Suez Water NY v Dupont, Chemours: PFAS /PFOAs forever chemicals jurisdiction, a good primer on general, specific jurisdiction in the States.

I tweeted on the case at the time I think and now bumped into it as per ‘too many open browser windows -syndrom’ ;-): Liman J’s January’s judgment in Suez Water New York v Dupont, Chemours et al serves as a good primer (Legally Blonde a strong second) to explain general (where the defendant is ‘at home’) and specific (based on the defendant’s contacts with the State) personal (as opposed to subject-matter) jurisdiction.

In the US (with slight variations in federal and State approaches), general personal jurisdiction over the defendant arises either because of its continuous and systematic business affiliations with the state (indisputably established in case of domicile in the State) or, in the case of foreign corporations (incl in the business and human rights context) where its activities make it ‘essentially at home’ in the State (Daimler v Bauman). Specific personal jurisdiction, aka ‘long arm’ jurisdiction, exercised against those ‘not at home’ in the State, requires contact with the State, typically through the (attempted) sale or supply of goods or services, the commitment of a wrongful act (tort) or Moçambique-type matters such as transactions involving real estate in the State.

In the case at issue, the judge concludes that claimant, who is seeking to recover the water remediation costs of PFAS, ‘forever chemicals’ pollution,  has made the requisite prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction over the original manufacturers (ia of ‘Teflon’ non-sticky pans) albeit just barely, accepting a prima facie link between those defendants’ marketing activities  in New York and the contamination. However the judge does not prima facie accept jurisdiction over the successor corporations, holding that under New York law, successor jurisdiction is appropriate only where a predecessor and successor remain one and the same after some corporate-restructuring event. If this trend continues, it would be a vindication for escaping environmental liabilities by the use of special purpose vehicles, including corporate restructuring.

The case in the end faltered on the basis of vagueness in the claim however I understand this can be remedied (and may have been done so on the meantime). Other courts will have different approaches and unfortunately the length of the judgment (which also discusses eg public nuisance claims) illustrates  the industry will battle liability to the end. Another sad, sad case-study for the late lessons from early warnings collection.

Geert.

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