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SINICKI v. GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY

July 7, 2005.

PAUL A. SINICKI, JUNE A. SINICKI, GERALD J. SKIFF, BARBARA L. COMORSKI, Individually and as Executor of the Estate of STEPHEN J. COMORSKI, Deceased, and DONNA M. WILT, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of DAVID R. WILT, Deceased. Plaintiffs,
v.
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY and NEW YORK STATE ENERGY RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS McAVOY, District Judge

MEMORANDUM — DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

  Plaintiffs commenced the instant action in state court asserting various causes of action arising out personal injuries sustained by them from an explosion at the Malta Test Station. Defendants' removed the matter to this Court invoking federal question jurisdiction. Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion to remand this matter to state court.

  II. FACTS

  The Malta Test Station ("MTS") was developed in 1945 by the United States Department of War (now the Department of Defense) for the development and testing of rockets. Defendant General Electric ("GE") operated the MTS from 1945 to 1964 as a contractor to the United States. GE tested ordnance and rockets, which included exotic rocket fuels. On the grounds of the MTS is Pit No. 3. Pit No. 3 consists of a rocket test stand and stainless steel tanks used to store rocket fuel and other combustible substances.

  In 1964, the MTS was acquired by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority ("NYSERDA"). Notwithstanding the change in ownership of the site, GE continued to operate on the site. In 1984, NYSERDA sold much of the MTS to Wright Malta Corporation. In 1996, NYSERDA sold the remaining portions of the MTS to Wright Malta Corporation.

  On May 17, 2004, Plaintiffs, employees of Wright Malta Corporation, were dismantling Pit No. 3 for scrap metal. While cutting some metal with an acetylene torch, an explosion occurred, causing injuries to Plaintiffs. It was later discovered that the tank into which the sparks from the use of the acetylene torch flew contained approximately fifty gallons of a combustible liquid believed to be the rocket fuel earlier used by GE to test rockets.

  Plaintiffs then commenced the instant action in state court asserting various causes of action. Defendants removed the matter to this Court invoking federal question jurisdiction. Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion to remand the action to state court and seeking costs and attorneys' fees.

  III. DISCUSSION

  Pursuant to U.S. Const. art I, sec. 8, cl. 17, the United States has exclusive authority over "all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings." "Such places are deemed `federal enclaves' within which the United States has exclusive jurisdiction." Akin v. Ashland Chem. Co., 156 F.3d 1030 (10th Cir. 1998). "Personal injury actions which arise from incidents occurring in federal enclaves may be removed to federal district court as a part of federal question jurisdiction." Id; Mater v. Holly, 200 F.2d 123, 125 (5th Cir. 1952); see also 16 U.S.C. § 457 (providing jurisdiction for actions for death or personal injury within a place of exclusive federal jurisdiction).

  Plaintiffs argue that this case should be remanded to state court because there is no diversity among the parties, all of Plaintiffs' causes of action arise under state law, and there are no claims brought against the United States or any of its officers or employees. Plaintiffs also note that any federal control over the land ended more than forty years ago and that the injury occurred in 2004. Defendant GE, on the other hand, contends that some of the actions giving rise to Plaintiff's claim (the storage of the fuel and the failure to remove it) occurred, at least in part, while the property was owned by the United States and, thus, enclave jurisdiction is appropriate.

  As an initial matter, the Court finds that GE has failed to establish that the MTS was, in fact, a federal enclave. Under the plain terms of U.S. Const. art I, sec. 8, cl. 17, the United States has exclusive authority over "all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be." GE has presented no evidence that the subject land was purchased with the Consent of the New York legislature or that the State of New York otherwise ceded the land to the United States. Rather, the evidence before the Court is that the MTS was acquired by the United States through eminent domain. See MacKay v. State of New York, 348 N.Y.S.2d 818, 819 (Sup.Ct. Saratoga County 1973), aff'd, 45 A.D.2d 900 (3d Dep't 1974). This is insufficient to establish that the MTS is a federal enclave. As the Supreme Court clearly stated, "in order that the United States may possess exclusive legislative power over the tract . . ., they must have acquired the tract by purchase, with the consent of the state. This is the only mode prescribed by the federal constitution for their acquisition of exclusive legislative power over it." Chicago, R.I. & P. Ry. Co. v. McGlinn, 114 U.S. 542, 545 (1885). The fact that Plaintiffs may not have disputed the MTS's status as a federal enclave is of no moment. Regardless of Plaintiffs' position on the issue, if the MTS is not a federal enclave, there is no subject matter jurisdiction. Thus, GE has failed to demonstrate that the MTS is a federal enclave and this matter must be remanded to state court.

  Even assuming that the MTS is a federal enclave, for the following reasons, the Court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction.

  The parties have not cited, and the Court has not found, any case dealing with the precise issue of whether enclave jurisdiction is appropriate where any alleged breach of duty occurred while the property was a federal enclave, but the event causing the injury did not occur until long after the property ceased to be a federal enclave. The most analogous cases involve toxic torts. In those cases, enclave jurisdiction was found to be appropriate because, even though the injury did not manifest itself until much later, the plaintiff was exposed to toxins while working on a federal enclave. See Reed. v. Fina Oil & Chem. Co., 995 F. Supp. 705, 713 (E.D. Tex. 1998); see also Aiken v. Big Three Indus., Inc., 851 F. Supp. 819, 822 (E.D. Tex. 1994). Importantly, in the toxic tort cases, all the elements giving rise to the cause of action, including the event(s) causing the injuries, transpired while the property was a federal enclave. Although the injuries in those cases may not have manifested themselves until much later, the exposure that caused the injuries occurred on the federal enclave. This case is different from the toxic tort cases because Plaintiffs never worked on a federal enclave, Plaintiffs did not work for a company that ...


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