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Belac v. 3M Company

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

June 26, 2018

LORETTA BELAC, Plaintiff
v.
3M COMPANY ET AL., Defendants.

          For Plaintiff: John E. Deaton, Esq.

          For Defendant: Andrew R. McConville, Esq. Marc E. Finkel, Esq.

          DECISION

          GIBNEY, P.J.

         Before this Court for decision are the Defendant Evenheat Kiln, Inc.'s (Evenheat) motion for leave to renew its motion for summary judgment and the Plaintiff's motion for dismissal without prejudice. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 8-2-14.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         The Plaintiff originally filed this asbestos liability action on February 9, 2016 and alleges that she was exposed to asbestos-containing products over the course of her career crafting ceramics from her home business, which caused her to develop mesothelioma. Numerous Defendants are named in the action, including Evenheat. Evenheat filed its Answer on March 11, 2016. The Plaintiff later amended the Complaint twice, on July 28, 2016 and September 8, 2016. Evenheat filed Answers to these Amended Complaints on August 16, 2016 and September 13, 2016.

         Beginning shortly after the initial Complaint was filed, between March and September of 2016, various Defendants contested personal jurisdiction in Rhode Island and filed motions for lack of personal jurisdiction and for protective orders to stay or limit discovery. Evenheat, however, did not contest Rhode Island jurisdiction. The Plaintiff was deposed over the course of six days from June to September of 2016, and Evenheat was present during that deposition. Evenheat also participated in trial testimony preservation via telephone conference on September 2, 2016. The Plaintiff died shortly thereafter due to complications from her illness.[1]

         Evenheat filed a motion for summary judgment on December 22, 2016 and argued that the Plaintiff failed to adequately demonstrate product identification and a causal connection. The motion argument was set for hearing on January 4, 2017 and then rescheduled for March 29, 2017.Oral arguments on the motion were not heard on either of those dates, however. Instead, the Administratrix of the Plaintiff's Estate refiled this action in Pennsylvania on March 22, 2017 and then brought a voluntary motion to dismiss the charges against all of the Defendants without prejudice on April 12, 2017.

         Evenheat filed an objection to Plaintiff's motion to dismiss. On April 20, 2017, this Court found that a dismissal at that time would cause prejudice to Evenheat because it had actively participated in litigation and had a pending summary judgment motion. See Belac v. 3M Company, No. PC-2016-0544, 2017 WL 1504687, *4 (R.I. Super. Apr. 20, 2017) (Gibney, P.J.). This Court allowed the Plaintiff one month to respond to Evenheat's motion for summary judgment and noted that oral arguments on the motion would be scheduled thereafter. Id. This Court then granted Plaintiff's motion for voluntary dismissal without prejudice with respect to the Defendants except Evenheat and another Defendant, Sargent Art, Inc.[2] Id.

         Following this order, the Plaintiff responded to Evenheat's summary judgment motion on May 22, 2017. In support of her objection, the Plaintiff proffered an affidavit from her daughter, Faith Belac Cope (Ms. Belac Cope). Evenheat filed a motion to strike the affidavit on August 31, 2017. Oral arguments on Evenheat's motion for summary judgment and motion to strike were heard on September 6, 2017. In a written decision, this Court, Taft-Carter, J., denied Evenheat's motion for summary judgment and motion to strike on October 19, 2017. See Belac v. 3M Company, No. PC-2016-0544, 2017 WL 4839159, *5 (R.I. Super. Oct. 19, 2017) (Taft-Carter, J.).[3]

         Following this decision, Evenheat filed a motion for relief on December 1, 2017 and argued that the Court should have stricken the affidavit from Ms. Belac Cope and that the Plaintiff did not provide sufficient exposure evidence. This Court heard oral arguments on the motion for relief on December 13, 2017. In a bench decision, this Court, Taft-Carter, J., denied Evenheat's motion for relief.

         Evenheat noticed a deposition of Ms. Belac Cope for March 2018 and filed the instant motion for leave to renew its motion for summary judgment on March 19, 2018. The same day, Plaintiff filed the instant motion to dismiss all claims against Evenheat without prejudice. Both parties have filed memoranda on the matter, and this Court heard ...


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