Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Hardwick v. 3M Co.
Hardwick alleged that his bloodstream contains trace quantities of five chemicals (PFAS)—which are part of a family of thousands of chemicals used in medical devices, automotive interiors, waterproof clothing, food packaging, firefighting foam, non-stick cookware, ski and car waxes, batteries, semiconductors, aviation and aerospace construction, paints and varnishes, and building materials. Hardwick, who was exposed to firefighting foam, does not know what companies manufactured the particular chemicals in his bloodstream; nor does he know whether those chemicals might someday make him sick. Of the thousands of companies that have manufactured PFAS since the 1950s, Hardwick sued 10 defendants and sought to represent a class comprising nearly every person “residing in the United States.” The district court certified a class comprising every person residing in Ohio with trace amounts of certain PFAS in their blood.The Sixth Circuit remanded with instructions to dismiss the case. Even at the pleadings stage, the factual allegations, taken as true, “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” The element of traceability requires a showing that the plaintiff’s “injury was likely caused by the defendant.” The district court treated the defendants as a collective, but “standing is not dispensed in gross.” Even if Hardwick met the actual-injury requirement he must tie his injury to each defendant.” Hardwick’s conclusory allegations do not support a plausible inference that any of the defendants bear responsibility for the PFAS in Hardwick’s blood. View "Hardwick v. 3M Co." on Justia Law
Kellom v. Quinn
In April 2015, federal agent Quinn shot and killed Kellom while trying to arrest him. Kellom’s estate sued Quinn under the Federal Tort Claims Act with a “Bivens” excessive-force claim. The government replaced Quinn as the defendant in the tort claims. The estate then filed an unsuccessful claim with Quinn’s employer, DHS. The FTCA requires plaintiffs to seek relief “first” from the federal agency within two years: the government notified the estate that it needed to bring a new lawsuit for its FTCA claims. Instead, in May 2018, the estate amended its complaint, asserting the same claims. The district court treated the FTCA exhaustion requirement as jurisdictional and dismissed the FTCA claims. The Bivens claim proceeded. A jury ruled in Quinn’s favor. Meanwhile, Kellom’s family members brought FTCA claims by joining the estate’s amended complaint, which was filed in May 2018. The family had not sought relief from DHS, so the district court dismissed those claims. In October 2018, the family filed a claim with DHS. DHS denied the claim. Rather than rejoin the estate’s lawsuit, the family filed a new one. The district court dismissed the family’s claims as untimely.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The government did not waive or forfeit its exhaustion defense in the estate’s case by failing to oppose a motion to amend. The estate did not cure its failure to exhaust by filing an amended complaint. The family’s claims were untimely. View "Kellom v. Quinn" on Justia Law
Wilgar Land Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
Adams, born in 1960, smoked about a pack a day starting at age 18 and worked in coal mines at times between 1979-1995, mostly underground using a “cutting machine” in the “dustiest” areas. Adams struggled to breathe after his retirement. Adams’s 1998 application under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901(b), was denied because he failed to prove that he had pneumoconiosis. In 2008, Adams sought benefits from Wilgar. His treating physician, Dr. Alam, identified the causes of his 2013 death as cardiopulmonary arrest, emphysema, coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, throat cancer, and aspiration pneumonia.A 2019 notice in the case stated “the Court may look to the preamble to the revised” regulations in weighing conflicting medical opinions. Wilgar unsuccessfully requested discovery concerning the preamble and the scientific studies that supported its conclusions. The ALJ awarded benefits, finding that Adams had “legal pneumoconiosis” and giving Dr. Alam’s opinion that Adam’s coal mine work had substantially aggravated his disease “controlling weight.” All things being equal, a treating physician’s opinion is “entitled to more weight,” 30 C.F.R. 718.104(d)(1). Wilgar's three experts had opined that Adams’s smoking exclusively caused his disease The ALJ gave “little weight” to these opinions, believing that they conflicted with the preamble to the 2001 regulation.The Benefits Review Board and Sixth Circuit affirmed. The preamble interpreted the then-existing scientific studies to establish that coal mine work can cause obstructive diseases, either alone or in combination with smoking. The ALJ simply found the preamble more persuasive than the experts. View "Wilgar Land Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs" on Justia Law
Allen v. United States
Built in 1924, the Edenville Dam near Midland, Michigan, has earthen embankments spanning the Tittabawassee and Tobacco Rivers, forming a 2,600-acre reservoir. In 1998, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a license to Wolverine Power to operate the Dam. FERC directed Wolverine to increase the Dam’s spillway capacity. Wolverine became insolvent. In 2003, Boyce’s predecessor purchased Wolverine’s license. Boyce promised to increase spillway capacity but failed to do so and committed numerous other regulatory violations: unauthorized repairs, dredging, and land-clearing; failing to file a public safety plan; and failing to properly monitor water quality. In 2018, FERC revoked Boyce’s license. Jurisdiction over the Dam passed to Michigan’s Department of Environmental, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), which regulates over 1,000 dams. EGLE inspected the Dam and found it to be in “fair” condition. In May 2020, the Tittabawassee portion of the Dam collapsed following heavy rain, causing another downstream dam to fail. Thousands of residents (including the Allens) were forced to evacuate. Boyce filed for bankruptcy.The Allens sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act for damages and restitution from the United States, arguing that FERC negligently entrusted Boyce with the Dam. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. The United States was entitled to sovereign immunity and did not waive that immunity in the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 791a–823g. Section 803(c) imposes liability on the licensees who build and manage hydropower projects. View "Allen v. United States" on Justia Law
L. C. v. United States
While L.C. was incarcerated at Federal Medical Center, Lexington, she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Bureau of Prisons (BOP) employee, Lee. L.C. alleges that the BOP knew or should have known of Lee’s assaults on her and other incarcerated women and failed to enforce its zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault in BOP facilities because BOP officials failed timely to report and investigate Lee’s assaults. L.C. filed a negligence claim against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).The district court dismissed the assault-and-battery claim, holding that the FTCA’s exception to sovereign immunity does not apply to torts committed by federal employees who act beyond the scope of their employment. It dismissed her negligence claim under the discretionary-function exception to the FTCA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed on other grounds. The claims fall outside the discretionary-function exception; BOP policy imposes specific and mandatory directives on all BOP officials timely to report and investigate information pertaining to sexual assault by a BOP official and deciding whether to do so is not susceptible to policy considerations. The negligence claim, however, should be dismissed for failure to allege sufficiently that the BOP knew or should have known of Lee’s attacks. View "L. C. v. United States" on Justia Law
Trumbull County v. Purdue Pharma, L.P.
In the multidistrict National Prescription Opiate Litigation, municipalities from across the nation, Indian Tribes, and other entities allege that opioid manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies, and retailers acted in concert to mislead medical professionals into prescribing, and millions of Americans into taking and often becoming addicted to, opiates. Two northeast Ohio counties, Trumbull and Lake, alleged that national pharmaceutical chains “created, perpetuated, and maintained” the opioid epidemic by filling prescriptions for opioids without controls in place to stop the distribution of those that were illicitly prescribed and that conduct caused an absolute public nuisance remediable by abatement under Ohio common law.The district court ordered a bellwether trial, after which a jury concluded that the “oversupply of legal prescription opioids, and diversion of those opioids into the illicit market” was a public nuisance in those counties and that defendants “engaged in intentional and/or illegal conduct which was a substantial factor in producing" that nuisance. The district court entered a $650 million abatement order and an injunction requiring defendants to “ensure they are complying fully with the Controlled Substances Act and avoiding further improper dispensing conduct.” On appeal, the Sixth Circuit certified a question of law to the Ohio Supreme Court: Whether the Ohio Product Liability Act, Ohio Revised Code 2307.71, abrogates a common law claim of absolute public nuisance resulting from the sale of a product in commerce in which the plaintiffs seek equitable abatement, including both monetary and injunctive remedies? View "Trumbull County v. Purdue Pharma, L.P." on Justia Law
Sullivan v. LG Chem Ltd.
LG Chem manufactured the LG HG2 18650 lithium-ion batteries that exploded in Sullivan’s pocket and caused him severe second- and third-degree burns. Sullivan obtained the batteries from a vape store in Michigan to use for his e-cigarette device. In Sullivan’s suit, LG Chem, a South Korean company, opposed personal jurisdiction, arguing that exercising personal jurisdiction over it in Michigan would be improper under Michigan’s long-arm statute and the Due Process Clause. Limited discovery revealed that LG sent at least two shipments of 18650 batteries directly into Michigan and had executed “two supplier agreements . . . with Michigan companies relating to 18650 batteries.” Neither party addressed whether any of the 18650 batteries that LG shipped into Michigan was ultimately one of the batteries that injured Sullivan.The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. LG urged too narrow a view of personal jurisdiction. The Michigan district court may properly exercise personal jurisdiction over LG because it directly shipped its 18650 batteries into the state and entered into two supplier contracts with Michigan companies for 18650 batteries. The court noted that other courts have exercised personal jurisdiction over LG when LG conducts business related to its 18650 batteries in or ships its 18650 batteries into the forum state. View "Sullivan v. LG Chem Ltd." on Justia Law
Abbott v. United States
In 2016, Salansky, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Fire Management Officer, discovered a slow-moving fire covering less than an acre. Due to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, most of the Park’s staff were away. Eight days later (November 24), Salansky observed that building a fire line would be impossible. Salansky opted to let the fire burn, using the natural terrain for containment. On November 27, Salansky requested additional firefighting resources. A National Guard helicopter dropped water onto the fire. By evening, the fire had spread to 35-40 acres within Park boundaries. Salansky did not monitor the fire overnight. At 4:05 a.m., the National Weather Service issued a high-wind warning. By 7:30 a.m., Salansky estimated that the fire had grown to 250-500 acres. Burning embers created smaller fires a mile away. People in Gatlinburg observed heavy smoke and ash. A 10:58 a.m. call was the first communication between Park staff and any local official about the fire. Around 5:45 p.m., the Gatlinburg Fire Department received reports of fires within the city. Winds gusted to 87 mph and the fire grew to 5,000 acres. Total evacuation of the Gatlinburg area was ordered. Evacuation efforts were hampered by infrastructure damage. Ultimately, 14 people died, 191 were injured, 2,500 structures were damaged or destroyed, and more than 17,000 acres burned.The Sixth Circuit vacated the dismissal of “failure to warn” suits under the Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA). Before filing suit under the FTCA, a claimant must “present” that claim to the agency, 28 U.S.C. 2675(a); the plaintiffs’ forms sufficiently enabled the Department of the Interior to investigate. On remand, to determine whether the claims are barred by the FTCA's discretionary-function exception, the district court should address whether certain publications constitute mandatory directives. View "Abbott v. United States" on Justia Law
Sandmann v. New York Times Co.
On January 18, 2019, then-16-year-old Sandmann and his classmates, attending the March for Life, had an interaction with a Native American man, Phillips, by the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The boys were wearing “MAGA” hats and were impeding Phillips, who was attempting to exit the situation, which was becoming confrontational. A chaperone dispersed the students. Video of the incident went viral, and national news organizations, including the five defendants, published stories about the day’s events and the ensuing public reaction.Sandmann sued, alleging that the reporting, which included statements from Phillips about the encounter, was defamatory. The district court granted the news organizations’ joint motion for summary judgment, finding that the challenged statements were opinion, not fact, and therefore nonactionable. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The articles at issue did not “embrace” Phillips’s version of events; they describe a contentious encounter, the meaning of which was hotly disputed by participants and witnesses. The online articles embedded a video of the incident. Whether Sandmann “blocked” Phillips, did not “allow” him to retreat, or “decided” that he would not move aside and “positioned himself” so that he “stopped” Phillips are all dependent on perspective and are not “susceptible” of being proven true or false under the circumstances. View "Sandmann v. New York Times Co." on Justia Law
Patterson v. United Healthcare Insurance Co.
United provided Patterson's medical insurance under a plan subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1101. Patterson received a summary plan description, an ERISA-mandated synopsis of important plan terms but was not given a plan document with all of a plan’s governing language. The summary said that if a beneficiary recovered from a third party for an insured incident, the plan had a right to reimbursement. Patterson was injured in a traffic accident. United covered his medical expenses and notified Patterson it would invoke the reimbursement right. Patterson sued the other driver in state court and joined the plan, seeking a declaratory judgment that it had no reimbursement right. United’s lawyers claimed that no plan document existed. Patterson recovered and settled with the plan for $25,000. Months later, Patterson’s wife suffered injuries in another traffic accident. United paid her medical expenses. Patterson’s wife sued the driver in state court. She obtained a declaratory judgment after the plan's lawyers produced a plan document, stating that it took precedence over the summary and not including a reimbursement right.Patterson then filed a purported class action under ERISA, seeking the return of the $25,000. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Patterson had standing to sue only on his own behalf but has cognizable claims for breach of fiduciary duty and engagement in prohibited transactions. View "Patterson v. United Healthcare Insurance Co." on Justia Law