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Wilson v. Asten-Hill Manufacturing Co.

May 21, 1986

JOSEPH WILSON AND MARGARET WILSON, HIS WIFE, AND DOMINICK TRIOLA AND GENEVIEVE TRIOLA, HIS WIFE, AND ROMOLO TIMOTEO AND CAROLYN TIMOTEO, HIS WIFE, AND CLAIRE SIMS AND ALBERT SIMS, HER HUSBAND; AND HELEN ADAMS AND JOHN ADAMS, HER HUSBAND
v.
ASTEN-HILL MANUFACTURING COMPANY AND RAYBESTOS MANHATTAN, INC.; AND BELL ASBESTOS MINES, LTD., AND CASSIAR ASBESTOS CORP., LTD.; AND UNITED STATES GYPSUM COMPANY, AND NATIONAL ASBESTOS COMPANY, INC. V. AMATEX CORPORATION AND ASBESTOS CORPORATION, LTD. AND JOHNS-MANVILLE CORPORATION AND SOUTHERN ASBESTOS CORPORATION AND TURNER & NEWALL, LTD. AND CAROLINA ASBESTOS COMPANY AND H.K. PORTER AND ASTEN HILL, INC. AND BRINCO MINING LIMITED; JOSEPH AND MARGARET WILSON, DOMINICK AND GENEVIEVE TRIOLA, ROMOLO AND CAROLINE TIMETEO, CLAIRE AND ALBERT SIMS, AND HELEN AND JOHN ADAMS, APPELLANTS



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. No. 79-0332)

Author: Becker

Before: GIBBONS, BECKER, and ROSENN, Circuit Judges

BECKER, Circuit Judge.

The is an asbestos personal injury action brought by four workers and their spouses against their former employer. The district court granted defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), on the grounds that plaintiffs' claims were barred by the Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation and Occupational Disease Acts. Plaintiffs' appeal is grounded on the argument that their complaint stated a claim for relief under the "intentional tort" exception to the Workmen's Compensation exclusivity provisions ("comp-bar"). We conclude that, even assuming that the judicially created intentional tort exception to the comp-bar is still viable under Pennsylvania law, see infra note 3, plaintiffs' allegations fail to state a claim within the exception. Accordingly, we affirm.

I.

Appellants, former employees of appellee Asten-Hill Manufacturing Company ("Asten-Hill") and their spouses, brought suit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court on December 19, 1978, against Asten-Hill and various suppliers of asbestos, alleging that during their employment at Asten-Hill they were exposed to asbestos fibers, and that, as a result, they contracted asbestosis.*fn1 Some of Asten-Hill's co-defendants and certain third-party defendants filed counterclaims or crossclaims against Asten-Hill. On January 1, 1979, the case was removed to the district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 (1982). The federal court's jurisdiction was based on diversity of citizenship, 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (1982).

In their complaint, appellants alleged that Asten-Hill had long possessed medical and scientific data that clearly indicated that the inhalation of asbestos dust and fibers in the course of the ordinary and foreseeable use of its asbestos products was unreasonably dangerous and carcinogenic. They further alleged that Asten-Hill withheld scientific data and disseminated outdated scientific data, failed to provide warnings of known risks, and failed to test products adequately. The complaint further stated that the defendants had acted "willfully, maliciously, callously, deliberately, and with wanton disregard for the rights, safety, and position of plaintiffs and other persons similarly situated," and that they had "fraudulently and deliberately" exposed the plaintiffs to asbestos fibers.

Asten-Hill moved to dismiss appellants' complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The basis of Asten-Hill's motion was that the exclusivity provisions of both the Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation and the Occupational Disease Acts barred appellants' action against their employer.*fn2 On April 6, 1983, the district court granted the motion and simultaneously dismissed the claims of the other defendants and third-party defendants against Asten-Hill. The appellants' claims against the remaining defendants were tried on April 15 and 16, 1985. On May 15, 1985, the district court entered judgment on appellants' behalf against one of the suppliers, Bell Asbestos Mines, and dismissed the claims against the other suppliers. At this time, the district court made final the April 1983 dismissal of the claims against Asten Hill. We are now presented with plaintiffs' appeal of that dismissal. The other defendants and third-party defendants have not appealed the dismissal of their crossclaims against Asten-Hill.

II.

A federal court sitting in a diversity action must apply the substantive law of the state in which it sits and thus must predict how the highest state court would resolve the case. Brown v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., 696 F.2d 246, 250 (3d Cir. 1982). In this case, we must predict whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would permit employees who are eligible for benefits under the Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation and Occupational Disease Acts to bring a third-party claim against their employer on an intentional tort theory predicated upon the allegations of the complaint in this case.

Pennsylvania enacted its Workmen's Compensation Act in 1915, Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 77, § 1, et seq., and its Occupational Disease Act in 1938, Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 77, § 1201, et. seq. Both Acts were based on a theory of "trade-offs." The provided certain compensation for the disability or death of an employee caused by an injury or occupational disease arising out of and in the course of employment. In return for these guaranteed payments, the employer was given immunity from common law suits by employees. 77 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 481(a), 1403. This Court has explained the purpose of these provisions:

The statutory scheme thus operates on a law of averages. In some instances where he could prove negligence, an employee may receive less compensation than he would recover in damages in a common law suit. In other situations, an employer may have to pay compensation where he would not be liable for any sum at common law. Despite inequities in specific cases, the underlying assumption is that, on the whole, the legislation provides substantial justice.

Weldon v. Celotex Corp., 695 F.2d 67, 70 (3d Cir. 1982).

In Readinger v. Gottschall, 201 Pa. Super. 134, 191 A.2d 694 (1963), a panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court established an exception to the comp-bar, holding that an intentional assault upon an employee by an employer was actionable. Thus was born in Pennsylvania the "intentional tort" exception to the comp-bar. Our present task is to predict the scope of the exception. A canvas of the case law convinces us that the ...


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