Benjamin Shein. (Image via Youtube)
A Philadelphia law firm is facing renewed claims that it withheld evidence in asbestos cases.
John Crane Inc., an Illinois-based sealing and gasket manufacturer, sued Shein Law Center and lawyer Benjamin Shein in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claiming Shein Law fabricated and concealed information about its clients’ exposure to asbestos to obtain multimillion-dollar recoveries in lawsuits against JCI and other manufacturers.
JCI’s May 15 complaint, which mirrors another manufacturer’s lawsuit against Shein Law and other plaintiffs firms, alleges violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act as well as common-law fraud and conspiracy.
JCI filed the same claims in Illinois federal court last year. But U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp Jr. of the Northern District of Illinois dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, since Shein prepared and filed the lawsuits against JCI in Pennsylvania.
JCI filed a separate RICO complaint against Texas law firm Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett last year as well, but that, too, was dismissed for jurisdictional reasons. The dismissals of both cases are being litigated in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
In the Pennsylvania complaint, JCI said Shein Law concealed evidence concerning its clients’ asbestos exposure in litigation against the company, and then cited the allegedly concealed exposure incidents in bankruptcy trust claims against other manufacturers.
“Evidence of exposure to products associated with bankrupt companies provides a basis for a defendant in tort litigation to argue that the products of bankrupt, non-party companies solely or partially caused the plaintiff’s disease,” the complaint said. Without that evidence, “the defendants and other plaintiffs lawyers are able to argue … that the tort-defendants’ products must have caused the plaintiff’s disease because there are no other exposures that could have caused it.”
JCI alleged that Shein Law deliberately delayed filing bankruptcy trust claims until after tort litigation concluded, so JCI could not use the trust claims as evidence of other asbestos exposures. The firm also lied in discovery responses, JCI alleged, and instructed its clients to omit from their testimony knowledge of the asbestos exposures involving bankrupt companies.
JCI is represented by Leonard Marsico of McGuireWoods, who did not respond to a call seeking comment.
The complaint repeatedly cites Garlock Sealing Technologies’ bankruptcy proceedings. In early 2014, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George R. Hodges of the Western District of North Carolina had issued a decision finding that the plaintiffs’ lawyers made a practice of withholding evidence and delaying bankruptcy trust claims.
Garlock used the same evidence in 2014 to file lawsuits against Shein Law, Simon Greenstone and three other firms. Those cases were stayed in March 2016 while Garlock’s bankruptcy reorganization plan, which includes settlements with the asbestos firms, was pending. In a May 15 press release, Garlock parent company EnPro Industries said it had received approval from the bankruptcy court, and was awaiting an official order.
Dan Brier of Myers Brier & Kelly, who represents Shein Law, said JCI’s complaint has no merit and called it a recycled version of the dismissed Illinois complaint and the North Carolina litigation.
“This is the third attempt by John Crane to re-litigate asbestos personal injury actions that Ben Shein and his firm tried and won before Pennsylvania juries more than seven years ago,” Brier said.