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Arnold v. United States Pipe and Foundry Co. LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 31, 2017

DOROTHY ARNOLD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES PIPE & FOUNDRY COMPANY, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case is one of 14 consolidated cases involving Plaintiffs' allegations that Defendants operated a pipe-making facility in Birmingham, Alabama that released harmful chemical contaminants into areas occupied or frequented by Plaintiffs, causing personal injury and property damage. This matter is before the court on Defendants United States Pipe and Foundry Company, LLC (USPF) and Mueller Water Products, Inc.'s (Mueller) “Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff Eugene Maddox's Time-Barred Claims.” (Doc. 9 [redacted]; Doc. 13 [sealed]). Plaintiff filed a response (doc. 77) and Defendants filed a reply. (Doc. 82). Plaintiff then moved for, and was granted, leave to file a sur-reply. (Docs. 88, 89, 91).

         For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, the court will GRANT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff Eugene Maddox's Time-Barred Claims.

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment allows a trial court to decide cases when no genuine issues of material fact are present and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. When a district court reviews a motion for summary judgment, it must determine two things: (1) whether any genuine issues of material fact exist; and if not, (2) whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56©.

         The moving party “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56).

         Once the moving party meets its burden of showing the district court that no genuine issues of material fact exist, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce sufficient favorable evidence “to demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). “If the evidence [on which the nonmoving party relies] is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986) (internal citations omitted).

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court should view all evidence and inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Graham v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999). The evidence of the non-moving party “is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [its] favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “If reasonable minds could differ on the inferences arising from undisputed facts, then a court should deny summary judgment.” Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). This standard exists because “the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

         After both parties have addressed the motion for summary judgment, the court must grant the motion only if no genuine issues of material fact exist and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Eugene Maddox asserts several state law personal injury and property damage claims related to Defendants' release of chemical contaminants from USPF's Birmingham pipe-making facility, which closed in 2010. Mr. Maddox does not specifically allege the nature of his injuries or property damage in the Complaint, nor does he provide any information about his dates of discovery or diagnosis. Rather, he claims to have contracted one or more of the “linked diseases” identified in the Complaint and to have generally suffered property damage. The “linked diseases” include hearing loss.

         In February 2015, before this lawsuit's filing and as part of a pre-litigation demand, Mr. Maddox's previous attorney submitted a chart with putative plaintiffs' information to USPF and Mueller. This chart contained Mr. Maddox's identifying information and listed his injury as hearing loss and his date of diagnosis as 2006. Mr. Maddox filed this suit on September 21, 2015.

         III. Discussion

         Defendants allege that Mr. Maddox's personal injury claims predicated on his hearing loss are time-barred whether Alabama law governs or federal law preempts Alabama law. Defendants argue that Mr. Maddox cannot invoke preemption because he cannot state a claim under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the “Superfund” law. Mr. Maddox submits that CERCLA preempts the Alabama statute of limitations in this case and that his personal injury claims are timely; he notes ...


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