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Danbury Printing and Litho Inc. v. Heidelberg North America, 1999 N.Y. Int. 0040 (Mar. 30, 1999).

CHOICE OF LAW - PRODUCTS LIABILITY - STATUTES OF LIMITATION - STATUTES OF REPOSE


ISSUE & DISPOSITION

Issue

Whether, within the boundaries of certification from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the Connecticut General Statutes § 52-577(a) bars Plaintiff's products liability lawsuit.

Disposition

Yes. Connecticut's General Statutes § 52-577(a) bars Plaintiff's claim. The Connecticut Legislature intended to make the ten-year limitation period in section 52-577(a) a substantive eligibility requirement and therefore under the New York borrowing statute, CPLR 202, the New York Court of Appeals would apply Connecticut's ten-year limitation period.

SUMMARY

Danbury Printing and Litho, Inc. bought and installed a printing press manufactured by Defendants. Ten years and three months later, Plaintiff, a New York resident, was awarded workers' compensation benefits after he sustained serious injuries while operating the press. Plaintiff initiated a products liability suit against Defendants in federal court based on diversity of citizenship. Danbury Printing intervened seeking to recover payments made to Plaintiff under Connecticut's Workers' Compensation Act. The federal district court granted summary judgment to Defendants, holding that under New York State's choice of law rules a New York court would apply Connecticut General Statutes § 52-577(a) to Plaintiff's case as a part of the substantive law of Connecticut. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit certified the following question to the Court of Appeals: whether Connecticut General Statutes § 52-577(a) bars Plaintiff's products liability suit. Court of Appeals answered the certified question in the affirmative. The Court indicated that the applicable Connecticut statute, which incorporates a repose provision into the state's product liability law, is part of Connecticut's substantive law and therefore would be employed by the New York Court of Appeals to resolve the dispute at issue.

The Court of Appeals rejected Plaintiff's argument that New York's borrowing statute, CPLR 202, precludes application of section 52-577(a) to his claim regardless of classification of the provision as substantive or procedural. The Court held that a cause of action must have accrued in plaintiff's favor in order to secure the alleged benefit of the resident exception contained in CPLR 202, and accrual can only be determined by inquiring whether section 52-577a is a part of Connecticut's substantive law. The Court also rejected Plaintiff's claim that New York should categorize section 52-577a as procedural, arguing that "'the law of the forum normally determines for itself' whether a given question is one of substance or procedure." Kilberg v. Northeast Airlines, 9 N.Y.2d 34, 41 (N.Y. 1961). The Court determined that New York is the forum State and applied its choice of law rules to reach the conclusion that "[t]he theory of the statute of limitations generally followed in New York is that the passing of the applicable period does not wipe out the substantive right; it merely suspends the remedy." Danbury Printing, 1999 N.Y. Int. 0040, at para. 12 (quoting Siegel, N.Y. Prac. § 34 at 38 (2d ed.)).

The Court indicates that the limitation of section 52-577a(a) constitutes a hybrid statute of limitation and repose. The Court concluded that the statute of repose quality of section 52-577a(a) makes the provision substantive under New York law. The Court relied on the language and legislative history of Connecticut's products liability remedy to reach the conclusion that the Connecticut Legislature intended to make the ten-year limitation period in section 52-577 "a substantive eligibility requirement, rather than just a State of Limitations, a 'mere proceduralism.' " Danbury Printing, 1999 N.Y. Int. 0040, at para. 21 (citing Smith Barney v. Sacharow, 91 N.Y.2d 39, 45 (N.Y. 1997). The Court suggested that its analytical approach, based on classification of the provision at issue as substantive or procedural, satisfies concerns of public policy by discouraging forum shopping, improving judicial efficiency and expediting justice to all parties. The Court declined to adopt a new analytical framework, such as that contained in the Restatement 2d Conflicts § 142, to resolve this sort of dispute. The Restatement 2d Conflicts § 142 approach would "require examination not only of the limited subset of policy considerations which may underlie the procedural-substantive choice of law dichotomy, but also of the larger set of general choice-influencing considerations." Danbury Printing, 1999 N.Y. Int. 0040, at para. 24.


Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.