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Surita v. Arvinmeritor, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah

October 26, 2017

ROJELIO SURITA, individually and as Representative of the Estate of NANCY LYNN SURITA, deceased PLAINTIFF
v.
ARVINMERITOR, INC., ET AL. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge

         This matter is before the Court on motions for summary judgment by Defendants Meritor, Inc. and Arvinmeritor, Inc., [R. 95], Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, [R. 96], Trane U.S., Inc. and Meritor WABCO Vehicle Control Systems, [R. 97], Caterpillar, Inc., [R. 98], and Navistar, Inc., [R. 99]. Furthermore, Genuine Parts Company brings a Motion for Summary Judgement Based on Lack of Proof of Exposure, [R. 100], and a Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Lack of Jurisdiction and Improper Venue, [R. 101]. Plaintiff Rojelio Surita (“Plaintiff”) did not respond, and the time to do so has passed. This matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated herein, Meritor, Inc. and Arvinmeritor, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 95], is GRANTED. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company's Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 96], is GRANTED. Trane U.S., Inc. and Meritor WABCO Vehicle Control Systems' Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 97], is GRANTED. Caterpillar, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 98], is GRANTED. Navistar, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 99], is GRANTED. Genuine Parts Company's Motion for Summary Judgement Based on Lack of Proof of Exposure, [R. 100], is GRANTED. Genuine Parts Company's Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Lack of Jurisdiction and Improper Venue, [R. 101], is DENIED AS MOOT. The Court will enter a separate Order and Judgment consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         This matter arises from the claims of Plaintiff's Decedent, Nancy Lynn Surita (“Surita”), who alleged that she was exposed to asbestos-containing products while working on vehicles, both in her personal and professional life. [R. 1-1 at 10 (Complaint).] She later suffered from an irreversible lung disease, mesothelioma, and died on December 23, 2015. [Id. at 12; R. 98-5 at 11:13-15 (Surita Deposition).]

         Surita grew up in the 1970's and 1980's in a farming community in Shabbona, Illinois. [R. 98-5 at 68:8-9.] She recalled helping her father maintain the family vehicles, including six to eight brake jobs. [Id. at 135:4-17.] Looking back, Surita could not recall the brands of the brakes her father purchased, [Id. at 137:11-19], the brands of the brakes removed, [Id. at 139:11-12], or whether the boxes containing the new brakes illustrated that the products contained asbestos, [Id. at 140:9-11].

         In 1988, Surita joined the National Guard, [Id. at 70:8-10], and in October of 1989, she relocated to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where she was trained to perform preventative maintenance and to drive military vehicles, [Id. at 74:14-75:13]. Surita suspected that she was exposed to asbestos at that time from asbestos dust in the wheel wells of some of the vehicles. [Id. at 75:14-25.]

         In April of 1990, Surita was transferred to active duty military and moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where she maintained an old M915 truck, manufactured by Cummins, Chrysler, and Caterpillar, and two M872 trailers. [Id. at 17:5-18:8.] Surita thought that Caterpillar specifically manufactured either the transmission or the engine, [Id. at 86:25-87:1], however, she testified that she never worked on the transmission or engine, [Id. at 129:22-130:2]. Surita's duties consisted of handing the mechanics any materials or tools they needed, [Id. at 88:10-14], and performing preventative maintenance, including three brake jobs, [Id. at 93:4-5]. She could not recall the brands of the brakes removed or replaced on the truck and trailers. [Id. at 93:10-15].

         Surita was deployed to Saudi Arabia, along with her truck and two trailers, in October of 1990, where she transported food, ammunition, and supplies to support the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. [Id. at 100:8-16.] She was also responsible for general maintenance of her truck and trailers, including changing flat tires and working on the brakes. [Id. at 103:1-104:9]. Surita was not aware of who manufactured the replacement parts she acquired from “maintenance” or scavenged from other U.S. military trucks. [Id. at 106:3-13].

         After returning to the United States in 1991, [Id. at 109:11], Surita alternated between maintaining her truck and trailers and working in an office due to her pregnancy with her daughter, [Id. at 114:24-115:4]. She testified that she helped with a total of six brake jobs in the period between May 1991 and September 1993. [Id. at 173:11-174:10]. For the remaining three years of her career in the army, Surita worked as an executive administrative assistant. [Id. at 119:6-12].

         In April of 2015, Surita was diagnosed with mesothelioma, [Id. at 11:13-15], and she passed away in December of that same year, [R. 1-1 at 12]. On March 25, 2016, Plaintiff, Surita's husband, filed suit in Christian Circuit Court individually and as Representative of the Estate of Nancy Lynn Surita. [See Id. at 4]. Roughly a month later, Defendant Caterpillar, Inc. (“Caterpillar”) removed the case to the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, 1442, and 1446. [R. 1 at 2 (Notice of Removal).]

         STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, reveals “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists where “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The Court “may not make credibility determinations nor weigh the evidence when determining whether an issue of fact remains for trial.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Logan v. Denny's, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001); Ahlers v. Schebil, 188 F.3d 365, 369 (6th Cir. 1999)). “The ultimate question is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Back v. Nestlé USA, Inc., 694 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52).

         As the parties moving for summary judgment, the defendants must shoulder the burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to at least one essential element of Plaintiff's claims. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Assuming each defendant satisfies its burden of production, Plaintiff “must-by deposition, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and admissions on file- show specific facts that reveal a genuine issue for trial.” Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).

         When, as here, the nonmoving party decides not to file a response, the Court still holds “the moving party to the burden established by the plain language of [Civil] Rule 56.” Guarino v. Brookfield Twp. Trs., 980 F.2d 399, 410 (6th Cir. 1992). In other words, the Court cannot “grant summary judgment in favor of the movant simply because the adverse party has not responded.” Carver v. Bunch, 946 F.2d 451, 455 (6th Cir. 1991). Instead, the Court is required, at a minimum, “to examine the movant's motion for summary judgment to ensure that he has discharged [his] burden.” Id. In performing its task, though, the Court may ‚Äúrely on the moving party's unrebutted recitation of the evidence, or pertinent portions thereof, in reaching a conclusion that certain evidence and inferences from ...


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