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Kurns v. Railroad Friction Products Corp.

February 29, 2012

GLORIA GAIL KURNS, EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF GEORGE M. CORSON, DECEASED, ET AL., PETITIONERS
v.
RAILROAD FRICTION PRODUCTS CORPORATION ET AL.



ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT Court Below: 620 F. 3d 392

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

OCTOBER TERM, 2011

Argued November 9, 2011

George Corson worked as a welder and machinist for a railroad carrier. After retirement, Corson was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He and his wife, a petitioner here, sued respondents Railroad Friction Prod- ucts Corporation and Viad Corp in state court, claiming injury from Corson's exposure to asbestos in locomotives and locomotive parts distributed by respondents. The Corsons alleged state-law claims of defective design and failure to warn of the dangers posed by asbestos. After Corson died, petitioner Kurns, executrix of his estate, was substituted as a party. Respondents removed the case to the Federal District Court, which granted them summary judgment, ruling that the state-law claims were pre-empted by the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA), 49 U. S. C. §20701 et seq. The Third Circuit affirmed.

Held: Petitioners' state-law design-defect and failure-to-warn claims fall within the field of locomotive equipment regulation pre-empted by the LIA, as that field was defined in Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., 272 U. S. 605. Pp. 2−11.

(a) The LIA provides that a railroad carrier may use or allow to be used a locomotive or tender on its railroad line only when the locomotive or tender and its parts or appurtenances are in proper condition and safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal injury, have been inspected as required by the LIA and regulations prescribed thereunder by the Secretary of Transportation, and can withstand every test prescribed under the LIA by the Secretary. See §20701. Pp. 2-3.

(b) Congress may expressly pre-empt state law. But even without an express pre-emption provision, state law must yield to a congres- sional Act to the extent of any conflict with a federal statute, see Crosby v. National Foreign Trade Council, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

565 U. S. ____ (2012)

Opinion of the Court

This case requires us to determine whether petitioners' state-law tort claims for defective design and failure to warn are pre-empted by the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA), 49 U. S. C. §20701 et seq. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit determined that petition ers' claims fall within the field pre-empted by that Act, as that field was defined by this Court's decision in Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., 272 U. S. 605 (1926). We agree.

I.

George Corson was employed as a welder and machinist by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad from 1947 until 1974. Corson worked in locomotive repair and maintenance facilities, where his duties included installing brakeshoes on locomotives and stripping insula tion from locomotive boilers. In 2005, Corson was diag nosed with malignant mesothelioma.

In 2007, Corson and his wife filed suit in Pennsylvania state court against 59 defendants, including respondents Railroad Friction Products Corporation (RFPC) and Viad Corp (Viad). According to the complaint, RFPC distribut ed locomotive brakeshoes containing asbestos, and Viad was the successor-in-interest to a company that manufac tured and sold locomotives and locomotive engine valves containing asbestos. Corson alleged that he handled this equipment and that he was injured by exposure to asbes tos. The complaint asserted state-law claims that the equipment was defectively designed because it contained asbestos, and that respondents failed to warn of the dan gers of asbestos or to provide instructions regarding its safe use. After the complaint was filed, Corson passed away, and the executrix of his estate, Gloria Kurns, was substituted as a party. Corson's widow and the executrix are petitioners here.

Respondents removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and moved for summary judgment. Respondents argued that petitioners' state-law claims were pre-empted by the LIA. The District Court agreed and granted summary judgment for respondents. See Kurns v. A. W. Chesterton, Civ. Action No. 08-2216 (ED Pa., Feb. 3, 2009), App. to Pet. for Cert. 39a. The Third Circuit affirmed. See Kurns v. A. W. Chesterton, Inc., 620 F. 3d 392 (2010). We granted certiorari. 563 U. S. ___ (2011).

II.

Congress enacted the predecessor to the LIA, the Boiler Inspection Act (BIA), in 1911. The BIA made it unlawful to use a steam locomotive "unless the boiler of said loco motive and appurtenances thereof are in proper condition and safe to operate . . . without unnecessary peril to life or limb." Act of Feb. 17, 1911, ch. 103, §2, 36 Stat. 913-914. In 1915, Congress amended the BIA to apply to "the entire locomotive and tender and all parts and appurtenances thereof."*fn1 Act of Mar. 4, 1915, ch. 169, §1, 38 Stat. 1192. The BIA as amended became commonly known as the Locomotive Inspection Act. As relevant here, the LIA provides:

"A railroad carrier may use or allow to be used a locomotive or tender on its railroad line only when the locomotive or tender and its parts and appurtenances--

"(1) are in proper condition and safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal injury;

"(2) have been inspected as required under this chapter and regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Transportation under this chapter; and

"(3) can withstand every test prescribed by the Sec retary ...


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