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Federal Procedural Law Applied Over State Law in Summary Judgment Motions Brought by Manufacturers of Safety Mask and Aircraft Component Parts in Naval Exposure Case


Federal Procedural Law Applied Over State Law in Summary Judgment Motions Brought by Manufacturers of Safety Mask and Aircraft Component Parts in Naval Exposure Case

U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division, April 27, 2015

In this federal court case that was removed from Florida state court, the plaintiff, Darryl Dugas, and his wife filed a second amended complaint alleging four causes of action regarding their claim that Mr. Dugas developed mesothelioma from his work as an aircraft structural mechanic with the U.S. Navy between 1967 and 1971. The four causes of action were: negligence, strict liability, fraudulent concealment, and loss of consortium. Several defendants moved to dismiss all or a portion of the amended complaint, arguing it failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and failed to plead the fraudulent concealment claim with the required amount of specificity. The federal court applied federal procedure law over the conflicting Florida state statute requiring heighted pleading requirements.

As held by the court: “Florida’s heightened pleading requirement in asbestos cases prohibits what federal procedural law allows, which creates a conflict between Florida’s Section 77 4.205 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Because Florida’s pleading requirement in asbestos cases conflicts with established federal procedural law, Florida’s heightened standard must yield.” The court subsequently found that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged facts to sustain viable claims of strict products liability and negligence, and in doing so sustained the loss of consortium claim as well.

Regarding fraudulent concealment, the court stated, “Because a claim for fraudulent concealment sounds in fraud it must meet Rule 9(b)’s heightened pleading standard by ‘stat[ing] with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud.’ The particularity requirement of Rule 9(b) is satisfied if the complaint alleges ‘facts as to time, place, and substance of the defendant’s alleged fraud, specifically the details of the defendant’s allegedly fraudulent acts, when they occurred, and who engaged in them.’”(citations omitted). The court found that the plaintiffs met this requirement regarding their claims against safety mask manufacturer 3M. The court also rejected the argument made by all defendants to dismiss the fraudulent concealment claim because they did not have a duty to disclose.

As held by the court: “By virtue of their positions, Defendants were far better equipped with the knowledge of the dangers of their products. Mr. Dugas, as an aircraft mechanic, was a foreseeable user of Defendants’ products, and did not know, and was not in a position to know, of the dangers of Defendants’ products. Owing to their relative positions, Defendants owed Mr. Dugas a duty of reasonable care to disclose to Mr. Dugas the dangers of the foreseeable use of their products.” However, the court granted the component part manufacturers’ motions for summary judgment dismissing the fraudulent concealment claim against them as the claims failed to meet the heightened pleading requirement of Rule 9(b). In granting the dismissal of the claim the court stated: “Mr. Dugas’s claims of fraudulent concealment fail to differentiate between UTC, Shell, and IMO, other than mentioning that each was responsible for producing a different asbestos-riddled product. Mr. Dugas also fails to allege with specificity the nature of each Defendant’s alleged fraudulent conduct. Therefore, Mr. Dugas’ claims of fraudulent concealment against UTC, Shell, and IMO are due to be dismissed.”

The court also denied the plaintiffs’ request to amend their second amended complaint, as such an amendment would necessarily delay resolution of the action, which had been expedited at the plaintiffs’ request.

Read the full decision here.

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