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Gottschall v. Crane Co.

California Court of Appeals, First District, Second Division

October 8, 2014

KIMBRA GOTTSCHALL et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
CRANE CO., Defendant and Respondent.

[REVIEW GRANTED BY CAL. SUPREME COURT]

[As Modification on November 13, 2014]

Superior Court of San Francisco City and County Super. Ct. No. CGC-10-275486 Honorable Teri L. Jackson

Page 1116

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1117

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1118

COUNSEL

Bray ton Purcell, Alan R. Bray ton, Lloyd F. LeRoy and Richard M. Grant for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

K & L Gates, Michele C. Barnes, Daniel W. Fox and Michael J. Ross for Defendant and Respondent.

OPINION

RICHMAN, J.

The heirs and family of decedent Robert Gottschall sued Crane Co. in the San Francisco Superior Court because of Robert’s death from mesothelioma, allegedly inflicted on him during his work in shipyards and similar places. Crane moved for summary judgment on the basis that a Pennsylvania federal court’s summary judgment in favor of another manufacturer-a judgment based on application of the “sophisticated user” doctrine-was collateral estoppel of the San Francisco action. The San Francisco court agreed, and granted summary judgment for Crane. We reverse, holding that

Page 1119

the federal court’s resolution of this issue was wrong under California law, and thus collateral estoppel does not apply.

BACKGROUND

On February 5, 2010, Robert Gottschall filed a complaint in San Francisco Superior Court against Crane and 17 of the original 18 defendants, all of which had allegedly caused him to develop an “asbestos-related disease” because of the products those defendants produced, and to which he was exposed by his work from 1957 to 1989 in a variety of shipyards and other similar facilities. Gottschall died, and on August 13, 2010, the superior court entered an order substituting his eldest daughter, Kimbra Gottschall, as the personal representative of his estate and his four other children (collectively, appellants). Appellants then filed a first amended complaint against 17 of the original 18 defendants, including Crane.

On November 10, 2010, appellants filed a wrongful death and survival action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against six defendants that had not been named in the superior court action. Shortly thereafter, that action was transferred to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which had been designated as the “MDL court, ” i.e., the court to handle multi-district litigation.

In both of these actions, i.e., the San Francisco Superior Court action and the action transferred to the Pennsylvania federal court, appellants made essentially the same assertions: their father, Robert Gottschall, had been exposed to asbestos-containing products while doing work at various shipyards on United States Navy vessels. And appellants’ claims in the federal action sounded in negligence and strict liability under California law, claims similar to those made in the San Francisco action.

On December 8, 2011, the Pennsylvania federal court granted summary judgment to defendant General Dynamics Corporation, a defendant which had been sued because it had supplied the United States Navy vessels with asbestos-containing materials. The Pennsylvania federal court held that under California law the Navy was a “sophisticated user” of asbestos-containing material, and therefore appellants’ claims against General Dynamics failed. The Pennsylvania federal court set forth the issue, and its resolution, this way:

“General Dynamics asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment on the basis of the sophisticated user defense because the Navy was a sophisticated user. In asserting this ...


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