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Tort/Negligence – Man’s Toxic Tort Suit Not Time-Barred

Stahle v. CTS Corp. (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-043-16, 44 pp.) (Floyd, J.) No. 15-1001, March 2, 2016; USDC at Asheville, N.C. (Cogburn, J.) 4th Cir.

Holding: A North Carolina man who alleges he developed leukemia from exposure to toxic solvents dumped by defendant CTS Corporation into a local stream near plaintiff’s home from 1959-1968 is not barred from filing suit by North Carolina’s 10-year statute of repose; in the absence of any procedure for certifying questions of state law to North Carolina’s highest state court, the 4th Circuit reverses dismissal of the suit.

This is not the first time we have anticipated North Carolina law on the subject of disease claims and personal injury statutes of repose. In Hyer v. Pittsburgh Corning Corp., 790 F.2d 30 (4th Cir. 1986), we said that the North Carolina Supreme Court does not consider disease to be included within a statute of repose directed at personal injury claims unless the legislature expressly expands the language to include it.

North Carolina General Statutes § 1-52(16) functions as a statute of repose directed at certain personal injury claims. The state legislature has not expressly expanded the language to include disease. Therefore, under our understanding of North Carolina law as articulated in Hyer, we conclude the Supreme Court of North Carolina would not consider § 1-52(16) applicable to claims arising out of disease.

We reaffirm our understanding of the statute as articulated in Hyer. We also reaffirm our understanding that the Supreme Court of North Carolina has recognized that the state legislature has long been cognizant of the difference between diseases on the one hand and other kinds of injury on the other from the standpoint of identifying legally relevant time periods. We anticipate that the North Carolina Supreme Court would rule that § 1-52(16) is not applicable to plaintiff’s claim arising from disease.

We conclude the Supreme Court of North Carolina considers § 1-52(16) only applicable to certain latent injuries, and because disease is not a latent injury, that court would not find § 1-52(16) applicable to plaintiff’s claim.

Reversed and remanded.


Thacker, J.: I concur in the majority’s outcome, but I write separately for three reasons. First, I would not rely so heavily on our decision in Hyer, which construed a North Carolina statute significantly different than the one at bar and which has never been cited in a reported North Carolina decision. Second, I address appellee’s unfounded argument that there is no “meaningful difference” between the claims in CTS v. Waldburger, 134 S. Ct. 2175 (2014), and the claim in this case. Finally, I note that a North Carolina certified question mechanism would have provided us with a beneficial tool in deconstructing this novel and unsettled state law question, which four circuits have now addressed with varying results.

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