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In re Asbestos Litigation

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 15, 2019

CBS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants. DANIEL J. HICKMAN, as Administrator of the Estate of Gerald L. Hickman, Plaintiff,




         Presently before the court in this asbestos-related personal injury action is a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 filed by defendant Air & Liquid Systems Corp. ("Air & Liquid").[1] (D.I. 138) For the following reasons, I recommend GRANTING defendant's motion for summary judgment.[2]


         a. Procedural History

         On March 15, 2016, plaintiff Gerald L. Hickman ("Mr. Hickman") originally filed this personal injury action against multiple defendants in the Superior Court of Delaware, asserting claims arising from Mr. Hickman's alleged harmful exposure to asbestos. (D.I. 1, Ex. 1) On April 27, 2016, the case was removed to this court by defendant CBS Corporation ("CBS") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1442(a)(1), the federal officer removal statute, [3] and 1446. (D.I. 1) Plaintiff filed his first amended complaint (the "First Amended Complaint") on September 12, 2016. (D.I. 49) Air & Liquid filed its motion for summary judgment on June 20, 2017. (D.I. 138) Following Mr. Hickman's death, Daniel J. Hickman was named as the administrator of the Estate of Gerald L. Hickman and was substituted as plaintiff in this matter. (D.I. 233) Plaintiff filed his second amended complaint (the "Second Amended Complaint") on May 24, 2018. (Id.)

         On October 24, 2017, the court ordered supplemental summary judgment briefing following the Third Circuit's decision in In re: Asbestos Prods. Liab. Litig. (DeVries), 873 F.3d 232 (3d Cir. 2017). (D.I. 205) Supplemental briefing was completed for the present motion on April 5, 2018. (D.I. 212; D.I. 215; D.I. 218) On May 29, 2018, Air & Liquid's motion for summary judgment was denied without prejudice to renew the motion after the conclusion of the Supreme Court's review of Devries. (D.I. 234) The Supreme Court issued its decision on March 19, 2019, and the defendant requested renewal of Air & Liquid's motion for summary judgment. See Air & Liquid Systems Corp. v. Devries, 139 S.Ct. 986 (2019). (See also D.I. 251)

         b. Facts

         Mr. Hickman alleges that he developed asbestosis and asbestos-related pleural disease as a result of exposure to asbestos-containing materials during his career as an auto mechanic and as a fireman in the United States Navy. (D.I. 233 at ¶¶ 4, 11) Mr. Hickman contends that he was injured due to exposure to asbestos-containing products that defendant mixed, mined, manufactured, distributed, and sold. (Id. at ¶ 12) In his pleadings, plaintiff asserts claims for negligence, punitive damages, strict liability, and conspiracy. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-54)

         Mr. Hickman was deposed on January 31, 2017 and February 1, 2017. (D.I. 98; D.I. 139 at 2) Plaintiff did not produce any other fact or product identification witnesses for deposition.

         Mr. Hickman joined the United States Navy in 1963. (D.I. 233 at ¶ 11; D.I. 175, Ex. A at 11:6-8, 51:13-15) He attended basic training in San Diego, California for four months before traveling to Hawaii in January 1964. (D.I. 175, Ex. A at 51:13-17, 52:12-22, 75:13-18) Mr. Hickman spent approximately eighteen months in Hawaii, where he was assigned to the USS Nicholas, a destroyer. (Id. at 52:12-22, 75:22-76:1) He entered as a fireman apprentice and became a fireman on the USS Nicholas. (Id. at 76:6-23) As a fireman, Mr. Hickman worked in engine rooms, removing insulation from generators and service pumps. (Id. at 87:8-10, 87:14-24) He attended engineering school at the Great Lakes Naval Facility for four months, where he received a military rating of engineman. (Id. at 53:1 -8, 53:22-54:2)

         In 1965, Mr. Hickman was stationed on the USS Impervious, a minesweeper, in Long Beach, California. (D.I. 233 at ¶ 11; D.I. 175, Ex. A at 54:3-6, 91:5-6) He became a fireman second class on the USS Impervious and engaged in a more supervisory role, but still assisted in repairing diesel engines, pumps, valves, boilers, and air conditioning equipment. (D.I. 175, Ex. A at 91:7-16, 95:9-16) After two years aboard the USS Impervious, Mr. Hickman was stationed on the USS Endurance, a minesweeper, in Long Beach. (D.I. 233 at ¶ 11; D.I. 175, Ex. A at 54:10-17, 94:15-18) He repaired equipment in the engine room and was tasked with similar duties as he had on the USS Impervious. (D.I. 175, Ex. A at 96:5-19)

         In 1968, Mr. Hickman completed an instructor training program for the Navy in Norfolk. (Id. at 55:5-13, 56:4-6) After this two-month program, he was transferred to the naval station in Annapolis, Maryland, where he performed maintenance on training boats for midshipmen. (Id. at 56:14-21, 57:4-18) In 1970, Mr. Hickman was stationed in Vallejo, California, where he trained for Vietnam for three months. (Id. at 57:16-58:9, 109:2-15) Mr. Hickman entered as an engineman second class and became a engineman first class in Vallejo. (Id. at 109:16-24) He was deployed to Vietnam in early 1971, where he served for approximately nine months. (Id. at 58:13-20) While in Vietnam, Mr. Hickman patrolled, performed maintenance, and navigated boats. (Mat 110:13-23)

         When he returned from Vietnam in early 1972, he spent one month in Delaware before he was stationed on the USS L.Y. Spear, a submarine tender, in Norfolk. (Id. at 60:1-12, 113:4-16) He did not perform maintenance in the engine room on the USS L. Y. Spear, but instead performed "outside maintenance" on approximately eight submarines. (Id. at 114:9-17, 114:23-115:1) In performing "outside maintenance," he removed service pumps from the submarines. (Id. at 116:4-117:1) While serving on the USS L.Y. Spear, Mr. Hickman worked part-time for North Ship Co. as an outside machinist for approximately six months in 1974. (Id. at 118:15-24, 120:1-5) As an outside machinist, he removed pumps and valves from Navy ships and private vessels. (Id. at 120:1-14)

         In 1975, Mr. Hickman was stationed on the Philadelphia Naval Base. (Id. at 61:22-62:12) He served at the Philadelphia Naval Base for approximately three years, repairing valves and pumps on inactive ships. (Id. at 62:10-12; 129:1-20) In December 1977, he was stationed on the USS Lasalle, a command ship, which travelled overseas to Bahrain. (Id. at 62:21-63:4, 138:2-11) Aboard the USS Lasalle, he ...

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