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Violet v. Picillo

ELR Citation: 16 ELR 20331
Nos. No. 83-0787P, 613 F. Supp. 1563/23 ERC 1188/(D.R.I., 08/01/1985) On defendants' motions to dismiss

The court holds that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) does not allow it to assert personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants whose hazardous wastes eventually ended up at a disposal site in Rhode Island, but that it may do so under Rhode Island law and the Constitution. The court first holds that CERCLA does not expressly provide for nationwide service of process. Section 113(b) pertains to the federal courts' jurisdiction over subject matter and is not relevant to the exercise of personal jurisdiction. Although §113(b) does provide special venue rules for CERCLA actions, it does not mention nationwide service of process. Since numerous other federal statutes expressly authorize nationwide service, Congress' silence in §113(b) is significant.

The court then declines to imply nationwide service of process under CERCLA. Although courts on occasion have implied authority for nationwide service in the absence of clear statutory language, these cases involved statutes that allowed for venue in only one district. Failure to allow broader jurisdictional powers in those cases would have precluded any federal court from adjudicating cases under the statutes in question. The court agrees with the state's argument that nationwide service of process is necessary to accomplish the statute's goals. Allowing defendants to assert a traditional minimum contacts defense contradicts the broad substantive liability provisions of CERCLA, substantially increases a plaintiff's litigation costs and diminishes its ultimate recovery for site cleanup, and impedes resolution of joint and several liability issues. After a lengthy discussion on these points, however, the court concludes that the decision to allow extraterritorial process is for Congress, not the courts.

The court next dismisses the action against one defendant on res judicata grounds, since a state superior court had already ruled that there were insufficient contacts between the corporation and Rhode Island on which to base personal jurisdiction. The court declines to rule in favor of a second defendant on the same grounds, however, since its favorable state court ruling on personal jurisdiction was an interlocutory order.

Absent statutory long-arm jurisdiction, the court turns to Rhode Island law, as required by Rule 4(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court notes that Rhode Island allows long-arm jurisdiction to the limits of due process, and sets out the constitutional standard that applies to the remaining three defendants. In a note, the court holds that the state may not assert general jurisdiction over these defendants on the basis of contacts unrelated to the cause of action sued upon, because the standards for general jurisdiction are too stringent to cover the defendants' limited incidental contacts with Rhode Island. However, specific jurisdiction concerning defendants' actions with respect to this hazardous waste site is proper. Defendants consciously sent their waste into the stream of interstate commerce, without determining where the waste would end its journey, and benefitted from their actions by transferring the responsibility for safe transportation and disposal to a third party. Moreover, defendants could have taken actions to be reasonably certain they would not be brought into a foreign court by handling their own waste or taking more care in their contracts with transporters. The defendants' failure to concern themselves with the eventual destination of the wastes they generated, the state's compelling interest in protecting its land from injury resulting from improper disposal, the judicial system's interest in efficient resolution of disputes and the fact that there may be no alternative forum in which all parties could be brought, and the nation's interest in minimizing the effects of improper hazardous waste disposal all point to Rhode Island as the appropriate forum to try this case. The court notes in conclusion that it is only making a prima facie finding of personal jurisdiction, and that defendants still have the opportunity at trial to show facts negating jurisdiction.

[A related decision in this case appears at 16 ELR 20262.]

Counsel for Plaintiff
Susan B. Squires
Office of the Attorney General
72 Pine St., Providence RI 02903
(401) 274-4400

Counsel for Defendants
James H. Russell
Baker & Hostetler
13th Fl., Barnett Plaza, P.O. Box 112, Orlando FL 32802
(305) 841-1111

A. Lauriston Parks, James T. Murphy
Hanson, Curran & Parks
1210 Turks Head Bldg., Providence RI 02903
(401) 421-2154

John F. Bomster, David J. Oliveira
Adler, Pollack & Sheehan, Inc.
One Hospital Trust Plaza, Providence RI 02903
(401) 274-7200

Alden C. Harrington
Boyajian, Coleman & Harrington
182 Waterman St., Providence RI 02906
(401) 273-9600

John F. Dolan
Rice, Dolan & Kershaw
Suite 3-A, 101 Dyer St., Providence RI 02903
(401) 272-8800