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Jurisdiction among the procedural issues involved in asbestos litigation, P.1

The technicalities of asbestos litigation can be complicated, as anyone who has been involved in such litigation knows. This is especially true of cases where there are questions about the desirability of state or federal court for the lawsuit, and when a party tries to move litigation from the original court where it was filed.

This issue is highlighted in a recent case decided by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the state of Louisiana. The company sued in the case had contracted with the Navy decades before to manufacture asbestos-lined industrial valves, with which the plaintiff came in contact. The plaintiff brought the suit in Louisiana state court, but the company was able to remove the suit to federal district court. 

The company’s intention in removing the suit to federal court was to take advantage of a federal statute granting immunity to government contractors who “act under” the federal government by manufacturing products to the government’s specifications. If the product in questions conforms to those specifications and the contractor provided the government warning about the dangers of the product, the contractor has immunity from harm the product causes. In order to remove a state court case to federal court and take advantage of the immunity defense, defendants are required to show that they have a potential defense to the state law claim under federal law.

In this case, the plaintiff successfully challenged the removal to federal court under a narrow interpretation of the law, and the company appealed that decision. Ultimately, the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the company for removal to federal court, stating that the company was only required to present enough information to support a potential government contractor defense before the case could be removed to federal court and rejecting the argument that the company was required to show in advance that it met the requirements of federal contractor immunity.

In our next, we’ll continue looking at this decision and at the issue of state court vs. federal court in asbestos litigation.

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