Japanese chemical company says jurisdiction over it doesn't exist in wrongful death case

By Nicholas Malfitano | Dec 3, 2018

PHILADELPHIA – The spouse of a Berks County woman who died from complications related to beryllium disease is suing the manufacturing entities supposedly responsible for her chemical exposure, while one of them, a Japanese corporation, maintains it is not subject to legal jurisdiction in Pennsylvania.

Jack R. Rissmiller Jr. (individually and as administrator of the Estate of Michelle M. Rissmiller) of Temple filed suit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on Jan. 16 versus NGK North America, Inc. of Philadelphia and NGK Insulators, Ltd. of Nagoya, Japan (c/o CT Corporation System of Philadelphia) Len Velky of Lancaster and Cabot Corporation of Boston, Mass. (also c/o CT Corporation System of Philadelphia.)

Per the litigation, the NGK defendants operated and controlled a 65-acre manufacturing facility near Reading, in Berks County’s Muhlenberg Township from 1986 to 2001. Prior to 1986, the Reading facility was owned, operated and controlled by Cabot and its predecessors.

Over the course of decedent Michelle Rissmiller’s life, from May 1962 to June 2017, she resided in close proximity to the Reading facility.

Years Of Residence

Address

Miles To Reading Plant

1962-1982

217 Chapel Terrace

Reading, PA 19602

6.3

1982-1983

115 South 2nd Street

Womelsdorf, PA

17.9

1983-1984

1335 Perkiomen Avenue

Apartment #2

Reading, PA 19602

6.2

1985-1987

112 Ontelaunee Drive

Shoemakersville, PA 19555

3.6

1987-2017

805 Apache Lane

Temple, PA 19560

0.6

The suit explains the plaintiff’s right to relief arises out of the negligent emission of beryllium into the air, in close proximity to where his late wife resided for over 55 years.

“From approximately 1936 to 1965, the manufacturing activities at the Reading plant included extraction of beryllium hydroxide from beryl ore, and production of beryllium salts and various types of beryllium metal and alloys. From 1965 to 1992, operations at the NGK plant included production of beryllium copper, beryllium nickel and beryllium aluminum alloys; casting, heat treatment, and rolling of beryllium alloys; and chemical and mechanical cleaning of beryllium alloys,” the suit says.

“All of the manufacturing processes undertaken by Insulators and North America, through its wholly owned subsidiary, and the predecessor operators of the Reading Plant including Cabot, have, at all material times introduced respirable beryllium dust, fumes and particulate matter into the environment including the ambient air. Depending upon the amount, form, and route of exposure to beryllium, various diseases may result, ranging from acute to chronic lung disease, including beryllium sensitivity, dermatologic disease, and cancer.”

According to the lawsuit, chronic beryllium disease (CBD) has an indolent course an onset of symptoms 6 to 10 years after exposure has ceased, but the latency period is reported to occur even 30 years after initial exposure.

“Throughout the course of her entire life, Michelle Rissmiller was exposed to unlawful, dangerous and unhealthful emissions of beryllium, which caused her to develop CBD and ultimately lead to her death on June 15, 2017. Decedent had no other exposure to beryllium apart from that which was emitted from the Reading Plant,” per the litigation.

In preliminary objections filed Nov. 19, defendant NGK Insulators maintains that neither personal, general nor specific jurisdiction over it in Pennsylvania was established – that it is a corporation principally-based in Nagoya, Japan and operates under Japanese law, with no connection to Pennsylvania, and that it was not properly served with the complaint under The Hague Convention.

For counts of negligence, strict liability, civil conspiracy, exemplary damages, fraudulent concealment or non-disclosure, wrongful death and survival, the plaintiff is seeking damages, jointly and severally, in excess of $50,000, and in excess of local arbitration limits under the Wrongful Death Act, exclusive of interests and costs.

The plaintiff is represented by Ruben Honik & Tammi Markowitz of Golomb & Honik, in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Neil S. Witkes, James M. McClammer of Manko Gold Katcher & Fox in Bala Cynwyd, plus Ronda K. O’Donnell and Christian A. Weimann of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Douglas E. Ress and Katherine Perkins of Kaufman Coren & Ress and John C. McMeekin II of Rawle & Henderson, all in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 180102260

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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