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MacHin v. Carus Corporation

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

April 24, 2015

John William Machin, Plaintiff,
v.
Carus Corporation, Defendant.

ORDER FOR CERTIFICATION

JOSEPH F. ANDERSON, Jr., District Judge.

TO: THE HONORABLE CHIEF JUSTICE AND ASSOCIATE JUSTICES OF THE SOUTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT

This Court has determined that the above-captioned case involves questions of law of the State of South Carolina, which are most probably determinative of Plaintiff John William Machin's motion for a new trial, ECF No. 247, pending before this Court. There appears to be minimal controlling precedent in the decisions of the Supreme Court of the State of South Carolina concerning workers' compensation coupled with the South Carolina Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act, SC CODE ANN. ยง 15-38-15, effective July 1, 2005. Accordingly, pursuant to South Carolina Appellate Court Rule 244, the United States District Court hereby certifies the questions of law addressed below to the Supreme Court for instructions based on the following facts and procedural background:

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, John William Machin, a resident of the County of Lexington, South Carolina and employee of the Town of Lexington (the "Town"), initiated this action seeking actual and punitive damages against Carus Corporation ("Carus"), The Andersons, Inc. f/k/a Golden Eagle Products, Inc. ("The Andersons"), Fetter & Sons Farms LLC ("Fetter & Sons"), and Terry J. Weiser, allegedly emanating from a workplace injury on April 13, 2010. As a result, Plaintiff inhaled a substantial amount of the chemical, Totalox. This Court has diversity jurisdiction over this action because Carus, The Andersons, and Fetter & Sons, are all corporations with their formation and principal place of business outside of South Carolina. Additionally, Terry Weiser is a resident of a state other than South Carolina.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Carus is an international company engaged in the creation and manufacture of chemical products for the municipal and industrial markets with a majority used in environmental applications. Carus uses varieties of the chemical, permanganate, to develop deodorizers that are marketed under a variety of trade names including Totalox. Totalox is an odor eliminator that provides a food source for the anaerobic bacteria in sewer systems and prevents the anaerobic bacteria from exhibiting or producing hydrogen sulfide.

Totalox has its own Material Safety Data Sheet ("MSDS") to communicate to users the applicable hazards, warnings, recommended personal protective equipment and product information. Totalox is a proprietary chemical whose formula was developed by Carus and includes the chemicals, sodium permanganate and calcium nitrate. Carus manufactures Totalox through a tolling arrangement, where one party-the toll producer or toller-performs a manufacturing process on the goods of another party-the owner. At the time of Plaintiff's incident, Carus's toller was The Andersons.[1] The Andersons accepted delivery of permanganate from Carus and blended it with its own stock of calcium nitrate and water.

The Town, in order to transport sewage from far-reaching areas of its water district, uses more than seventy-five lift stations that pump wastewater from low-lying areas to higher elevations. To service its growing northeastern edge, the Town constructed the Millstream regional station near Twelve Mile Creek in 1999. Wastewater is pumped from smaller lift stations to Millstream. Sewage passes through Millstream and into the nearby City of Cayce, home of the Joint Municipal Water & Sewer Commission plant, which provides a single location for water treatment for several Lexington County municipalities.

In 2003 or earlier, the Town contracted with Carus to provide deodorizers for its wastewater system. Initially branded as ECONOX, the chemicals were delivered by truck in 275-gallon portable totes. Like the MSDS, the totes' labels contained warnings to avoid breathing a mist of the product, and recommended the use of a respirator. Each tote had a circular lid on top for venting and a valve on the bottom for dispensing. In the early years of the Millstream station, only a few totes were necessary for deodorization. The totes were situated on a concrete slab surrounded by gravel. The deodorizer was injected into the sewer main by way of a feed pump leading from the totes. As each tote was emptied, another full tote was set in its place.

As the Town grew, so did its use of the Millstream lift station and use of the Cayce-based water treatment plant. The City of Cayce became concerned with odor levels, as well as corrosion caused by the increased sewage from Millstream, and mandated further reduction of hydrogen sulfide. The Cayce mandate compelled both an increase in the Town's deodorizer order and a larger on-site container system at Millstream. In light of this growth and conversations with Town employees, Carus issued a proposal in September 2009 for the installation of a large-volume tank to hold the Totalox. The Town did not order the tank, opting to design and construct its own in-house system instead.

In late 2009, Town utility employees began work on the in-house container system to hold the increased volume of Totalox-the three totes of Totalox became fifteen. The Town used PVC pipes and fittings to tie together fifteen portable totes into a container system for Totalox. The new configuration allowed tanker trucks to deliver Totalox directly to Millstream.[2] Once the tanker attached its line to the tote configuration, chemical would offload and Town employees would close the valve on each tote as it filled. Employees would continue closing valves until all fifteen totes were filled or the tanker was empty.

To facilitate delivery of its products, Carus provided The Andersons with the identity of the Carus customer who was to receive each order of Totalox. On occasion, The Andersons used its own tanker trucks to transport orders of Totalox to Carus customers. On other occasions, The Andersons used third party carriers to transport loads of chemicals from The Andersons's plant to Carus customers.

For the Totalox order delivered on April 13, 2010, purportedly one day earlier than scheduled, The Andersons retained Fetter & Sons to transport the chemical. David Patton, a Town employee, was usually on site at the Millstream lift station when Totalox deliveries were made. On April 13, 2010, Patton was ill and Adrian Taylor, another Town employee, was on vacation, so Plaintiff was assigned by the utility department to attend the delivery and offloading. The Fetter & Sons driver, Terry Weiser, arrived at Millstream and began off-loading. Plaintiff was joined at the lift station by three other Town employees. Plaintiff and his coworkers moved regularly among the totes to close valves as the system filled. Plaintiff was not wearing a respirator during the offloading of Totalox. After the totes had filled, Terry Weiser cleared his line with a charge of air. Under pressure, one or more of the tote valves broke and a significant amount of Totalox ...


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