October 10, 2011
Southern District of New York Rejects Monsanto's Government Contractor Defense in Agent Orange Case
On September 28, 2011, District Judge Paul Gardephe issued his opinion and order denying defendants' motion for partial summary judgment in Spaulding v. Monsanto Company. Plaintiffs alleged that Monsanto engaged in negligent waste disposal practices at its plant in Nitro, West Virginia between 1949 and 1970. The waste at issue were biproducts from the manufacture of a key component in Agent Orange.
In its motion, Monsanto attempted to rely on the govenrment contrator defense, since for part of the time that it was manufacturing the product in question, it was doing so, at least in part, for government use. The standard for determining the applicability of the defense comes form Boyle v. United Techs. Corp. 487 U.S. 500, 512 (1988), in which the court explained as follows:
Liability for design defects in military equipment cannot be imposed, pursuant to state law, when (1) the United States approved reasonably precise specifications; (2) the equipment conformed to those specifications; and (3) the supplier warned the United States about the dangers in the use of the equipment that were known to the supplier but not to the United States.
In this case, the Court concluded that Monsanto had not satisfied the requirements for the defense because the record did "not demonstrate . . . that U.S. Government representatives made an 'express determination' regarding Monsanto's alleged waste disposal practices." Nor was there any evidence that the Government had "exercised consistent oversight over Monstanto's waste disposal practices." The Court came to the same conclusion with respect to air pollution. Because the defendants had not demonstrated that the complained-of activity was conducted "pursuant to reasonably precise government specifications," the District Court denied their motion based on the government contractor defense.
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