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Branch Metal Processing, Inc. v. Boston Edison Co.

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20888
Nos. 93-444ML, 952 F. Supp. 893/(D.R.I., 12/05/1996)

The court holds that it has personal jurisdiction over a Massachusetts electric utility company in a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) case and that material issues of fact preclude granting the company summary judgment on its alleged CERCLA arranger liability for selling used streetlights that allegedly contained polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The court first notes that general personal jurisdiction over the company does not exist, because it is difficult to see how the company's sporadic contacts with Rhode Island amount to anything more than isolated instances of corporate activity. Applying the standard for specific jurisdiction, however, the court finds sufficient minimum contacts with Rhode Island for personal jurisdiction to lie. The company sold the streetlights to another company that then resold them to a company in Rhode Island. The subsequent shredding of the streetlights purportedly caused PCBs to spill onto the ground. In addition, the company purposefully availed itself of conducting business in Rhode Island. It knew that some of its streetlights might contain PCBs yet did not place any restrictions on how or where those PCBs might be disposed of. It should have reasonably anticipated the possibility of CERCLA liability arising anywhere as a result of the release of those PCBs into the environment. Its election to place no restriction on the method or place of disposal is tantamount to an affirmative choice to submit to jurisdiction wherever these waste products fouled the environment. Applying "gestalt factors," the court finds that the company is not located an appreciable distance from Rhode Island, Rhode Island has an extraordinarily strong sovereign interest in providing a forum for action concerning injury to land within its borders, it would be more convenient for plaintiffs to litigate this matter in Rhode Island, and the court's exercise of jurisdiction would achieve the most effective resolution of this controversy.

The court next denies the company's motion for summary judgment on its CERCLA liability. Issues still in dispute are whether the company knew that the streetlights contained PCBs, whether the company knew that the streetlight capacitors containing the PCBs had no market value on the resale market, whether the company's request for bids provided for the disposal of any scrap materials, and whether the company intended that the PCBs be disposed of by the company that purchased the streetlights. These questions indicate a dispute as to whether the company sold the streetlights with the intent that the PCBs be disposed of.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Robert C. Corrente
Corrente, Brill & Kusinitz
86 Weybosset St., Providence RI 02903
(401) 751-7777

Counsel for Appellees
Brooks R. Magratten
Vetter & White
20 Washington Pl., Providence RI 02903
(401) 421-3060