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PORTELLA v. LIFE-TIME TRUCK PRODUCTS

December 22, 2000

JOSEPH R. PORTELLA, ET AL.
V.
LIFE-TIME TRUCK PRODUCTS, INC., ET AL. V. MANNING ENTERPRISES, INC., ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bartle, U.S. District Judge.

MEMORANDUM

This is a products liability, negligence, and breach of warranty action. Defendant and third-party plaintiff Ford Motor Company ("Ford") has joined Manning Enterprises, Inc. and Manning Truck Modification, Inc. ("Manning") as third-party defendants.*fn1 Before the court is the motion of Manning Enterprises, Inc. and Manning Truck Modification, Inc. to dismiss Ford's complaint under Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of personal jurisdiction.

I.

Plaintiff Joseph Portella allegedly sustained injuries when a ladder attached to the side of the truck of his tractor-trailer broke after Portella stepped onto its second rung. The injury occurred during a temporary stop near a toll plaza in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. Guaranteed Overnight Delivery, Portella's employer, had custom ordered and purchased the truck from Bayshore Ford, a dealer located in New Castle, Delaware. Bayshore Ford in turn had ordered it from Ford which had manufactured the truck in its Louisville, Kentucky plant. Ford had contracted with Manning to install the allegedly defective ladder on this truck. The installation occurred in Manning's facility, also in Kentucky.

Manning did all of its business in Kentucky. It had no customers other than Ford, and it received work orders exclusively and directly from Ford. Manning did not advertise, produce product catalogs, or provide any other product information to dealers or other purchasers of Ford trucks. Manning never initiated contact with or directly delivered a vehicle to any Ford dealer or customer. Many of the dealers and purchasers of trucks built and sold by Ford and modified by Manning were Pennsylvania residents, a fact made known to Manning only because Ford's work orders included it, along with a lot of other information.

In this case, Ford contends that Manning purposefully placed its products and services into the "stream of commerce" with the knowledge that such products and services would reach Pennsylvania. Ford asserts that this court may exercise either general or specific in personam jurisdiction over Manning.

II.

A federal district court may assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant to the extent authorized by the law of that state in which the action is brought, consistent with the demands of the Constitution. See Provident Nat'l Bank v. California Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 436 (3d Cir. 1987) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(e)). Pennsylvania law permits courts to "exercise personal jurisdiction over nonresidents to the constitutional limits of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment." Mellon Bank (East) PSFS, Nat'l Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1221 (3d Cir. 1992); 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 5322(b). Once a jurisdictional issue has been raised, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing with reasonable particularity contacts sufficient to support the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction. See Provident Nat'l Bank, 819 F.2d at 437.

III.

Ford asserts that Manning is subject to this courts' general personal jurisdiction. The exercise of general jurisdiction does not require that "the subject matter of the cause of action ha[ve] any connection to the forum." Farino, 960 F.2d at 1221. Rather, a court has general jurisdiction over a nonresident corporation only if the corporation's contacts with the forum are continuous, systematic, and substantial. See Provident Nat'l Bank, 819 F.2d at 437; 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 5301(a)(2)(iii). The standard for general jurisdiction "is not an easy one to meet." Surgical Laser Technologies v. C.R. Bard, Inc., 921 F. Supp. 281, 284 (E.D.Pa. 1996). In fact, only a showing of "significantly more than mere minimum contacts" will suffice. See Provident Nat'l Bank, 819 F.2d at 437.

It is undisputed that Manning did not do business in Pennsylvania. It had no customers, agents, distributors, offices, or employees in Pennsylvania. It did not advertise here. It never had any business contact or communication with residents of the Commonwealth. While many of the trucks which Manning modified as a result of its business dealing with Ford did end up in Pennsylvania, such contact cannot be said to have been continuous or systematic. The evidence does not demonstrate that any contacts with Pennsylvania were a substantial part of Manning's overall business operations. In sum, Ford has not established that Manning had the "extensive and pervasive" contacts with Pennsylvania necessary for general personal jurisdiction. Reliance Steel Prods. Co. v. Watson, Ess, Marshall, & Enggas, 675 F.2d 587, 589 (3d Cir. 1982).

IV.

Ford also contends that Manning is subject to specific personal jurisdiction within Pennsylvania. "Specific personal jurisdiction exists when the defendant has `purposefully directed his activities at residents of the forum and the litigation results from alleged injuries that "arise out of or related to" those activities.'" BP Chems. Ltd. v. Formosa Chem. & Fibre Corp., 229 F.3d 254, 259 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Burger King, 471 U.S. at 472, 105 S.Ct. 2174). For a court properly to exercise specific jurisdiction under the Due Process Clause, the plaintiff must satisfy a two-part test. See IMO Industries, Inc. v. Kiekert AG, 155 F.3d 254, 259 (3d Cir. 1998). First, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant had the constitutionally sufficient "minimum contacts" with the forum. Id.; see Burger King, 471 U.S. at 474, 105 S.Ct. 2174. Second, the court, in its discretion, must determine that the ...


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