Second Circuit Revives Belated Health Suits Tied to 9/11

MANHATTAN (CN) – Upholding a law named after a carpenter who became sick because of his work at Ground Zero, the Second Circuit ruled Wednesday that it is not too late for 9/11 cleanup workers to seek relief.

Passed by the New York Legislature in 2009, Jimmy Nolan’s Law offered rescue, recovery and cleanup workers an opportunity to bring 9/11 injury lawsuits that would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations.

The law came into effect after U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein dismissed hundreds of similar cases where workers who developed respiratory problems attributed to 9/11 sought to hold various public entities liable.

Hellerstein found that the plaintiffs failed to file timely notice of claims, but Jimmy Nolan’s Law revived any cause of action that was deemed barred on the statute of limitations.

In 2014, ruling on eight cases that were refiled against the Battery Park City Authority, Hellerstein again denied the cleanup workers relief.

Hellerstein blasted Jimmy Nolan’s Law as unconstitutional, saying that the workers had had ample time to file their claims, and that there was “no lingering injustice that Jimmy Nolan’s Law had to correct.”

“The ‘exceptional’ circumstances or ‘serious injustice’ that the New York Court of Appeals has required for nearly 100 years is simply not present here,” Hellerstein wrote.

As an appeal of the case got underway, however, the Second Circuit invited New York’s highest state court, the Court of Appeals, to weigh in.

That court denied last year that that public corporations like the BPCA have the authority to challenge state statute. Finding that Jimmy Nolan’s Law was a “reasonable response in order to remedy an injustice,” the court said it was enacted fairly under the due process clause of the New York Constitution.

This development prompted the Second Circuit to vacate Hellerstein’s ruling 3-0 on Wednesday.

Clocking in at just 11 pages, the unsigned opinion cites two cases — Gulotta v. State and Rensselaer v. Regan — as guideposts that the panel used to determine whether the BCPA qualifies for an exception that permits state entities to challenge laws that adversely affects their proprietary interest in a specific monetary funds.

“There may be cases that fall between Fulotta and Rensselaer, and potentially present a close question on whether the proprietary-interest exception applies,” the Second Circuit wrote. “This is not one of them.”

While Jimmy Nolan’s Law may have an adverse effect on the Battery Park City Authority’s general fund, the federal appeals court found that effect indirect and thus inapplicable.

“Indeed, if BCPA’s logic were followed, the proprietary-interest exception would permit a public entity to challenge the constitutionality of any law that could potentially expose it to greater liability,” the court wrote.

Gregory Cannata, an attorney for several of the workers, said his clients are “very pleased.”

“Now we’re going to go back and see if we can resolve this case,” Cannata said in an interview, adding that he is confident the BCPA will settle.

Wednesday’s ruling involves 18 workers, but Cannata noted that there were 12,000 plaintiffs in the underlying case involving many other building owners.

“This is a very small piece of a much larger litigation,” he added. “I’m not sure anybody wants to see this litigated.”

Daniel Connolly, who represents the authority, did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Created by the New York Legislature in the 1960s, the BCPA owned the land underneath the Twin Towers.

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