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Policy: Law

Delaware court affirms dismissal of Argentine suit

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DOVER, Del. (AP) — The Delaware Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the widow of an Argentine national who claimed he was exposed to asbestos at a DuPont textile plant in the South American country.

In a 4-1 decision, the justices said a Superior Court judge correctly dismissed the lawsuit in 2012 because Delaware was not the proper forum for Argentine asbestos claims to be heard.

The lawsuit, filed by Maria Elena Martinez, is one of about 30 such cases filed against Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont Co. by Argentine nationals who claim they were exposed to asbestos at textile plans in the cities of Berazategui and Mercedes. At the time of the alleged exposures beginning in the 1960s, the plants were owned by what is described in the Delaware court opinions as a "great-great grand-subsidiary" of DuPont, several levels removed from the parent company.

In their opinion Thursday, the majority of justices agreed that DuPont would face an overwhelming and undue hardship if forced to litigate complex and unsettled questions of Argentine law, including issues of parent company liability, in Delaware.

Justice Randy Holland, who wrote for the majority, noted that the plaintiff is not a Delaware resident, and that the injuries allegedly suffered by her late husband, Santos Roque Rocha, occurred in Argentina, not Delaware.

But in a sharply worded dissent, Justice Carolyn Berger accused the majority of ignoring long-standing Delaware law in upholding the dismissal and taking "an unsettling new approach to this court's decision-making."

Berger suggested that the real reason for the majority's opinion was a desire to protect Delaware's corporate franchise. She also noted that DuPont has never made a successful improper forum argument before.

"But the majority holds that it would be an overwhelming hardship for DuPont to defend a toxic tort claim if litigated five blocks from its headquarters," she wrote.

Tom Crumplar, an attorney for Martinez, declined to comment on the court's ruling.

Dan Turner, a spokesman for DuPont, said the company was pleased with the decision, "as we have long maintained that Delaware was not the appropriate venue for these cases."

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