Myers v. Crouse-Hinds Division of Cooper Industries, Inc., No. 49S00-1502-MI-119, __ N.E.3d __ (Ind., March 2, 2016).

Dickson, J.

We have consolidated three appeals involving the constitutionality of the Indiana Product Liability Act statute of repose. In each case, the plaintiffs request reconsideration of our prior holding in AlliedSignal v. Ott, 785 N.E.2d 1068 (Ind. 2003). While we decline to reconsider Ott‘s holdings due to the principles of stare decisis and legislative acquiescence, we do address the plaintiffs’ new constitutional claims not addressed in Ott and conclude that the Product Liability Act’s statute of repose does not bar these plaintiffs’ claims.

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These three appeals present the same principal issue: whether the plaintiffs’ claims are barred under Ott, 785 N.E.2d 1068, in which this Court interpreted Sections 1 and 2 of the Indiana Product Liability Act’s Chapter 3. [Footnote omitted.] Section 1 applies to product liability actions generally, while Section 2 applies to “[a]sbestos-related actions.” [Footnote omitted.] Ind. Code § 34-20-3-2. Ott held that Section 2 applies only to asbestos claims against defendants who both mined and sold raw asbestos, leaving “those who sell asbestos-containing products within the ambit of Section 1.” 785 N.E.2d at 1073. The plaintiffs now urge us to abandon that interpretation and follow the interpretation presented by the Ott dissent. [Footnote omitted.] Appellee Geyman’s Br. at 27-37, Appellant Myers’ Br. at 28-33; Ott, 785 N.E.2d at 1078-80 (Dickson, J., dissenting). We decline to alter Ott‘s holdings with respect to statutory construction, finding it settled under our doctrines of stare decisis and legislative acquiescence.

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While we decline to reconsider our decision in AlliedSignal v. Ott, we find that Section 2 of the Product Liability Act violates the Indiana Constitution. Applying this Court’s precedent in Covalt v. Carey Canada, Inc., we uphold our prior decision that the Indiana Product Liability Act’s statute of repose does not apply to cases such as these where the plaintiffs have had protracted exposure to inherently dangerous foreign substances. We affirm the trial courts’ denial of summary judgment in General Electric Co. and Owens-Illinois, Inc., and we reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in Crouse Hinds. We remand for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

Rucker and David, JJ., concur.

Rush, C.J., dissents with separate opinion.

Massa, J., dissents with separate opinion

Rush, Chief Justice, dissenting.

My disagreement with the majority opinion rests entirely on stare decisis. Had I been on this Court in 2003, I may well have joined the Ott dissent, at least in its statutory analysis. We strictly construe statutes that limit a claimant’s right to bring suit, see, e.g., Schoettmer v. Wright, 992 N.E.2d 702, 706 (Ind. 2013)—so that when several interpretations are reasonable, we adopt the narrowest. And not only was the Ott dissent’s narrow reading of Section 2 reasonable, it would also have mooted the constitutional questions, consistent with our preference to avoid deciding constitutional issues when other grounds would suffice. E.g., Ind. Wholesale Wine & Liquor Co. v. State ex rel. Ind. Alcoholic Beverage Comm’n, 695 N.E.2d 99, 106–07 (Ind. 1998).

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Judicial authority is a fragile thing. The executive branch has the power of police; the General Assembly has the power of the purse strings; but our Court has only the power of persuasion. Our efficacy therefore depends wholly on the rule of law—which is just another name for the respect we earn by showing stability and consistency in our judgments and integrity in our processes. Today’s reversal is not a catastrophe. But instead of building a little bit on the rule of law, this decision chips a little bit away.

I therefore respectfully dissent.

Massa, J., dissenting.

I agree with much of Chief Justice Rush’s dissent, including, perhaps even, her observation that today’s decision is not a catastrophe. Time will tell. But I do believe it has the potential to more than chip away at the rule of law and inflict more serious damage on our Court and state, so I write separately about these concerns.

The ruling of the Court will be seen in some quarters as righting a historic injustice. Maybe so, but I must respectfully disagree. Twenty-seven years after the unconstitutionality of our statute of repose was first suggested in a dissenting opinion,1 it is now finally the law of Indiana in asbestos cases. This unfortunate and disappointing reversal of precedent is neither warranted nor wise, in my view. My strong objections are procedural, substantive, and prudential in nature, and I will address each in order.

 

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