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Morgan v. Ford Motor Co.

May 17, 2007

PIERCE MORGAN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hughes, U.S.M.J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court upon the Motion of Defendants Ford Motor Company, Ford International Services, Inc., Ringwood Realty Corporation, Woodward-Clyde Consultants, URS Corporation, URS Group, Inc., URS Greiner Woodward-Clyde, Inc., URS Woodward-Clyde Consultants, Inc., URS Greiner Woodward-Clyde International Americas, Inc., and BFI Waste Systems of New Jersey, Inc. ("Defendants") for entry of a Lone Pine Case Management Order. In brief, a Lone Pine Order requires that a plaintiff substantiate his cause of action before embarking on a costly lawsuit with numerous defendants and attorneys. Plaintiffs, in consolidated cases, with over seven hundred individuals, oppose the motion and filed a Cross-Motion for the entry of a Case Management Order pursuant to Rule 16(c)(12) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that conforms to controlling Third Circuit authority.

This mass toxic tort litigation involves alleged personal injury and property damage resulting from Defendants' dumping of hazardous materials at the Ringwood Mines Landfill Site. Defendants seek an order requiring each Plaintiff to specify his or her alleged injuries with precision and produce basic facts substantiating the causes of such injuries through various affidavits before any other discovery occurs. The Court reviewed the written submissions of the parties and conducted oral argument on May 15, 2007. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion for Entry of a Lone Pine Case Management Order is denied and Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion for entry of a Case Management Order pursuant to Rule 16(c)(12) is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A. Factual Background and Procedural History

The Ringwood Mines Landfill Site ("Site") is an approximate 900-acre area located in the Borough of Ringwood in Passaic County, New Jersey. (Pls.' Compl. at ¶ 44). The Site is part of the historic homeland of the Ramapough Mountain Indian Tribe. Id. at ¶ 45. The Site also consists of disposal areas, including open pits, dumps, landfills, abandoned mine shafts, all of which were used for the disposal of toxic and hazardous materials, some of which was produced by Defendants Ford Motor Company ("FMC") and Ford International Services, Inc. ("FISI"). Id. at ¶ 46. On January 7, 1965, Defendants Ringwood Realty Corp. ("RRC"), FMC, and FISI purchased the Site. Id. at ¶¶ 48-50. Plaintiffs allege in their complaint that beginning in 1965, Defendants RRC, FMC, FISI, I.S.A. in New Jersey, Inc. ("ISA"), Arrow Metals, Inc., and Arrow Group Industries, Inc., were responsible for releasing toxic and hazardous waste from the Mahwah assembly plant into mine pits and other areas on the Site in violation of existing laws. Id. at ¶¶ 54-61.

Plaintiffs also allege that in the late 1960s, Defendants began donating or selling land, known by them to be contaminated, to the Borough of Ringwood, the Ringwood Solid Waste Management Authority, and residential developers and builders who sold or built homes thereon for Plaintiffs and their predecessors in title. Id. at ¶¶ 78-80. Beginning in 1982, Defendants Woodward-Clyde Consultants, URS Corp., URS Group, Inc., URS Greiner Woodward-Clyde International-Americas, Inc., URS Greiner Woodward-Clyde Consultants, Inc., and URS Greiner Woodward-Clyde, Inc. entered into agreements with Defendant FMC and/or FISI to (1) determine the extent of contamination on and off the Site and (2) remove all toxic and hazardous waste from the Site and surrounding lands. Id. at ¶ 81.

In 1987 and 1988, after the Site had been designated a hazardous waste Superfund Site by the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"), Defendants FMC and FISI removed approximately 7,000 cubic yards of paint sludge from the Site which was located close to the surface. Id. at ¶ 88. On September 21, 2005, Defendant FMC and the EPA entered into a consent order in which FMC conceded that it was responsible for contamination of the Site. Id. at ¶ 91. On December 13, 2005, Plaintiffs were advised by public agencies that certain residences and properties were contaminated with toxic and hazardous substances released at the Site. Id. at ¶ 83. Plaintiffs contend that Defendants not only failed to warn residents about the toxins released, but also failed to take appropriate action to remediate the Site. Id. at ¶ 94. As a result, Plaintiffs contend that they were repeatedly exposed to toxins and contaminants through dermal absorption, inhalation and/or ingestion, skin contact, eye contact, consumption, and use of contaminated water. Id. at ¶ 93.

On January 18, 2006, Plaintiffs filed Complaints in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Passaic County against FMC, RRC, FISI, ISA, J.I. Kislak, Co., Arrow Metals, Inc., Arrow Group Industries, Inc., Woodward-Clyde Consultants, URS Corporation, URS Group, Inc., URS Greiner Woodward-Clyde, Inc., URS Greiner Woodward-Clyde Consultants, Inc., URS Greiner Woodward-Clyde International-Americas, Inc., and a number of fictitious companies and individuals. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 1). Plaintiffs' Complaints alleged the following Counts: Count One - Intentional Fraudulent Concealment; Count Two - Constructive Fraud (Negligent Fraudulent Concealment); Count Three - Negligence; Count Four - Common Law Strict Liability; Count Five - Common Law Trespass; Count Six - Common Law Private Nuisance; Count Seven - Battery; Count Eight - Violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 56:8-1 et seq.; Count Nine - Unjust Enrichment; Count Ten - Negligent Misrepresentation; Count Eleven - Per Quod Claims; Count Twelve - Willful and Wanton Misconduct; and Count Thirteen - Civil Conspiracy. Id.

On March 9, 2006, Defendants FMC and FISI removed the action from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Passaic County to this Court. Id. In April 2006, Plaintiffs' forty-four individual cases were consolidated for all purposes. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 11). On April 10, 2006, Plaintiffs Dromique Mann, Lillian Milligan, Christopher Stonaker, Leo Morgan, Lydia Morgan, Meganne Morgan, Mia Morgan, Renee Morgan, Pierce Morgan, Rochelle Morgan, James Eckman, and Lisa Eckman filed a motion to remand the matter to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Passaic County. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 12). The motion to remand was denied. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 34). Subsequently, on January 25, 2007, the Court denied a motion by Plaintiffs to certify the Court's decision denying the motion to remand for immediate interlocutory appeal. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 94).

Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint in August 2006, including as Defendants BFI Waste Systems of New Jersey, Inc., Browning-Ferris Industries of South Jersey, Inc., and Round Lake Sanitation Corporation. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 40). Defendants FMC, RRC, and FISI then filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint in part on August 10, 2006. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 49). Defendants Woodward-Clyde Consultants, URS Corporation, URS Group, Inc., URS Greiner Woodward-Clyde, Inc., URS Greiner Woodward-Clyde International-Americas, Inc., URS Greiner Woodward-Clyde Consultants, Inc. also filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint in August 2006. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 50). Subsequently, Defendant BFI Waste Systems of New Jersey, Inc. also filed a motion to dismiss in part. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 62).

In December 2006, Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint adding the Borough of Ringwood and Ringwood Solid Waste Management Authority as Defendants. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 83). Plaintiffs' counsel then filed a motion to withdraw as attorney for fifty-four specified plaintiffs. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 96). Defendants FMC, FISI, and RRC advised the Court that they did not take any position on the motion to withdraw and that they would not file opposition to the motion. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 108). The Court granted the motion to withdraw on March 5, 2007. Id.

Before the motion to withdraw was decided, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motions to dismiss. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 99). The Court held that (1) Count Two (Negligent Fraudulent Concealment) was dismissed with prejudice against all defendants, (2) Counts Five (Trespass), Count Six (Nuisance), and Count Seven (Battery) applied only to the Ford Defendants and were dismissed with prejudice as to all other Defendants, (3) Plaintiffs' per quod damages claim (Count Eleven) was dismissed in part, (4) Counts Eight (New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act) and Nine (Unjust Enrichment) were dismissed as to the Ford Defendants with prejudice, (5) the Ford Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts One (Intentional Fraudulent Concealment), Ten (Negligent Misrepresentation) and Thirteen (Civil Conspiracy) were denied without prejudice, (6) Counts One (Intentional Fraudulent Concealment), Eight (New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act), and Nine (Unjust Enrichment) were dismissed as against the URS Defendants with prejudice, (7) the URS Defendants' motion to dismiss Count Four (Common Law Strict Liability) was granted, (8) the URS Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts Ten (Negligent Misrepresentation), Twelve (Willful and Wanton Misconduct) and Thirteen (Civil Conspiracy) was denied without prejudice, (9) Counts I (Intentional Fraudulent Concealment), Nine (Unjust Enrichment), and Ten (Negligent Misrepresentation) were dismissed as against BFI with prejudice, and (10) BFI's motion to dismiss Count Thirteen (Civil Conspiracy) was denied without prejudice. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 99).

B. Defendants' Motion for a Lone Pine Order

On March 5, 2007, the Court granted Defendants' application for leave to file a motion for a Lone Pine Case Management Order. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 104). Defendants filed the present motion for entry of a Lone Pine Case Management Order on March 9, 2007, requesting that the Court require each Plaintiff to specify his or her alleged injuries with precision and to produce basic facts substantiating the alleged causes of such injuries before initial disclosures are provided or any other discovery occurs. (See Dkt. no. 06-1080, entry no. 110).

Defendants contend that because Plaintiffs' complaint provides no specific information regarding injuries or illnesses allegedly suffered or property damage allegedly sustained by more than 700 plaintiffs, a Lone Pine order is appropriate. (Defs.' Mem. at 3). Specifically, Defendants argue that "Plaintiffs should be required to produce evidence, including affidavits from physicians or other experts as appropriate, showing that they were in fact injured from exposure to chemicals, that there is a basis to conclude that the injury-causing chemicals to which they were ...


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