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Dent v. Cunningham

March 19, 1986

JO CAROLYN DENT & JAMES A. DENT, SR.
v.
JOSEPHINE CUNNINGHAM & GENERAL MOTORS CORP., A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, JO CAROLYN DENT AND JAMES A. DENT, SR., APPELLANTS



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (Trenton) (D.C. Civ. No. 84-5211)

Author: Aldisert

Before: ALDISERT, Chief Judge, HUNTER, Circuit Judge, and POLLAK, District Judge.*fn*

Opinion OF THE COURT

ALDISERT, Chief Judge.

In this diversity case we must determine whether the district court properly applied the law of personal jurisdiction and the New Jersey borrowing rule for statutes of limitations. We determine the district court correctly found that it lacked personal jurisdiction over defendant Cunningham, and affirm its dismissal of that portion of the complaint. However, because we hold that the court incorrectly applied the California statute of limitations for personal injuries instead of the longer New Jersey statute, we reverse its dismissal of the claim against defendant General Motors.

I.

On April 23, 1983 Jo Carolyn Dent, a New Jersey resident, was injured when she was a passenger in an auto accident in Los Angeles, California. The automobile was manufactured by General Motors, a Delaware corporation, and was driven by, her aunt, Josephine Cunningham, a California resident.

Over one year later, on December 14, 1984, Dent and her husband filed this diversity action in New Jersey district court against Cunningham and General Motors. Cunningham moved to dismiss, arguing the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over her for the action. General Motors also moved to dismiss, arguing that under the new Jersey borrowing rule, the one year California statute of limitations for tort actions, Cal. Code Civ. P § 340(3), should apply rather than New Jersey's two-year statute, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:14-2, and that the complaint should therefore be time-barred.

The district court granted bother defendants' motions, and the Dents appeal.

II.

The Dents argue that the district court misapplied the law of personal jurisdiction and New Jersey's conflict of laws rules. Because these issues involve the selection, interpretation, and application of legal precepts, review is plenary. Universal Minerals, Inc. v. C.A. Hughes & Co., 669 F.2d 98, 102-03 (3d Cir. 1981).

III.

The Dents advance two reasons in support of their contention that the district court erred in dismissing their action against defendant Cunningham. They assert that federal courts comprise a national court system and should not be bound to the jurisdictional limitations imposed by the forum state, but should instead have a national reach. Alternatively, they claim that even if New Jersey law is applied Cunningham had sufficient contacts with the State of New Jersey "that the assertion of jurisdiction would not offend due process of law." Br. for appellants at 7.

We are not impressed by either argument. We have previously considered and rejected the national reach argument in Max Daetwyler Corp. v. R. Meyer, 762 F.2d 290 (3d Cir. 1985), and re-affirm its declaration that "[i]n the absence of a federal statute authorizing nationwide service of process federal courts are referred tot he statutes or rules of the state in which they sit." Id. at 295. "We reject the national contacts theory on which the district court predicated its jurisdiction." Id. at 297. We also agree with the district court's determination that Cunningham, a California resident, was beyond its proper in personam jurisdiction. In Max Daetwyler Corp., we stated that the propriety of such jurisdiction is evaluated under a two-step process: "a court . . . look[s] to the state's long-arm statute and then determines whether the exercise of jurisdiction would satisfy due process." Id. at 293. new Jersey's long-arm statute provides for service of ...


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