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Ogburn-Sisneros v. Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, Inc.

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

October 19, 2015

Alysia Ogburn-Sisneros, Personal Representative [1]
v.
Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, Inc. [2] et al. [3] No. 131756

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR APPLICATION OF MASSACHUSETTS LAW

Maynard M. Kirpalani, Justice

Plaintiff Alysia Ogburn-Sisneros (" plaintiff"), as personal representative of the estate of Billy Ogburn, Sr. (" decedent"), moves this court to order that Massachusetts law applies to her products liability claims against defendants Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, Inc., Fresenius USA, Inc., Fresenius USA Manufacturing, Inc., Fresenius USA Marketing, Inc., Fresenius USA Sales, Inc. (collectively, " Fresenius"). Fresenius opposes her motion, arguing that Colorado law applies. For the following reasons, the plaintiff's motion is DENIED and the law of Colorado will apply to this case.

DISCUSSION

The facts relevant to this motion are essentially undisputed. The decedent resided, received dialysis treatment, and died in Colorado. As part of his dialysis treatment, the decedent received GranuFlo. Fresenius is a Massachusetts corporation that distributes its products throughout the United States. At all times relevant to this action, Fresenius manufactured GranuFlo in Ohio and Texas, distributed it throughout the United States, [4] and made all decisions regarding the warnings associated with GranuFlo in Massachusetts. The plaintiff alleges that the decedent died as a result of his exposure to GranuFlo, and that Fresenius failed to warn consumers and health care providers about the risks and dangers associated with the product despite knowing of those risks and dangers.

" In light of these various factual contacts with different States, " the court must apply " established choice of law principles in resolving . . . [which state] bears an 'appropriate relation' to the plaintiff's claim." Cohen v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 389 Mass. 327, 332, 450 N.E.2d 581 (1983). The " conflict-of-law rules of Massachusetts, the forum state, [apply] in order to determine which State's law is applicable." Clarendon Nat'l Ins. Co. v. Arbella Mut. Ins. Co., 60 Mass.App.Ct. 492, 495, 803 N.E.2d 750 (2004). " Massachusetts generally follows a functional approach to resolving choice of law questions on substantive matters, eschewing reliance on any particular choice-of-law doctrine." Resolute Mgmt, Inc. v. Transatlantic Reinsurance Co., 87 Mass.App.Ct. 296, 302, 29 N.E.3d 197 (2015), quoting Lou v. Otis Elevator Co., 77 Mass.App.Ct. 571, 583, 933 N.E.2d 140 (2010); see Bushkin Assocs., Inc. v. Raytheon Co., 393 Mass. 622, 631, 473 N.E.2d 662 (1985) (holding that this approach responds to the interests of the parties, the States involved, and the interstate system as a whole"). The court generally looks to the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws as an " obvious source of guidance . . ." Bushkin Assocs., Inc., 393 Mass. at 632.[5]

" [T]he usual first step in applying conflict of law principles is to ascertain whether there is a conflict among the laws of the various States involved." Cohen, 389 Mass. at 332 n.7; see Kaufman v. Richmond, 442 Mass. 1010, 1012, 811 N.E.2d 987 (2004) (" It is a fundamental choice of law principle that only actual conflicts between the laws of different jurisdictions must be resolved"). The parties do not dispute that there is a conflict between Colorado products liability law and Massachusetts products liability law.

Next, as the plaintiff's claims sound in tort, " it is appropriate to view the choice of law issue raised by the plaintiff's claim in light of choice of law principles applicable in tort actions." Cohen, 389 Mass. at 332; see Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 145 (setting forth general principles of conflict of laws in tort actions). More specifically, both the plaintiff and Fresenius contend, this action is one for personal injury, thus " the local law of the state where the injury occurred determines the rights and liabilities of the parties, unless, with respect to the particular issue, some other state has a more significant relationship under the principles stated in § 6 [of Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws] to the occurrence and the parties, in which event the local law of the other state will be applied." Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 146; [6] see Cosme v. Whitin Mach. Works, Inc., 417 Mass. 643, 646-47, 632 N.E.2d 832 (1994) (noting that § 145 " provides the general principle 'applicable to all torts and to all issues in tort, '" and that § 146 " provides a principle applicable in issues concerning causes of action involving personal injury").

Although the parties agree that there is a presumption[7] in favor of applying Colorado law as the location of the decedent's injury, the parties do not agree on whether Massachusetts or Colorado has " a more significant relationship" with the occurrence and parties in this case.[8] See Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 146, cmt. c (" The likelihood that some state other than that where the injury occurred is the state of most significant relationship is greater in those relatively rare situations where, with respect to the particular issue, the state of injury bears little relation to the occurrence and the parties"); Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 146, cmt. e (noting that, " [o]n occasion, conduct and personal injury will occur in different states").

" [T]he identity of the state of most significant relationship . . . depend[s] upon the nature of the tort and upon the particular issue." Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, Introductory Note to Chapter 7, Topic 1. " The principles stated in [Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws] § 6 underlie all rules of choice of law and are used in evaluating the significance of a relationship, with respect to the particular issue, to the potentially interested states, the occurrence and the parties." Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 145, cmt. b; see Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 146, cmt. c (" In large part, the answer to this question will depend on whether some other state has a greater interest in the determination of the particular issue than the state where the injury occurred").

The factors relevant to the choice of the applicable rule include:

(a) the needs of the interstate and international systems;
(b) the relevant policies of the forum;
(c) the relevant polices of other interested states and the relative interests of those states in the determination of the particular issue;
(d) the protection of justified expectations;
(e) the basic policies underlying the particular field of law;
(f) certainty, predictability and uniformity of result; and
(g) ease in the determination and application of the law ...

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