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BRIGGS v. GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO.

December 14, 1999

JAMES L. BRIGGS, AND HARRY F. GIBBS, SR., ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND A CLASS OF ALL PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Curtin, District Judge.

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

On June 8, 1999, plaintiffs James Briggs and Harry Gibbs ("plaintiffs"), representatives of a proposed class, instituted an action against defendant Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company ("Goodyear"). Plaintiffs allege that Goodyear has been and is now unjustly enriched by its refusal to comply with a Release and Settlement Agreement (the Agreement) which Goodyear and plaintiffs entered into with the rest of a plaintiff class and the primary defendants from a prior action. See Item 1, ¶ 1. This court reviewed and approved the Agreement on January 21, 1998. Plaintiffs request that the court impose a constructive trust on Goodyear's assets, thereby compelling Goodyear to comply with the terms of both the Release and Settlement Agreement and the agreed-to medical testing and screening program. See id. Goodyear now brings a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint. See Item 18. Goodyear's motion to dismiss is based on two grounds: (1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction and (2) plaintiffs' failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See id. ¶ 2. For the reasons stated herein, the court now grants Goodyear's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' action.

BACKGROUND

I. Gibbs v. Du Pont

The present action arises out of Gibbs v. Du Pont, 93-CV-0497C ("Gibbs"), a case previously before this court. On June 10, 1993 the Gibbs plaintiffs commenced an action against the following defendants: E.I. Du Pont, Allied-Signal, First Mississippi, First Chemical, American Cyanamid, and USX Corporation ("the primary defendants"). The Gibbs plaintiffs consisted of Harry Gibbs, Robert Bailey, Anthony D'Orazio, William Mooney, Donald St. John, and Deborah Race, who were the representative plaintiffs in the proposed class action lawsuit ("the Gibbs plaintiffs"). The Gibbs plaintiffs were members of a class of former and retired workers from Goodyear's plant in Niagara Falls, New York. See Gibbs Item 1, ¶ 1.

The Gibbs plaintiffs claimed that they had suffered on-the-job exposure to the carcinogenic chemicals orthotoluidine and aniline. See id. ¶¶ 2, 4. They further alleged that a study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health ("NIOSH") revealed that the plaintiffs' exposure to these chemicals had greatly increased their risk of developing bladder cancer. See id. ¶ 4. They asserted that each of the primary defendants had been involved in the manufacture of these chemicals and therefore should be held jointly and severally liable for the plaintiffs' damages on either a theory of negligence or strict products liability. See id. ¶¶ 37-40.

In light of the potentially long latency between exposure and manifestation of the cancer, they demanded that the defendants provide them with a program of ongoing medical monitoring. See id. ¶¶ 5, 7. In February and March of 1996, the primary defendants impleaded the Gibbs plaintiffs' employer, Goodyear, as a third-party defendant. See Items 85, 87-89.

On November 12, 1997, the court preliminarily certified the proposed plaintiff class for the limited purposes of evaluating a Release and Settlement Agreement submitted by the parties. On January 21, 1998, the court dismissed the Gibbs action and, in so doing, approved the Agreement. Gibbs, Item 125.

II. The Gibbs Release and Settlement Agreement

A. The Agreement

The Agreement was entered into between the Gibbs plaintiffs (for themselves and the class), plaintiffs' attorneys, the primary defendants, and Goodyear. See id., Ex. 1, p.1. Among other things, the plaintiffs agreed to release the primary defendants and Goodyear from any other claims based on a need for medical monitoring of bladder cancer. See id. at 4. In exchange, the primary defendants agreed to pay attorneys' fees to plaintiffs' attorneys, and Goodyear agreed "to provide and maintain a program of bladder cancer surveillance as set forth in Appendix `A'. . . ." Id. at 3.

The Agreement also provided that the primary defendants and Goodyear conceded to certification of the Gibbs class only for the purposes of settling the action. See id. at 7-8. The Agreement expressly provided, then, that the Gibbs plaintiffs would never use this consent to certification as precedent against the primary defendants or Goodyear or as an admission by the primary defendants or Goodyear. See id.

B. The Program

Paragraph one of the Agreement incorporates, by reference, a document entitled "Appendix `A.'" Gibbs Item 125, Ex. 1, p. 3. Appendix "A," which is also referred to as "the Program," contains the provisions and terms of the bladder cancer surveillance program. Under Appendix "A," Goodyear agreed to provide and maintain a program of bladder cancer surveillance for all eligible class members. See Gibbs Item 125, Ex. 1, App. A, ¶ 1. Appendix "A" defines eligible class members in this way: "[A]ll former and retired employees of the Goodyear Niagara Falls plant who were employed between January 1, 1957 and June 11, 1990 for more than one year in Department 245" and in various other sites at the Niagara Falls plant. Id. ¶ 2.*fn1

The purpose of the Program was stated as follows: "[T]o detect cases of bladder cancer at the earliest possible date . . . by the use of the most effective, accurate and sensitive medical tests and technology. . . ." Id. ¶ 3. In light of such a purpose, Appendix "A" states that the Program's testing protocol is subject to change when the parties' medical representatives agreed to such changes. See id. According to Appendix "A," an arbitrator would resolve disputes between the parties over, among other things, the Program's surveillance protocol and notification efforts. Id. ¶¶ 7-8.

FACTS

I. Introduction

In the present action, plaintiffs allege that Goodyear has refused to comply with the Agreement and instead has erected "barriers" to participation in the Program in order to minimize the costs of administering the Program. Item 1, ¶¶ 4, 33b; Item 20, p. 1. Plaintiffs allege that Goodyear is being unjustly enriched because it is able to retain funds that should be used for the Program. See id. ¶ 4. Plaintiffs further allege that legal remedies would be inadequate because it would be nearly impossible to estimate how much it will cost to run the Program for more than 550 people for over 30 years. See id. ¶¶ 37-38; Item 20, p. 2.

Plaintiffs have brought an action in equity asking the court to impose a constructive trust on Goodyear's assets in order to stop Goodyear's unjust enrichment and to compel Goodyear to fund and implement the Program fully. See Item 1, ¶ 39.

II. This Court's Role at the End of Gibbs

At the Gibbs settlement hearing, the court inquired: "[I]s there — any possibility that this may come back to the Court for any supervision[?]" In response, plaintiffs' counsel, Mr. Steven Wodka, responded: "[W]e have what we call a self enforcing mechanism of arbitration, binding arbitration in the event that there are disputes . . ." The court remarked: "[U]nless there is some serious difficulty with the arbitration, then the Court's role is finished"; to which plaintiffs' counsel answered: "[T]hat is correct." Item 18, Ex. F, p. 5, line 21 — p. 6, line 7.

In the Agreement, the parties stated that "the United States District Court will not retain jurisdiction to enforce the Agreement set forth in Appendix `A' following entry" of the court's order. Item 18, Ex. A, p. 9. Furthermore, Appendix "A" of the Agreement provides: "The parties agree that the United States District Court will not retain jurisdiction to enforce this Appendix `A.'" Item 18, Ex. A, p. 11.

III. Alleged Costs and Values of the Program

Plaintiffs' expert witness, Dr. Stephen Markowitz, has stated that if the agreed-to Program were properly implemented, it would cost $265,388 to administer in its first year. See Item 20, p. 7 (citing Markowitz affidavit). Goodyear, on the other hand, notes that Dr. Markowitz estimated the annual value of the Program's screening tests for each individual to be approximately $160. Goodyear observes that the value of a lifetime of screening tests for an ...


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