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Behrens v. Arconic, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 20, 2019

KRISTEN BEHRENS, ESQ., as Administratrix, et al.
v.
ARCONIC, INC., et al.

          MEMORANDUM ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS PURSUANT TO FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12

          Baylson, Judge

         I. Introduction

         This action arises out of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which claimed the lives of seventy-two people and injured many more when a fire spread through a high-rise apartment building in London on June 14, 2017. Plaintiffs include Kristen Behrens, who serves as the Administratix of the Estates of sixty-nine of the Grenfell Tower fire victims (“Behrens”);[1] individuals who experienced injuries caused by the fire;[2] and individuals whose spouses lost their lives in the fire (the “Consortium Plaintiffs”)[3] (collectively, “Plaintiffs”). Plaintiffs assert various theories of strict products liability against Arconic, Inc., Arconic Architectural Products, LLC, Saint-Gobain Corporation, and Whirlpool Corporation (collectively, “Defendants”)[4] for the roles these companies allegedly played in supplying defective products that exacerbated the conflagration. Specifically, the Complaint (ECF 1, Ex. 1) alleges 143 counts[5]:

Count I: Products Liability, by Plaintiffs against the Arconic Defendants;[6]
Count II: Products Liability, by Plaintiffs against Whirlpool Corporation;
Count III: Products Liability, by Plaintiffs against Saint-Gobain Corporation;
Counts IV through CXLI: Claims brought by Behrens on behalf of the estates she represents for violations of the Wrongful Death Act, 42 Pa. Stat. and Const. Stat. Ann. § 8301 pursuant to Pa. R. Civ. P. 2202, and violations of the Survival Act, 42 Pa. Stat. and Const. Stat. Ann. § 8302, against Defendants;[7]
Count CXLII: Loss of Consortium, by the Consortium Plaintiffs against Defendants; and
Count CXLIII: Punitive Damages, by Plaintiffs against Defendants.

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12. (ECF 49.) For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is DENIED.[8]

         II. Facts

         At this stage, the Court “accept[s] all factual allegations as true, [and] construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen, Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)).[9] As set out in the Complaint, the factual background is as follows.

         a. The 2017 Grenfell Tower Fire

         Grenfell Tower, a high-rise apartment building in London, suffered a devastating fire in 2017. (Compl. ¶ 1.) The fire, which started within one apartment and quickly spread to the combustible cladding covering the entire tower, killed seventy-two people and caused severe harm to many more. (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 5-8.) That cladding had been installed as part of a larger refurbishment of Grenfell Tower that took place from 2012 to 2016. (Compl. ¶¶ 252-53, 255, 257-58).

         There has been subsequent investigation into the fire's causes. (Compl. ¶¶ 21, 222, 233- 34, 281.) Now, Plaintiffs allege that the fire can be traced back to three conglomerates' products, as follows.

         b. Whirlpool Corporation

         According to the Complaint, the fire at Grenfell Tower was started by a fridge-freezer manufactured and sold by Indesit Company under the brand-name “Hotpoint.” (Compl. ¶¶ 6, 181, 220, 228.) A wire in the fridge-freezer's compressor relay compartment was defective, which caused the appliance to “short circuit” and catch fire. (Compl. ¶¶ 233-234, 243-245.) The Hotpoint fridge-freezer's rear casing was constructed with a highly flammable plastic material, which allowed the fire to quickly escape the relay compartment and spread throughout Grenfell Tower. (Compl. ¶¶ 230, 247-249.)

         In 2014, Defendant Whirlpool Corporation (“Whirlpool”) acquired Indesit Company, along with its assets and liabilities. (Compl. ¶¶ 181-182.) After acquiring Indesit Company, Whirlpool continued to sell the Hotpoint fridge-freezer. (Compl. ¶¶ 193, 363.) Whirlpool knew- or should have known through the exercise of due diligence-of prior incidents in which the Hotpoint fridge-freezer caused fires, but Whirlpool did not correct the fridge-freezer's defective conditions or warn customers of its dangers. (Compl. ¶¶ 183-185, 369-73, 376, 581.)

         Whirlpool was registered to do business in Pennsylvania during the time these acts or omissions occurred. (Compl. ¶ 216.) To the extent Whirlpool itself did not commit the purportedly tortious acts, it was acting through its “agents, servants, and/or employees, who were acting within the course and scope of their agency, ” or the actions were taken by affiliated companies “at the direction and command of, and under the supervision of, Defendant Whirlpool.” (Compl. ¶¶ 188, 191.)

         c. The Arconic Defendants

         According to the Complaint, the Arconic Defendants were responsible for “designing, manufacturing, [10] assembling, marketing, distributing and selling the Reynobond PE cladding” that was used in Grenfell Tower. (Compl. ¶ 153.) Reynobond PE cladding should not be used in buildings that exceed 40 feet because if “a fire break[s] out and ignite[s] the highly flammable polyethylene core and insulation . . . the maximum reach of a firefighter's fully extended ladder is approximately 40 feet.” (Compl. ¶ 310.) Despite this guideline and the Arconic Defendants' knowledge that Grenfell Tower stood at over 200 feet-far in excess of the 40-foot maximum- the Arconic Defendants supplied their “unfit” product to Grenfell Tower. (Compl. ¶¶ 312-313, 314.)

         Notwithstanding their knowledge of the hazard that Reynobond PE cladding posed to Grenfell Tower and its residents, the Arconic Defendants designed and sold this defective product and failed to adequately advise of the dangers associated with its use. (Compl. ¶¶ 562-563.)

         To the extent that the Arconic Defendants themselves did not commit the purportedly tortious acts, they were acting through their “agents, servants, and/or employees, who were acting within the course and scope of their agency and/or employment, ” or the actions were taken by affiliated companies “at the direction and command of, and under the supervision of, the American-based Arconic Defendants.” (Compl. ¶¶ 151, 155, 159, 165.)

         d. Saint-Gobain Corporation d/b/a Saint-Gobain North American and/or d/b/a Celotex

         Finally, according to the Complaint, Grenfell Tower's exterior cladding included “RS5000 PIR insulation.” (Compl. ¶ 281.) Much as with Arconic's Reynobond PE, the RS5000 insulation's combustibility caused the fire to spread ...


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