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Renner v. Roundo AB

September 29, 2010

ALBERT WILLIAM RENNER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROUNDO AB, A FOREIGN CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sean J. McLAUGHLIN, District J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, Albert William Renner, an employee of GE Transportation Company ("GE") in Erie, Pennsylvania, filed this products liability lawsuit as a result of injuries he sustained while operating of a Roundo Angle Bending Roll Double Pinch Type R2 Machine (the "Roll Machine") designed and manufactured by Defendant Roundo AB ("Roundo"), a Swedish corporation, and sold to GE by Comeq, Inc. ("Comeq"), a Maryland corporation. After being commenced in state court, the case was removed here. We have subject matter jurisdiction over the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1441.

Presently pending before the Court is Roundo's motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When a defendant moves to dismiss a complaint based on a lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that personal jurisdiction exists. Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 295-96 (3d Cir.2007). "In deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, we take the allegations of the complaint as true. But once a defendant has raised a jurisdictional defense, a plaintiff bears the burden of proving by affidavits or other competent evidence that jurisdiction is proper." Dayhoff Inc. v. H.J. Heinz Co., 86 F.3d 1287, 1302 (3d Cir.1996) (internal citations omitted). In demonstrating that jurisdiction is proper, the plaintiff is required to establish facts with reasonable particularity. Mellon Bank (East) PSFS, Nat'l Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir.1992). In addition, since personal jurisdiction is "inherently a matter which requires resolution of factual issues outside the pleadings," a plaintiff may not rely entirely on general averments in the pleadings. Time Share Vacation Club v. Atlantic Resorts, Ltd., 735 F.2d 61, 66 n. 9 (3d Cir.1984). Where a court does not hold an evidentiary hearing on personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff need only state a prima facie case. Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc., 566 F.3d 324, 330 (3d Cir.2009).

II. BACKGROUND

Defendant Roundo is a Swedish corporation with its principle place of business located in Hassleholm, Sweden. Defendant Comeq is a Maryland corporation with its principle place of business located there. Roundo is the designer and manufacturer of the Roll Machine in question, which was sold to GE in 1984 by Comeq.

From at least 1970 through 2008, Comeq acted as Roundo's exclusive agent and distributor in the North American market. Between the years 1970 and 2008, approximately 231 Roundo machines were introduced into the Commonwealth through sales involving Comeq. Some sixty-one (61) machines found their way into the Commonwealth during the years 1970 through 1984, and thirty-seven (37) were sold to Pennsylvania customers during the time span 1983-85.

During this time period,*fn1 Comeq acted as an independent, albeit exclusive, distributer of certain specified Roundo products with a territory covering the United States and Canada. (Def.'s Ex. C [27-3] at p. 21.) Comeq purchased Roundo's products from Roundo and then resold them in its own name, for its own account, and at prices established by Comeq. (Id.)

Appended to Roundo's motion to dismiss is various paperwork documenting Comeq's sale of the Roll Machine to GE in 1984. This documentation includes a January 9, 1984 letter from Comeq to GE providing a price quote for the Roll Machine, a General Electric purchase order directed to Comeq dated February 2, 1984, a Comeq packing list dated July 31, 1984 indicating shipment of the machine to GE, a Comeq invoice dated July 31, 1984 directed to GE, and a bill of lading showing shipment of the machine from Roundo to Comeq. (Ex. B to Mot. to Dismiss [27-2].)

Roundo acknowledges that it was aware of Comeq's 1984 sale of the Roll Machine to GE but states that it was only aware of this sale because GE had made a special request to Comeq to provide it with a quotation that would reflect the substitution of certain component parts manufactured by GE in place of the standard Roundo component parts. Although Roundo was aware of the sale of the subject Roll Machine to GE in 1984, Roundo did not initiate this transaction. Rather, the transaction appears to have been initiated by GE's inquiry to Comeq. Apart from this sale, Roundo disclaims any knowledge as to which of its products were ultimately sold by Comeq to Pennsylvania customers.

Roundo has never been licensed to do business in the Commonwealth and has never sought any qualification to do business here. It has never had a designated agent for service of process in Pennsylvania. It maintains no offices, has no affiliated corporate entity, and has no directors, officers, employees, agents or residents assigned to duty within the Commonwealth. Roundo does not maintain any assets in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, such as personal or real property, stock, securities, negotiable or non-negotiable instruments or commercial papers. It has never maintained any telephone listing or bank accounts here. Further, it does not sell products over the internet to customers within the United States or within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Roundo has never advertised in Pennsylvania or solicited business there. It does not have any outstanding loans to or with any banking institution within the Commonwealth nor any other financial ties to this State. It has never paid taxes of any kind in Pennsylvania and has never previously consented to personal jurisdiction in any court of the United States or of Pennsylvania. (See Affidavit of Ola Kajrup, Ex. A to Mot. to Dismiss [27-1].)

III. DISCUSSION

Federal district courts "may assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident of the state in which the court sits to the extent authorized by the law of that state." D'Jamoos, 566 F.3d 94, 102 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Provident Nat'l Bank v. Cal. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 436 (3d Cir. 1987)). See also Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 296 (3d Cir. 2007); O'Connor v. Sandy Lane Hotel Co., Ltd., 496 F.3d 312, 316 (3d Cir. 2007). In theory, this involves a two-step inquiry whereby courts determine first whether the forum state's long-arm statute extends jurisdiction to the nonresident defendant and second whether the exercise of that jurisdiction would comport with federal due process principles. See Pennzoil Products Co. v. Colelli & Associates, Inc., 149 F.3d 197, 202-03 (3d Cir. 1998). In actuality, however, Pennsylvania courts typically restrict their personal jurisdiction inquiry to the question whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the nonresident defendant would be constitutional, since Pennsylvania's Long-Arm statute authorizes jurisdiction to the fullest extent permissible under the U.S. Constitution. See 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5322(b); Renner v. Lanard Toys Limited, 33 F.3d 277, 279 (3d Cir. 1994) ("[T]his court's inquiry is solely whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant would be constitutional."); Pennzoil Products Co., supra,at 200 (3d Cir. 1998) ("A district court's exercise of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Pennsylvania's long-arm statute is therefore valid as long as it is constitutional.").

In this case, Plaintiff posits, and I agree, that Pennsylvania's Long-Arm statute extends jurisdiction to Roundo under the "tort out/ harm in" provision. See 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5322(a)(4) (stating that Pennsylvania courts may exercise personal jurisdiction over a person "who acts directly or by an agent, as to a cause of action or other matter arising from such person: ... [c]ausing harm or tortious injury in this Commonwealth by an act or omission outside this Commonwealth."). See Pennzoil Products Co., supra, at 201-02. Accordingly, our analysis will focus on whether this Court's assertion of jurisdiction over Roundo in this matter is consistent with federal due process principles.

In making this determination, we consider whether Roundo, the nonresident defendant, has "certain minimum contacts" with this Commonwealth such that "the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." See D'Jamoos, 566 F.3d at 102 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). We recognize two types of in personam jurisdiction, to wit, general and specific.

General jurisdiction results from, among other things, the non-resident defendant's "systematic and continuous" contact with the forum state. See Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 320 (1945). Where general jurisdiction exists, the forum state may exercise personal jurisdiction over the non-resident defendant even for non-forum-related activities.

Specific jurisdiction, on the other hand, allows for the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant for actions arising out of or relating to the defendant's contact with the forum. See Mellon Bank (East) PSFA, Nat'l Assn. v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1221 (3d Cir.1992). Here, there is no claim of general jurisdiction and the parties agree that, if personal jurisdiction exists, it is specific.

In determining whether specific personal jurisdiction exists over Roundo, we undertake a three-part inquiry, described by our ...


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