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Byard v. Honeywell International Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 13, 2016

WILLIAM L. BYARD, JR., et al . Plaintiffs,


          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs William L. Byard, Jr.; Carrie L. Byard; and Robert L. Byard, the adult children of the late William L. Byard (“Decedent”), filed suit against Honeywell International Inc. (“Honeywell”), defendant, on March 15, 2016. ECF 1 (“Complaint”). Plaintiffs assert tort claims against Honeywell arising from the death of the Decedent in 2013. Id.

         Honeywell manufactured chromium, a heavy metal, at a plant in Baltimore, and the manufacturing process resulted, among other things, in the production of a carcinogenic toxic waste, known as chromium ore processing residues (“COPR”). Plaintiffs claim that Honeywell stored and dumped COPR on land that was adjacent to, and later became part of, the Dundalk Marine Terminal (“DMT”), where the Decedent worked as a longshoreman from 1969 to 2011. According to plaintiffs, the Decedent developed lung cancer as a result of his exposure to COPR.

         Defendant has moved to dismiss (ECF 10), pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 10-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and exhibits. ECF 10-2; ECF 10-3. According to defendant, plaintiffs' claims are “time-barred by Maryland's 20-year statute of repose . . . .” ECF 10-1 at 12. See Md. Code (2013 Repl. Vol., 2016 Supp.), § 5- 108(a) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article (“C.J.”). Plaintiffs oppose the Motion (ECF 13, “Opposition”) and defendant replied. ECF 14.

         On December 5, 2016, Honeywell submitted a “Notice of Supplemental Authority” (ECF 15), notifying the Court of the Fourth Circuit's decision in Leichling v. Honeywell International, Inc., ____ F.3d____, 2016 WL 7030628 (4th Cir. Dec. 2, 2016). Honeywell argues that the Fourth Circuit's opinion in Leichling “compels dismissal of this case . . . .” Id. at 2. Plaintiffs responded on December 6, 2016, arguing that the Leichling case is distinguishable on several grounds. ECF 16. Defendant replied on December 7, 2016. ECF 17.

         The Motion is fully briefed and no hearing is necessary to resolve it. See Local Rule 105.6. I conclude that the case sub judice is squarely governed by Leichling, and I shall grant the Motion.

         I. Factual Background[1]

         From 1845 until 1954, the Mutual Chemical Company, which, through mergers and acquisitions was subsequently acquired by Honeywell, operated “one of the world's largest chromium ore processing and chromium product manufacturing plants on a site “commonly known today as Harbor Point, ” in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore. ECF 1, ¶¶ 7-8. “Honeywell's chromium ore processing and chromium production were waste-intensive processes that generated massive quantities of toxic, carcinogenic, chromium-contaminated COPR wastes.” Id. ¶ 9.

         The DMT was established around 1960 by the Maryland Port Authority, which is now the Maryland Port Administration.” Id. ¶ 11. Honeywell owned approximately 85 acres of land adjacent to the DMT, which originally consisted of marshland and shallow water abutting the Patapsco River. Id. Beginning around 1920, Honeywell used that site to “dispose of the vast quantities of toxic, hexavalent-chromium-contaminated COPR waste generated at its Harbor Point plant.” Id. ¶¶ 6, 11. And, at least since the 1930s Honeywell knew of the carcinogenic dangers posed by COPR. Id. ¶ 10. As a result of defendant's disposal of COPR, Honeywell expanded the acreage of its property. Id.

         In 1967, the Maryland Port Administration acquired Honeywell's 85 acres of land. Id. ¶ 12. As part of the agreement, Honeywell retained the right to use five acres to dump COPR. Id. Until 1976, Honeywell continued to use the site to dump COPR. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. In 2006, environmental investigators estimated that Honeywell had dumped approximately 2.5 million cubic yards of COPR, or 3.25 million tons, covering a 148 acre area. Id. ¶ 15.

         Honeywell's COPR waste contained “substantial quantities of toxic, hexavalent chromium.” Id. ¶ 16. “Hexavalent chromium is known to cause lung cancer, an increase in stomach tumors and cancers in humans and animals exposed to hexavalent chromium via ingestion, and other cancers.” Id. ¶ 23. In 1972, Honeywell pled guilty to 12 counts of a federal criminal indictment charging violations of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899. Id. ¶ 27. It paid a substantial fine because of its pollution activities. Id.

         As noted, the Decedent worked as a longshoreman at the DMT from 1969 until his retirement in 2011, and worked adjacent to the site that Honeywell used to dump its COPR waste. Id. ¶¶ 1, 6. While the Decedent worked at the DMT, “large volumes of COPR waste were frequently left in uncovered piles for extended periods of time at and adjacent to the docks, piers, wharves and other work areas at the facility.” Id. ¶ 17. Environmental factors, including wind and erosion, “caused hazardous substances to spread throughout the DMT, so that workers, including [the Decedent], were exposed to hexavalent chromium and other hazardous substances contained within the dust, dirt, and other releases from the disposal areas.” Id. ¶ 19. In addition, “hexavalent chromium-contaminated groundwater leaked into the drinking water distribution system . . . .” Id. ¶ 21.

         The Decedent was diagnosed with lung cancer on April 23, 2013. Id. ¶ 6. He died on May 19, 2013, at the age of 62. Id.

         II. Standard of Review

         A defendant may test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Goines v. Valley Cmty, Servs, Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom. McBurney v. Young, ____ U.S.____, 133 S.Ct. 1709 (2013); Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts alleged by a plaintiff are true, the complaint fails as a matter of law “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” The purpose of the rule is to provide the defendants with “fair notice” of the claims and the “grounds” for entitlement to relief. Bell Atl., Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).

         To survive a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions' . . . .” (citation omitted)); see also Simmons v. United Mortg. & Loan Inv., LLC, 634 F.3d 754, 768 (4th Cir. 2011). But, a plaintiff need not include “detailed factual allegations” in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2). Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, federal pleading rules “do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, U.S., 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam).

         Nevertheless, the rule demands more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). If a complaint provides no more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” it is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rather, to satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), the complaint must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action, “even if . . . ...

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