Law School Case Brief
Pruitt v. Allied Chem. Corp. - 523 F. Supp. 975 (E.D. Va. 1981)
Perhaps because of the large set of potential plaintiffs, even the commentators most critical of the general rule on indirect damages have acknowledged that some limitation to liability, even when damages are foreseeable, is advisable. Rather than allowing plaintiffs to risk a failure of proof as damages become increasingly remote and diffuse, courts have, in many cases, raised an absolute bar to recovery.
Plaintiffs allegedly engage in a variety of different businesses and professions related to the harvesting and sale of marine life from the Chesapeake Bay (Bay). All claim to have suffered economic harm from defendant chemical company's alleged discharges of Kepone into the James River and thence into the Bay. Plaintiffs assert their right to compensation under each of the dozen counts to their complaint. Defendant has moved to dismiss nine of those counts for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiffs allege that the stream of profits they previously received from their businesses or employment has been interrupted, and they seek compensation for the loss of the prospective profits they have been denied. As plaintiffs' claims rely on various, radically different theories of liability, the federal district court considers each count, or group of similar counts, separately.
Were plaintiffs who used the Bay, including fishermen, entitled to sue defendants?
None of the plaintiffs here including commercial fishermen has suffered any direct damage to his private property. All have allegedly suffered economic loss as a result of harm to the Bay's ecology. Apart from these similarities, the different categories of plaintiffs depend on the Bay in varying degrees of immediacy. The commercial fishermen here fit within a category established in Union Oil: they "lawfully and directly make use of a resource of the sea." The use that marina and charterboat owners make of the water, though hardly less legal, is slightly less direct. (And indeed, businesses in similar situations have been held entitled to recover in other courts.) Still less direct, but far from nonexistent, is the link between the Bay and the seafood dealers, restauranteurs, and tackle shops that seek relief (as do the employees of these establishments). The Court concludes that plaintiffs who purchased and marketed seafood from commercial fishermen suffered damages that are not legally cognizable because the harm is insufficiently direct.
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