Segal McCambridge Attorneys Successful on Motion to Dismiss For Lack of Personal Jurisdiction in Federal Product Liability Case

News

April 12, 2018

Segal McCambridge Chicago Shareholder Jeffrey Singer and Chicago Associate Matthew Kelly were granted dismissal on behalf of their client in a complex product liability case filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. Singer and Kelly represented the manufacturer of the neck component ("the Company") allegedly used within the hip replacement hip system used on Plaintiff.

Plaintiff underwent a total right hip replacement utilizing a hip system that included a femoral neck component. Four years after Plaintiff’s hip replacement surgery, the femoral neck component failed requiring that Plaintiff undergo a total hip revision. Thereafter, Plaintiffs brought action against the Company, the manufacturer of the femoral neck component at issue. Attorneys Singer and Kelly, on behalf of their client, moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' action based on lack of personal jurisdiction.

The Court applied Washington Law in its analysis of whether it could assert personal jurisdiction over the Company manufacturer in this case. In moving to dismiss, the Company argued that the Court had neither general nor specific jurisdiction over it. It argued that the Court lacked general jurisdiction as the Company was not ‘essentially at home’ in Washington. The Court concurred with the Company, heavily distinguished the cases advanced by Plaintiffs and found that the Company's activities in Washington made up only a minor portion of its overall revenue and that it had neither a business license in the state nor had it entered the state to deliver components directly to Washington customers. The Court also disagreed with Plaintiffs' argument that the Company's website established the necessary contacts to satisfy general jurisdiction, noting "[t]he Ninth Circuit allows a forum to assert jurisdiction based on a website presence only when a defendant operates a website that directly targets the forum."  Because the Court found the Company operated an open, passive website not directly targeting Washington, the Court found that its connections were not so systematic and continuous as to render it essentially at home in Washington.

To determine if it had specific jurisdiction, the Court looked at Washington’s long-arm statute and the due process requirements as set forth in the United States Supreme Court's decision in Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462 (1985), which require a showing of 1) purposeful minimum contacts, 2) injuries arising out of or relating to those minimum contacts, and 3) the exercise of jurisdiction consistent with the notion of "fair play and substantial justice."

The Court noted that, in order to extend Washington's long-arm jurisdiction over an out of state defendant as in this case, Plaintiffs had to establish that the Company purposefully established minimum contacts in Washington. In assessing whether such minimum contacts were established, the Court gave credence to the Ninth Circuit’s ‘effects’ test which requires that the defendant allegedly must have 1) committed an intentional act, 2) expressly aimed at the forum state, and 3) causing harm that the defendant knows is likely to be suffered in the forum state. In relying on the "effects" test, the Court  disagreed with Plaintiffs' advancement of  the Supreme Court’s earlier "stream of commerce" theory stating, “[m]odern case law overrules the notion that stream of commerce alone constitutes ‘purposeful availment.’”

Furthermore, the Court relied on the Ninth Circuit’s use of the ‘but for’ purposeful availment test in finding that Plaintiffs did not satisfy the second prong of the Burger King test which requires a showing of injuries arising out of or relating to the Company's purported minimum contacts. The Court found that it could not assert jurisdiction over the Company based on its unrelated sales to Washington customers since they did not create a ‘but for’ cause of Plaintiff’s injuries. Lastly, the Court was not required to address the third prong regarding the exercise of jurisdiction since the Plaintiffs did not establish that the Court constitutionally could assert specific jurisdiction over the Company.

The Court therefore granted the Company's Motion to Dismiss finding that it had neither general nor specific jurisdiction over it.