Monday, April 25, 2011

Rhodes v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

Apr 8: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, Case No. 10-1166. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, at Parkersburg. The Appeals Court indicates that the case arose under the district court's diversity jurisdiction and involves the contamination of a public water supply in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The Appeals Court considered whether the plaintiffs, individuals who consumed the water but have not become ill as a result, demonstrated an injury sufficient to survive summary judgment on certain West Virginia common law tort claims. The Appeals Court also reviewed the district court's rulings denying class certification of those claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b). And, finally, the Appeals Court decided whether the plaintiffs, who obtained voluntary dismissals in the district court of their individual claims for medical monitoring, have standing to pursue an appeal of the district court's denial of class certification of those claims.
    The facts and procedural history in the case indicate that for an extended period of time, DuPont's plant discharged perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) into the environment surrounding the Parkersburg City Water Department plant. Measurable quantities of PFOA were detected in the water that is pumped by the Water Department into the plaintiffs' residences. PFOA also has accumulated in the plaintiffs' blood and has been detected in the homes of other customers of the Water Department.
    The plaintiffs asserted six common law claims, individually and on behalf of a class of customers of the Water Department, addressing the contamination of their municipal water supply and the resulting presence of PFOA in their blood. The plaintiffs sought damages with respect to claims of negligence, gross negligence, battery, trespass, and private nuisance. The plaintiffs also sought injunctive relief to obtain long-term diagnostic testing (medical monitoring) for latent diseases on behalf of a class of Water Department customers exposed to PFOA beginning in 2005. Additionally, the plaintiffs asserted individual and class claims for medical monitoring, a common law tort first recognized by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in 1991.
    The Appeals Court dismissed the plaintiffs' claim challenging the district court's denial of their class certification request for the medical monitoring claims, and affirmed the balance of the district court's judgment. The Appeals Court said, "In conclusion, we affirm the district court's award of summary judgment to DuPont on all the plaintiffs' traditional common law tort claims, namely, the claims of negligence, gross negligence, battery, trespass, private nuisance, and public nuisance. We do not address the separate matter of the district court's denial of class certification of these traditional common law tort claims as these issues are now moot. Finally, we dismiss the plaintiffs' appeal of the district court's class certification ruling on their medical monitoring claims for lack of jurisdiction."
Access the complete opinion (click here). [*Toxics, *Drink]

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