Mass Tort & Class Action

Today the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in this landmark case concerning punitive damages.  The six justices in the majority opinion reversed the Ninth Circuit and resolved a circuit split on this issue.  The question presented was whether punitive damages may be awarded to a Jones Act seaman in a personal injury suit alleging a breach of the general maritime duty to provide a seaworthy vessel.  Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justices Thomas, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh.  Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor.


Continue Reading SCOTUS Decides Dutra Group v. Batterton

In a decision that could have far-reaching implications, the United States Supreme Court issued a June 10 opinion holding that California’s wage-and-hour laws do not apply to workers on oil and gas platforms located in open water on the Outer Continental Shelf. The plaintiffs in Parker Drilling Management Services, Ltd. v. Newton, were offshore rig workers who filed a class action asserting that their employer violated California’s minimum wage and overtime laws by failing to pay them for stand-by time while they were on the drilling platform. Both parties agreed that the platforms were governed by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”), but they disagreed regarding whether the California’s wage-and-hour laws were incorporated into OCSLA and therefore applicable to workers on the platform.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Holds State Wage and Hour Laws are Inapplicable to Offshore Drilling Platforms

In Air & Liquid Systems Corp. v. Devries, No. 17-1104, — S. Ct. —, 2019 WL 1245520 (U.S. March 19, 2019), the U.S. Supreme Court resolved a circuit split regarding maritime law and the “bare metal” defense, namely whether manufacturers have a duty to warn when their bare metal product requires later incorporation of a dangerous part in order for the integrated product to function as intended. Justice Kavanaugh wrote the opinion for a 6-3 court, with Justices Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito dissenting.

“Bare Metal” Products at Issue

In Air and Liquid Systems Corp v. Devries, the defendant manufacturers produced shipboard equipment such as pumps, blowers, and turbines for various Navy ships on which the plaintiffs, two Navy veterans, were employed. The equipment required asbestos insulation or asbestos parts to function as intended. However, the defendant manufacturers did not always incorporate the asbestos into their products; they delivered much of the equipment to the Navy without asbestos. The defendants’ equipment was delivered in a condition known as “bare metal,” and the Navy later added the asbestos to the equipment.


Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Addresses Circuit Split Regarding “Bare Metal” Defense in Products Liability Action Under General Maritime Law

The United States Supreme Court ruled today that contracts requiring individualized arbitration of employment-related disputes are enforceable and do not violate Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Background

Some employers require their employees to enter into agreements binding the parties to arbitrate employment-related disputes.  In recent years, many of those employers have drafted their mandatory arbitration agreements to prohibit employees from pursuing class or collective actions, which can be costly and eliminate the informality and speed of arbitration.  For example, the plaintiffs in the three cases decided by the Supreme Court today agreed not to pursue unpaid overtime claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) on behalf of other employees in class or collective actions.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Validates Employer’s Right to Require Class and Collective Action Waivers in Employment-Related Arbitration Agreements

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently issued a significant opinion in a case in which a takings claim was asserted to redress Hurricane Katrina-related flood damage.  On April 20, 2018, it reversed a decision of the United States Court of Federal Claims (“Claims Court”), which had held the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers liable under the Tucker Act for flood damage to the Plaintiffs’ properties.

In 1968, the Corps completed construction of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (“MRGO”) in New Orleans.  The purpose of this navigation channel was to increase commerce between the port of New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.  Around the same time, Congress authorized funding for flood control through the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project (“LPV”).  This project was instituted to reduce the risk of flooding in New Orleans, and it resulted in the construction of levees and floodwalls along the banks of MRGO.
Continue Reading Federal Circuit Holds U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Not Liable for Hurricane Katrina Flood Damage

In Warren Lester, et al. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., et al., No. 14-31383, ___ F.3d ___ (5th Cir. 1/9/2018), the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion addressing two issues of first impression involving the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”).[1] A full copy of the opinion can be accessed here.
Continue Reading U.S. Fifth Circuit Issues CAFA Opinion in Mass Action Addressing Two Issues of First Impression