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Burns v. Bechtel Corp.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

May 30, 2013

JEAN BURNS
v.
BECHTEL CORP., N/K/A SEQUOIA VENTURES, INC.

Zarnoch, Matricciani, Thieme, Raymond G., Jr. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

OPINION

Matricciani, J.

Appellant, Jean Burns, and her husband, Robert, [1] filed suit against Bechtel Corp.[2]in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City on November 5, 2009, alleging that Bechtel was liable for Mr. Burns' contracting mesothelioma from asbestos exposure. Bechtel moved for summary judgment, and after a hearing on the matter, the trial court granted Bechtel's motion on November 15, 2011, holding that appellant's claims were barred by the Statute of Repose codified in § 5-108 of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article ("CJ"), Maryland Code (1974, 2006 Repl. Vol.). Appellant voluntarily dismissed her remaining claims on April 12, 2012, and this timely appeal followed on May 8, 2012.

Questions Presented

Appellant presents the following questions, which we have rephrased to comport with our discussion:

I. Did the trial court err when it held that a general contractor was not in actual possession and control of a property, where the contractor's control was limited to the scope of its construction project?
II. Did the trial court err when it held that "improvements" as used in CJ § 5-108 include asbestos dust or fibers which are shed or emitted prior to or in the course of the affixation, application, or installation of the asbestos or the product that contains asbestos to an improvement to real property?

For the reasons that follow, we answer no and affirm the judgment of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

Factual and Procedural History

According to his complaint, Mr. Burns worked from 1949 to 1986 as a roving maintenance employee for the Potomac Electric Power Company ("PEPCO"). He overhauled generators, rebuilt their components, and cleaned up after other tradesmen.

During the course of Mr. Burns' employment, PEPCO hired Bechtel as its general contractor to perform construction projects at its various power stations, including three that are relevant to the present appeal: the Dickerson, Chalk Point, and Morgantown plants. Bechtel was responsible for each project's design, specifications, and construction, and the contract for work at the Dickerson and Chalk Point plants granted Bechtel "absolute control" of the projects.[3] At all three sites, Bechtel supervised the work and safety of all subcontractors and was responsible for all inspections. The designs at all three locations specified the use of asbestos insulation, to which appellant was exposed.

Mr. Burns was diagnosed with mesothelioma in August of 2009 and, joined by his wife, brought suit against Bechtel and various other parties involved in the PEPCO construction projects on November 5, 2009. Bechtel moved for summary judgment on the ground that all claims against it were barred by CJ § 5-108, which provides repose for certain defendants from claims of "wrongful death, personal injury, or injury to real or personal property resulting from the defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property."[4] After hearing arguments on the matter, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Bechtel on November 15, 2011. Appellant timely appealed.

Discussion

Standard of Review


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