On Jan. 2 of this year, Sgt. Maseth, of Shaler, stepped into the shower at his quarters in Baghdad’s safe Green Zone and was electrocuted.
According to the Army Criminal Investigation Division, Sgt. Maseth died when the electricity in the shower facility short-circuited because an electric water pump on the rooftop was not properly grounded.
Yesterday, in a quest for someone to be held accountable, Sgt. Maseth’s parents sued KBR Inc., the multibillion-dollar contractor hired to maintain and repair the electrical infrastructure at the Radwaniyah Palace complex in Baghdad, a former estate of Saddam Hussein, where Sgt. Maseth was killed.
Attorney Patrick K. Cavanaugh said the military and the contractor had known about the electrical problem since February 2007, yet it went uncorrected.
"The Defense Contract Management Agency, we believe, authorized [the contractor] to the tune of millions of dollars to make the repairs. And they never made the repairs," Mr. Cavanaugh said. "And we don’t know why. A simple repair — just ground the building — and Ryan would be alive today."
A little over a month ago, United States District Judge Nora Barry Fischer of the Western District of Pennsylvania denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss, which raised two defenses irrelevant to blatant negligence by a civilian electrical contractor working on a military base: the "political question doctrine" and the "combatant activities" exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA").
After they lost the motion to dismiss, Defendant KBR moved to halt the litigation so they could file an interlocutory appeal with the Third Circuit. (Normally, appeals must await a "final order" on the case that resolves all the issues, such as a dismissal or judgment.)
Here’s the standard for an interlocutory appeal, as recited by the Court:
28 U.S.C. § 1292, entitled "Interlocutory decisions," provides:
When a district judge, in making in a civil action an order not otherwise appealable under this section, shall be of the opinion that such order involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference in opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation, he shall so state in writing in such order.
28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). Section 1292(b) grants the Court of Appeals jurisdiction to review the District Court’s interlocutory order. "Certification pursuant to § 1292(b) should be granted ‘sparingly’ and only when three conditions are met: (1) where immediate appeal may avoid protracted and expensive litigation, (2) the request involves a controlling question of law, and (3) where there is a substantial basis for differing opinion." The party seeking the interlocutory appeal has the burden to establish that all three conditions are met. However, this Court has discretion to deny an interlocutory appeal even if that party meets its burden. See Bachowski v. Usery, 545 F.2d 363, 368 (3d Cir. 1976)("The certification procedure is not mandatory; indeed, permission to appeal is wholly within the discretion of the courts, even if the criteria are present.").
(citations without quotes omitted) Harris v. Kellogg, Brown, & Root Servs., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36253 * 2-3 (April 30, 2009).
Defendant KBR argued, in essence, that an appeal was warranted because "there is a lack of precedent within the Third Circuit" on these issues. That, however, is not grounds for a "substantial basis of differing opinion," since a lack of precedent is not the same thing as differing precedent. The Court accordingly rejected defendant’s argument.
Defendant KBR then waved the bloody shirt of "costly discovery" (after litigating the heck out of the case so far with "voluminous" submissions) and piously claimed years of delay would not prejudice the plaintiffs, prompting the following refreshing course in reality:
First, Staff Sergeant Maseth died on January 2, 2008 and only limited discovery relevant to KBR’s motion to dismiss has been permitted to this point, nearly a year and a half later. At the outset of this case, KBR took the position that despite its submission of voluminous evidence in support of its motion to dismiss that no discovery was necessary prior to the Court’s resolution of its motion. (See Docket No. 56). Alternatively, KBR requested that the Court permit only limited discovery related to the issues raised in its motion. (Id.). The Court acquiesced to KBR’s request, finding that the justiciability issue raised by KBR should be resolved prior to any further discovery being conducted. Now that KBR’s motion to dismiss has been denied, Plaintiffs should have the opportunity to conduct discovery relevant to their claims on liability without the further delay which would be caused by any appeal. To that end, it is axiomatic that over time witnesses’ memories may fade, they may become unavailable and/or physical evidence may be lost, destroyed or misplaced.
Second, due to the nature of this case and based on representations by counsel to the Court, many prospective witnesses are literally located around the globe and are potentially serving in the military or working for private military contractors in war zones where they may be at risk of serious injury or death. Again, any further delay in permitting discovery of these individuals could prevent both parties from discovering information relevant to their claims and/or defenses.
Third, to the extent that KBR, a multi-billion dollar international corporation, argues that an appeal is warranted based on financial concerns due to the potential avoidance of "costly discovery in this litigation," (see Docket No. 162 at 6), the Court is certainly mindful of the costs of litigation. However, in light of the fact that the individual Plaintiffs have not raised any such concerns, the Court is not persuaded.
Finally, as discussed above, KBR’s motion was denied, without prejudice, and its counsel has already represented to the Court that it intends to re-file its motion and/or a summary judgment motion based on the political question doctrine and/or the combatant activities exception, once all discovery is complete.