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Media Alerts - Estate of Jeffrey H. Ware v. Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania - Third Circuit
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September 21, 2017
  Estate of Jeffrey H. Ware v. Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania - Third Circuit
Headline: The occurrence of nuclear material at a research university falls within the limits of the Price-Anderson Act.

Area of Law: Civil Procedure; statutory interpretation

Issue(s) Presented: Does the Price Anderson Act apply to a claim that alleges that an individual was harmed by radiation used in a research lab? Did the District Court appropriately exercise supplemental jurisdiction in retaining state-law claims?

Brief Summary:

Barbara Boyer filed a claim on behalf of her deceased husband, Jeffrey Ware, alleging that his death was the result of inadequate safety precautions taken to protect him in the lab where he worked at the University of Pennsylvania. The case was removed to federal court on the basis that the claims were covered under the Price-Anderson Act. The District Court agreed with this assessment and ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of the University of Pennsylvania. On appeal, Boyer argued that her claims are not covered under the Price-Anderson Act and that the District Court inappropriately denied her motion to withdraw while maintaining jurisdiction over her remaining state-law claims. The Third Circuit determined that Boyer's claims fell under the Price-Anderson Act because she alleged "public liability" resulting from a "nuclear incident" within the meaning of those terms in the Act. The Court noted that this Act extends to accidents beyond nuclear power plants or weapons facilities because the Act itself mentions research universities. The Third Circuit further affirmed the District Court's decision to deny Boyer's motion to withdraw and to retain jurisdiction over her additional claims. The District Court had discretionary supplemental jurisdiction over any state-law claims that were related to the federal claims and arose out of the same controversy.

Extended Summary:

Barbara Boyer filed this complaint on behalf of her deceased husband, Jeffrey Ware. Ware worked at the University of Pennsylvania ("UPenn") as a neuroscientist, where he studied biological organisms and the effects of radiation. In 2010, Ware was diagnosed with gliosarcoma, which is a form of brain cancer. Ware received chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but died a year later. As a result, Boyer brought this claim, alleging that Ware's cancer resulted from radiation exposure that UPenn failed to protect against. The defendants removed Boyer's complaint to federal court under the Price-Anderson Act, which provides federal jurisdiction for claims of "public liability" arising from a "nuclear incident." The District Court agreed with this removal and granted summary judgment in favor of UPenn. Boyer appealed, challenging the decision that Price-Anderson Act was applicable to her claims and argued that the Court did not have jurisdiction over her remaining state-law claims.

After reviewing the history of the Price-Anderson Act, the Third Circuit determined that the Act provides federal jurisdiction over any public liability action for any occurrence that has caused physical harm as a result of radioactive properties of nuclear material. The Court reasoned that "a public liability action" would be considered, for the most part, any legal liability resulting from a nuclear incident. The Court found that the definition of nuclear incident was intended to be broad and as a result, the jurisdiction grant of the Price-Anderson Act is also broad. Similarly, the Third Circuit disputed Boyer's argument that the grant only applied to nuclear power plants or weapons facilities by noting that the Price-Anderson Act refers to research universities in some of its provisions.

The Third Circuit further noted that the Price-Anderson Act does not only cover defendants that have indemnity agreements with the NRC. When the Act was amended in 1988, the purpose was to expand the scope of federal jurisdiction. The Court reasoned that limiting the applicability only to defendants with indemnity agreements would be contrary to Congressional intent. In reference to Boyer's argument that the Act only applies to defendants with a license to possess nuclear materials, the Court noted that UPenn has such a license, which was issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Radiation Protection. The Third Circuit reasoned that a license does not need to be issued by the NRC directly because the NRC has authority to enter into agreements with states that allow them to issue licenses.

In response to Boyer's argument that the Act only applies to unintentional releases of nuclear energy, the Court concluded that Boyer's claim alleges negligence, not deliberate exposure, so this exception would not be relevant to this case. The Court also disagreed with Boyer's theory that Congress' failure to adopt language pertaining to nuclear pharmacies or hospital medicine departments means that the Act is not applicable to harm from radiation used for medical care. The Court concluded that this language was not relevant to the facts at hand.

The Court determined that the District Court's denial of Boyer's motion to withdraw was appropriate because Boyer waited too long to file a notice of dismissal. When Boyer filed her notice, UPenn had already filed its answer. Due to the late timing, the District Court had discretion whether or not to allow the withdrawal. The District Court appropriately decided that the defendant would suffer prejudice if the claims were withdrawn because they had already utilized resources to produce expert reports and submit documents. In addition, the District Court had authority to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims. The District Court was correct in determining that the state claims were sufficiently related to the federal claim that they were part of the same case.

The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's decisions.

The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/163801p.pdf

Panel: Ambro, Restrepo, and Cohen, Circuit Judges.

Argument Date: June 28, 2017

Date of Issued Opinion: September 18, 2017

Docket Number: No. 16-3801

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Kristina Flatley

Counsel: Glenn Ellis, Aaron Freiwald, and Mathew Bravette, Counsel for Appellant; Donald Jose, Theresa Sachs, Daniel Sherry, and Donna Modestine, Counsel for Appellees.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Ambro

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Prof. Mark C. Rahdert

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 09/21/2017 10:02 AM     3rd Circuit  

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