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3M Co., the St. Paul, Minn.-based maker of tape and Post-It Notes, is trying to attach 25 asbestos lawsuits filed against it to the bankruptcy of Harbison-Walker Refractories and North American Refractories Co., units of Austrian refractories maker RHI AG. Judge Judith Fitzgerald in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh said Wednesday she would rule on the matter at an omnibus hearing for the Harbison-Walker bankruptcy on June 24. Both 3M and Hopeman Brothers, a marine contracting company, asked Fitzgerald on Wednesday if they could add the asbestos lawsuits against them in state courts in Mississippi into the Harbison-Walker and Narco bankruptcies. Both companies face hundreds of such lawsuits. The cases all involve masks manufactured by 3M that workers used to protect against asbestos dust. The asbestos plaintiffs claim the masks weren’t effective and that they’ve developed asbestos-related illnesses, said Peter Lockwood of Washington, D.C.-based Caplin & Drysdale, the lawyer for asbestos plaintiffs in the Harbison-Walker and Narco bankruptcies. Harbison-Walker and Narco were co-defendants in the same mask-related lawsuits filed in Mississippi, said 3M’s lawyer, Bruce Zirinsky of New York’s Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. 3M isn’t the first company to try to attach its asbestos lawsuits to a bankrupt, unrelated party. Recently, the Big Three automakers tried to do the same with bankrupt Federal-Mogul Corp., a Southfield, Mich.-based auto-parts maker. In that case, an attempt by DaimlerChrysler AG, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. to attach their cases to Federal-Mogul’s was rejected by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge. But the automakers have filed an appeal with a federal court in Philadelphia. “We told the judge that if she agreed to let 3M and the other company transfer their lawsuits to these bankruptcies, I am confident that every other lawsuit in which Narco or Harbison-Walker is a co-defendant will be transferred to this case,” Lockwood said. Other bankruptcy courts have authorized or directed the transfer of lawsuits under similar circumstances, but Fitzgerald may feel that the laws governing the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the Pittsburgh bankruptcy court is situated, aren’t amenable to such a move, Zirinsky said. Separately Wednesday, Fitzgerald granted final approval for a $35 million debtor-in-possession financing that Dallas-based Halliburton Co. is providing for Harbison-Walker. One modification in the DIP was made at the request of asbestos claimants. In return for approving the DIP, those claimants won’t waive their rights to challenge additional payments of $160 million to $180 million to RHI, Harbison-Walker’s parent, if an asbestos-claims trust is created that protects both Halliburton and Harbison-Walker against future asbestos lawsuits. Copyright �2002 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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