dismiss on Feb. 25, raising the government contractor defense, claiming it manufactured asbestos-containing products as specified by the government for military purposes.
Then on April 8, Solar Turbines Inc. removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.
Solar Turbines Inc. is a “worldwide manufacturer and supplier of power generation products, including industrial gas turbines, generators, exhaust manifolds and aircraft/aerospace hardware,” the order states.
Speedy argued that Solar Turbine Inc.’s motion was filed after the statute of limitations had run. The defendant had access to the answers to asbestos interrogatories and knew her exposure was related to its military products as early as Jan. 26, meaning it would have been required to remove the case no later than Feb. 25, according to Speedy.
Solar Turbine Inc. countered that the 30-day removal clock did not begin to run until March 10 when Speedy’s father was deposed. The company said that was when it learned that it had a government contractor defense.
It argued that the complaint “did not affirmatively and unambiguously reveal that the basis for liability” against the defendant was while Solar Turbine Inc. was acting under the direction of the U.S. government.
Because the plaintiff indicated that her father worked around asbestos-containing products as a civilian and in the military, it was possible that Speedy’s father was exposed to the defendant’s products outside of the military, meaning the case would not be removable under the federal officer removal statute, Solar Turbines Inc. argued.
However, Yandle was not convinced. She held that the plaintiff’s interrogatory answers “identify specific worksites and asbestos-containing products from which Solar Turbines Incorporated could have concluded that plaintiffs’ allegations arose while it was acting under the direction of the United States.”
Yandle held that the defendant failed to point to any asbestos-containing product it manufactured that Speedy’s father could have been exposed to through his civilian work.
“Rather, it knew that it had manufactured auxiliary power units for the United States military’s aircrafts,” Yandle wrote.
“Said knowledge is evident by the assertion of its government contractor defense on Feb. 25, 2015.
“By the process of elimination, plaintiffs’ interrogatory answers provide the ‘nexus’ between plaintiffs’ claims and Solar Turbines Incorporated’s alleged actions from which it could conclude this case was removable under the federal officer removal statute.
“Considering the foregoing, the father’s March 10 deposition added nothing to Solar Turbines Incorporated’s knowledge that its case was removable under the federal officer statute because Plaintiffs’ allegations against it could have only occurred while it was acting under the direction of the United States.”
Yandle concluded that the defendant removed the case after the 30-day statute of limitations had run, making remand proper.
The plaintiffs are represented by Kelly Battley of Maune Raichle Hartley French & Mudd in St. Louis.
Solar Turbines Inc. is represented by Jennifer L. Dickerson, Michael B. Hunter and Steven P. Sanders of Williams Venker & Sanders in St. Louis.