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LeJeune v. Bliss-Salem

June 10, 1996

EDWARD C. LEJEUNE; DEBORAH LEJEUNE, APPELLANTS

v.

BLISS-SALEM, INC.; E.W. BLISS COMPANY; GENERAL ELECTRIC CO., APPELLEES



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

D.C. Civil Action No. 94-cv-06729

Before: BECKER, McKEE and McKAY, *fn* Circuit Judges

McKAY, Circuit Judge.

Argued: March 19, 1996

Filed June 10, l996)

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellants Edward and Deborah LeJeune appeal from the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Appellees Bliss-Salem, Inc. and General Electric Co. *fn1 The LeJeunes brought this negligence and strict products liability action against Appellees when Mr. Lejeune was injured while working on a piece of machinery Appellees had repaired. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the district court.

I.

Mr. LeJeune, a Pennsylvania resident, worked at a Delaware steel mill as an "oiler" or "lube man." As such, he was responsible for checking the oil and lubrication of various machines. Mr. LeJeune's accident occurred on a piece of machinery known as a "table." Tables consist of a frame which holds large steel cylinders weighing two to five tons each. The cylinders, powered by motors, are rotated in order to transport hot steel slabs from one processing machine to another. Gaps, approximately two inches in width, exist between cylinders. Mr. LeJeune, believing a certain table was deactivated, jumped on top of the cylinders in order to do his maintenance work. The cylinders were activated, and, as they began to roll, Mr. LeJeune was caught in the gap between them. His injuries were serious and extensive.

Appellees' involvement with the steel mill began when CitiSteel, the owner of the mill, hired Appellees in 1988 to refurbish the steel mill machinery. The mill had been shut down for two years and had deteriorated into a serious state of disrepair. General Electric employees were on-site for eight months repairing equipment. Some refurbishing work took place at a General Electric shop in Pennsylvania. Bliss-Salem performed most of its refurbishing work at its Ohio plant. Appellees finished their work at the steel mill approximately three years before Mr. LeJeune's accident occurred.

Basing their claim on tort theories of negligence and strict products liability, Appellants argue that the contracts between CitiSteel and Appellees created a duty requiring Appellees to redesign the steel mill equipment, eliminating any safety problems. They argue that this duty included a duty to warn of any hazards inherent in the machinery. Appellees argue that the contracts simply required them to put the mill machinery back into working order and that any duty on their part did not extend to reevaluating the safety aspects of the various machinery involved.

II.

Before we address the tort issues in this case, we must first decide which state's law applies. In choosing which law applies, a federal court sitting in diversity must apply the choice-of-law rules of the forum state. Klaxon v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941); Shuder v. McDonald's Corp., 859 F.2d 266, 269 (3d Cir. 1988). Appellants brought this action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Thus, we must apply Pennsylvania's choice-of-law rules.

Pennsylvania choice-of-law analysis consists of two parts. First, the court must look to see whether a false conflict exists. Then, if there is no false conflict, the court determines which state has the greater interest in the application of its law. See Cipolla v. Shaposka, 439 Pa. 563, 565 (1970); Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 932 F.2d 170, 187 & n.15 (3d Cir. 1991) (applying Pennsylvania choice-of-law rules for purposes of forum non conveniens analysis). A false conflict exists where "only one jurisdiction's governmental interests would be impaired by the application of the other jurisdiction's law." Lacey, 932 F.2d at 187. Here, no false conflict exists. Pennsylvania law recognizes strict products liability to protect its citizens from defective products and to encourage manufacturers to produce safe products. Delaware law, however, does not recognize strict products liability based on the rationale ...


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