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Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United States

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20001
Nos. No. 99-1893, 220 F.3d 169/51 ERC 1014/(3d Cir., 07/31/2000) rev'd

The court reverses a district court dismissal, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, of battery manufacturers' Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) suit against the United States that sought contribution for a settlement agreement resolving third-party personal injury and property damage claims arising from contamination at the manufacturers' New York plant. The United States, which was not a party to the settlement, designed, constructed, operated, and owned the plant before the manufacturers. Although the manufacturers argued that Pennsylvania law applied, the district court applied New York contribution law, which bars contribution claims by settling tortfeasors against nonsettling tortfeasors.

The court first holds that the district court properly applied the standards used for analyzing a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss. The district court properly considered evidence beyond the pleadings because it treated the motion as a factual attack, which allows consideration of outside evidence. The district court ruled on an adequate factual record, and did not err by implicitly treating the Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) motion as a 12(b)(6) motion.

The court then holds that the district court should have applied New York choice of law rules to the FTCA contribution claim. The last causal act, the most significant causal act, physical acts to prevent injury, and the relevant acts of the alleged tort all occurred in New York. The court next holds that under New York choice of law rules, Ohio contribution law governs the FTCA jurisdictional inquiry. The manufacturers are domiciled in Ohio, and regardless of whether the United States is domiciled in all 50 states, nowhere, or in the District of Columbia, New York choice of law rules require that Ohio contribution law govern. Assuming that the United States is domiciled in all 50 states, the United States and the manufacturers share the common domicile of Ohio. Assuming that the United States is domiciled in the District of Columbia or nowhere, there is a split domicile between the United States and the manufacturers. However, the law of the locus of the tort does not govern because neither party is domiciled in New York. Moreover, it is appropriate to displace the law of the locus state because Ohio has a strong interest in protecting the contribution rights of its domiciliaries since Ohio law allows settling tortfeasors to claim contribution from nonsettling joint tortfeasors, so long as the settlement extinguished liability of the nonsettling party to the underlying plaintiff. The court also holds that the district court properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the manufacturers' FTCA indemnification claims. New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the District of Columbia all bar indemnification where the party seeking indemnification is partially at fault.

[The district court's decision in this litigation is published at 30 ELR 20158.]

Counsel for Appellant
Joel D. Gusky
Harvey, Pennington, Cabot, Griffith & Renneisen
11 Penn Center
1835 Market St., 29th Fl., Philadelphia PA 19106
(215) 563-4470

Counsel for Appellee
Steven M. Talson
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Greenberg and Weis, JJ.