Crane Co. removes asbestos suit to federal court

By Jonathan Bilyk | Dec 16, 2013

A manufacturer being sued by the widow of a Navy veteran who died from a lung disease allegedly caused by asbestos exposure has removed the suit to federal court.

On Dec. 10, Stamford, Conn.-based industrial products manufacturer Crane Co. filed a notice to remove the complaint Vivian Gordon brought in the Cook County Circuit Court to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Citing the federal officer removal provision of the U.S. Code, Crane argues in its notice that removing the matter to federal court would be justified because the actions for which it is being sued were taken “at the direction of a federal officer,” in this case, the U.S. Navy.

Crane asserts it was acting at the Navy's direction when it manufactured asbestos-laden products to be installed on ships and other Navy equipment in decades past.

“The complaint alerted Crane Co. that the action was removable – i.e., that plaintiffs’ claims against Crane Co. involved equipment specifically designed and manufactured in accordance with specifications by and under control of the Navy,” the notice states.

Gordon filed suit against Crane and about three dozen other companies in October in Cook County's circuit court, alleging that the defendant companies engaged in a conspiracy during the middle years of the 20th Century to withhold and suppress information regarding the dangers of products containing asbestos.

This, she claims, caused her husband, Bruce Gordon, to be among those who worked and lived around asbestos-laden products for decades and ultimately contract mesothelioma, from which he died in 2012.

The complaint alleges that Bruce Gordon was exposed to asbestos regularly in the course of his duties in the Navy from 1958 to 1975.

He learned in 2011 that he had contracted mesothelioma, a lung cancer known to be caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers, the suit states. Gordon claims her husband suffered greatly before his death as a result of the condition, and that they spent large sums of money to try to treat the disease.

In its removal notice, Crane contends it merely was doing what the Navy required of it, given the kinds of products it was making, and therefore, should be immune from being sued in state court.

Crane notes in its recent filing that other plaintiffs in similar cases have objected to the transfer of asbestos-related suits to federal court, arguing that the manufacturers, while making products for federal government agencies, still had a duty to warn those who might work with their products of the dangers of asbestos.

Crane, however, claims it was barred from issuing such warnings by the Navy, which had “control over the warnings in conjunction with the Navy’s significant knowledge of asbestos hazards.”

Therefore, Crane asserts, the question over which court should have jurisdiction to hear Gordon’s suit should still center on its position as a government defense contractor.

“Unless Crane Co. products were first determined to be in conformity with all applicable Navy specifications, they could not be installed aboard Navy ships,” Crane states in its notice. “Thus, given the Navy’s direct and detailed control over the design and manufacture of Crane Co. products, Crane Co. has met this element.”

Crane is represented by attorney Catherine L. Carlson of Gunty & McCarthy in Chicago.

Vivian Gordon is being represented in the matter by William R. Fahey of Cooney & Conway. Her suit does not indicate the specific amount of damages being sought.

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