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Watson v. Bnsf Railway Co.

Supreme Court of Montana

November 14, 2017

KELLY G. WATSON, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, a Delaware Corporation; BURLINGTON NORTHERN AND SANTA FE RAILWAY COMPANY; BURLINGTON NORTHERN RAILROAD COMPANY, and DOES A-Z, Defendants and Appellees.

          Submitted on Briefs: October 18, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighth Judicial District, In and For the County of Cascade, Cause No. ADV 10-0740 Honorable Gregory G. Pinski, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Allan M. McGarvey, John F. Lacey, McGarvey, Heberling, Sullivan, & Lacey, PC, Kalispell, Montana

          For Appellees: Chad M. Knight, Knight Nicastro, LLC, Boulder, Colorado

          OPINION

          James Jeremiah Shea, Justice

         ¶1 Plaintiff Kelly G. Watson ("Watson") appeals the January 25, 2017 Order by the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County, granting Defendant Burlington Northern and Sante Fe Railway Company's ("BNSF") motion for summary judgment on Watson's asbestos-related disease claim, brought under the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"). The dispositive issue in this matter is as follows:

         Whether the Bankruptcy Court's Order enjoining claims against W.R. Grace and other "Affiliated Entities, " including BNSF, tolled the statute of limitations on Watson's claim.

         ¶2 We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Watson was a long-term employee of BNSF in Lincoln County. During his BNSF employment, he was exposed to vermiculite dust. The vermiculite mined in Libby and the dust produced by it contains amphibole asbestos. BNSF transported vermiculite for W.R. Grace & Company and its predecessors from Libby to various locations.

         ¶4 In July 2000, following widespread news reports on the hazards posed by vermiculite dust from the W.R. Grace mine in Libby, Watson sought a health screening offered by the Libby Community Environmental Health Program. Watson's initial test results for lung disease were negative.

         ¶5 On April 2, 2001, W.R. Grace filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. The Bankruptcy Court immediately entered a temporary restraining order ("TRO") against actions being pursued against Nondebtor Affiliates and certain third parties arising from W.R. Grace's mining operations and exposure to vermiculite dust. The TRO defined "Actions" as "pending actions and actions that have not been filed or are not pending as of the date of entry of this Order . . . ." It also ordered "that the prosecution and/or commencement of all Actions are temporarily restrained pending a resolution of [W.R. Grace]'s pending motions for a preliminary injunction . . . ." On April 12, 2001, the Bankruptcy Court extended the TRO, again defining "Actions" as "pending actions and actions that have not been filed or are not pending as of the date of entry of this Order[, ]" and ordered that the "Order Granting Temporary Restraining Order entered on April 2, 2001 temporarily restraining the prosecution and/or commencement of all Actions pending a resolution of plaintiff's pending motions for a preliminary injunction is hereby extended through and including April 24, 2001 . . . ." On April 18, 2001, the Bankruptcy Court entered a preliminary injunction pending a May 3, 2001 hearing.

         ¶6 On May 3, 2001, the Bankruptcy Court entered a Preliminary Injunction, which ordered "that the prosecution of all Actions are stayed and enjoined pending a final judgment in this adversary proceeding or further order of this Court . . . ." The Injunction again defined "Actions" as "any case filed or pending, " but omitted the previously used language, "and actions that have not been filed or are not pending."

         ¶7 On January 22, 2002, the Bankruptcy Court modified the May 3, 2001 Order. The January 22, 2002 Order "reinstate[d] the bar against the commencement of new Actions against Affiliated Entities." The January 22, 2002 Order also restored the language that had been omitted from the May 3, 2001 Order, so that the definition of "Actions" again included "actions that have not been filed or are not pending . . . ...


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