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Estate of Schatz v. John Crane, Inc.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

November 2, 2018

ESTATE OF CONCETTA SCHATZ, et al.
v.
JOHN CRANE, INC.

          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case Nos. 24X1500318 & 24X1600024

          Wright, Beachley, Zarnoch, Robert A. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Beachley, J.

         In 2015, Concetta Schatz ("Mrs. Schatz") passed away from malignant mesothelioma. After her death, Mrs. Schatz's estate and her four surviving daughters ("appellants") commenced a products liability action against John Crane, Inc. ("JCI" or "appellee"). Appellants alleged that Mrs. Schatz's husband, William Schatz ("Mr. Schatz"), would handle JCI products containing asbestos while at work, and then bring his asbestos-covered clothing home for Mrs. Schatz to clean, thus exposing her to asbestos fibers.

         The case proceeded to trial. At the close of appellants' case-in-chief, JCI moved for judgment, arguing that appellants had failed to prove that JCI owed a legal duty to warn Mrs. Schatz pursuant to Georgia-Pacific, LLC v. Farrar, 432 Md. 523 (2013). Following arguments, the trial court granted JCI's motion. Appellants timely appealed and present two questions for our review, which we have condensed as follows[1]:

1. Whether the circuit court erred in granting JCI's motion for judgment.

         We hold that the court did not err, and affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         Mr. Schatz married Mrs. Schatz on November 13, 1955. Near the time of their marriage, Mr. Schatz began working for Baltimore Gas & Electric ("BG&E"), where he continued to work until he retired in the mid-to-late 1980s. For approximately the first two years of his employment with BG&E, Mr. Schatz worked with turbines. He was then transferred to Wagner Station and shortly thereafter was promoted to mechanic. Mr. Schatz remained a mechanic at Wagner Station for the rest of his career with BG&E. While working at Wagner Station as a mechanic, Mr. Schatz was responsible for repairing and maintaining a variety of equipment, including air compressors, coal machinery, fly ash hoppers, and of particular relevance here, boilers.

         The boilers at Wagner Station each contained approximately 200 doors. The packing or sealing surrounding these doors would routinely deteriorate due to heat and dirt from the boilers, and Mr. Schatz and other mechanics were tasked with replacing the damaged packing with JCI rope.[2] The rope used was white and flexible, and when mechanics would cut it to fit into the doors, it created dust and dirt. Unfortunately, from 1930 until 1985, JCI's rope contained sixty percent chrysotile asbestos.

         BG&E did not provide any laundry services to its employees when Mr. Schatz worked at Wagner Station as a mechanic, so he would typically take his dirty work clothes home for his wife to wash. Approximately every other day, Mrs. Schatz would shake out and wash the dirty work clothes, breathing in the dust as she did so. After Mrs. Schatz passed away due to mesothelioma, appellants filed this products liability claim against JCI.

         Appellants' trial against JCI began on July 25, 2017. JCI moved for judgment on August 4, at the close of appellants' case-in-chief. On August 8, the circuit court held that JCI did not owe a duty to warn Mrs. Schatz, and granted JCI's motion. Appellants timely appealed. We shall provide additional facts as necessary for our analysis.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "We review the trial court's grant of [JCI's] motion for judgment de novo, considering the evidence and reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Thomas v. Panco Mgmt. of Md., LLC, 423 Md. 387, 393-94 (2011) (citing C & M Builders, LLC v. Strub, 420 Md. 268, 290 (2011)).

         DISCUSSION

         Appellants argue that the circuit court erred in concluding that JCI did not owe a duty to warn Mrs. Schatz. Specifically, they claim that: 1) the court erred "in finding that household members constitute an indeterminate class, contrary to the holding in Farrar"; and 2) "[U]nder Farrar, a duty to warn extended to household members beginning in 1972 when OSHA[3] promulgated safety regulations dealing specifically with the problem of tracking asbestos dust on clothing into the home." We first explain why JCI did not have a duty to warn Mrs. Schatz of the danger of exposure to its asbestos ropes. Though not material to our holding, we then briefly address the court's finding that Mrs. Schatz did not belong to a "definite determinative class" under Farrar.

         I. JCI Did Not Owe a Duty to Mrs. Schatz

         The parties to this appeal dispute whether JCI owed a duty to warn Mrs. Schatz of the dangers of its asbestos product. In Farrar, a case directly on point, the Court of Appeals discussed whether a manufacturer and supplier of an asbestos product had a duty to warn the family member of a bystander who was exposed to its product. 432 Md. at 526. There, John Hentgen ("Mr. Hentgen"), a mechanic in the construction industry, worked on a project at the Forrestal Building in Washington D.C. for a six or seven-month period from 1968 to 1969. Id. at 525. While there, Mr. Hentgen worked in the immediate vicinity of workers who would install drywall and then apply a "Georgia Pacific Ready-Mix joint compound to smooth the joints between the drywall slabs." Id. at 525-26. During the time that Mr. Hentgen worked at the Forrestal Building, Georgia Pacific's "Ready-Mix contained asbestos, and the sanding created a great deal of dust that got on Mr. Hentgen's clothes, hair, and skin." Id. at 526.

         At the end of each work week, Mr. Hentgen would bring his work clothes home to be washed. Id. at 525. Jocelyn Farrar ("Ms. Farrar"), the plaintiff in that case, was Mr. Hentgen's granddaughter. Id. "During her teenage years in the 1960s, Ms. Farrar and her sister shared the task of shaking out Mr. Hentgen's work clothes, which were covered with asbestos-laden dust, laundering them, and sweeping the dust from the floor." Id. Unfortunately, Ms. Farrar was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2008. Id.

         Ms. Farrar filed claims against more than thirty defendants, including Georgia Pacific, alleging, inter alia, strict liability and negligence claims. Id. at 526. After the jury ruled in Ms. Farrar's favor, Georgia Pacific appealed, arguing that the trial court had erred in denying its motion for judgment because it had no duty to warn Ms. Farrar. Id. After this Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment, the Court of Appeals reversed, agreeing with Georgia Pacific that it did not have a duty to warn persons such as Ms. Farrar. Id.

         In discussing whether Georgia Pacific had a duty to warn, the Court of Appeals explained that "[a]t its core, the determination of whether a duty exists represents a policy question of whether the specific plaintiff is entitled to protection from the defendant." Id. at 529 (quoting Gourdine v. Crews, 405 Md. 722, 745 (2008)). The Court recognized that "[t]here is no set formula for the determination of whether a duty exists," but stated that it "applied a 'foreseeability of harm' test, 'which is based upon the recognition that duty must be limited to avoid liability for unreasonably remote circumstances[.]'" Id. at 529 (quoting Doe v. Pharmacia & Upjohn Co., 388 Md. 407, 415 (2005)). The Court cautioned, however, that "[w]hile foreseeability is often considered among the most important of [the] factors, its existence alone does not suffice to establish a duty under Maryland law." Id. at 530 (quoting Gourdine, 405 Md. at 745-46).

         After establishing the overarching policy considerations, the Court narrowed its focus for ...


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