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Appellate Court Opens Door for Plaintiff to Include Lung Cancer Asbestos Claim Beyond Statute of Limitations


Appellate Court Opens Door for Plaintiff to Include Lung Cancer Asbestos Claim Beyond Statute of Limitations

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, May 11, 2015

In this federal court consolidated case, the plaintiffs were originally diagnosed with non-malignant asbestos-related conditions, which later turned into lung cancer. Following the discovery deadline in the scheduling order, the defendant, GP, moved for partial summary judgment, seeking to bar the plaintiffs from recovering any damages for lung cancer. GP argued that while the plaintiffs did disclose their lung cancer diagnoses during discovery, they had failed to file a new supplemental or amended complaint alleging claims for the lung cancer. GP alleged the claims were barred under the two-year statute of limitations in Illinois, since two years had passed since the plaintiffs’ diagnoses. The plaintiffs disputed that the new allegations were required and argued in the alternative that the district court should allow them to file amended complaints because their interrogatory responses and AO 12 filings (where plaintiffs had to disclose their medical diagnoses and support their claims by submitting copies of their medical reports) put GP on notice of the potential claims during discovery.

The district court ruled in favor of GP, holding that “(1) Plaintiffs were required to bring claims for lung cancer separately from their non-malignancy claims, and (2) because ‘motion[s] to amend w[ere] not brought until the summary judgment phase of the case[s] (i.e., after the court ordered deadline for amendments passed).’ The plaintiffs were required to ‘demonstrate good cause for the amendment’ under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b)(4), which they failed to do.”

On appeal, the court agreed with the lower court, ruling the plaintiffs were required to plead the lung cancer claims. As the court stated: “Taken together, federal procedural law and Illinois substantive law thus required Plaintiffs to plead sufficient facts to support their lung-cancer claims separately from their non-malignancy claims.” However, the court agreed with the plaintiff that the district court should not have applied Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(b)(4) to deny the plaintiffs’ request to add the lung cancer claims, as that rule applies where the district court’s scheduling order includes specific deadlines for filing supplemental pleadings and the governing scheduling order did not have any pleading deadlines. The court stated that the district court should have applied the more lenient standard of Fed. Civ. P. 15(b), which calls for a party putting forth “just terms,” as opposed to the “good cause” higher standard of rule 16(b)(4), for the amendment. In remanding the case, the court held: “We indicate no view on whether Plaintiffs are entitled to amend or supplement, but vacate and ‘remand for the District Court to rule in the first instance on whether the [correct] standard [for filing supplemental pleadings] is met” (citations omitted).

Read the full decision here.

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