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Michael Sieg and Deanna Sieg v. Sears Roebuck & Company and Leviton Manufacturing Company

February 24, 2012

MICHAEL SIEG AND DEANNA SIEG, PLAINTIFFS :
v.
SEARS ROEBUCK & COMPANY AND LEVITON MANUFACTURING COMPANY, DEFENDANTS
v.
PRIMAX ELECTRONICS, LTD., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is Third-Party Defendant Primax Electronics' motion to dismiss Defendant / Third-Party Plaintiff Leviton Manufacturing's third-party complaint. (Doc. 31). Primax moves to dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The issues have been fully briefed and the matter is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the court will dismiss Third-Party Defendant Primax Electronics pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Background

This case arises from a November 17, 2008 fire in Plaintiff Michael Sieg and Plaintiff Deanna Sieg's (collectively "plaintiffs") Schuylkill County Pennsylvania home. (Doc. 20, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 7). The fire damaged plaintiffs' home and both plaintiffs suffered injuries and were treated at the Good Samaritan Hospital. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 14-15). Plaintiffs filed a complaint in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas against Defendant Sears Roebuck & Company (hereinafter "Sears") and Defendant Leviton Manufacturing (hereinafter "Leviton"). (See Doc. 1-3, Compl.). Plaintiffs allege that a defective power tap caused the fire. (Doc. 20, Am. Compl. ¶ 7). Plaintiffs claim to have purchased the allegedly defective power tap from a Sears retail store in 2008, and that the power tap was either manufactured or distributed by Leviton. (Id. ¶ 6). Plaintiffs assert that Sears and Leviton are both liable under theories of strict liability and negligence. (Id. ¶¶ 16-21).

On March 18, 2010, Leviton filed a notice of removal with this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446. (See Doc. 1, Notice of Removal). Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint against Leviton and Sears on August 27, 2010. (See Doc. 20). Shortly thereafter, Leviton filed a third-party complaint against Primax Electronics (hereinafter "Primax"). (See Doc. 22). Primax is a Taiwan-based corporation with manufacturing and research operations in Taiwan and China. (See Doc. 35-5, Ex. D, Primax Co. Profile). Primax engages in the design, manufacture and distribution of consumer electronics. (Id.; Doc. 22, Third-Party Compl. ¶ 2). With its operations overseas, Primax has no employees, offices, property or other assets in Pennsylvania. (Doc. 34-1, Ex. A, Hwang Decl. ¶¶ 4-6). Primax sells its products Free on Board ("F.O.B.") China or Taiwan and claims to be uncertain of where its customers take its products from there. (Id. ¶ 7). Primax has not paid taxes to Pennsylvania and it is not registered as a corporation in Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9).

Primax does, however, have a presence in the United States. It opened its first United States sales office in 1990. (Doc. 35-5, Ex. D, Primax Co. Profile). Primax has sold thousands of products to Leviton. (See 35-6, Ex. E, Purchase Order). These products were sent F.O.B. Taiwan and shipped to California. (Id.) The purchase order indicates a New York billing address and that Leviton and Primax consented to New York City courts as the forum for legal dispute. (Id.) Primax also has appeared in lawsuits initiated in the Courts of Common Pleas of Lehigh and Bucks Counties in 2002 and 2003 respectively. (See Doc. 35-4, Ex. C, Dockets & Pleadings).

Leviton contends that Primax was the manufacturer of the power tap at issue in this case, and that if Leviton is found to be liable, Primax should be liable over Leviton. (Doc. 22, Third-Party Compl. ¶¶ 4-6). Primax filed a motion to dismiss the third-party complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (See Doc. 31). Primax contends that this court does not have personal jurisdiction to proceed with the third-party complaint, and, even if this court possesses personal jurisdiction over Primax, Leviton's third-party complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted.

Legal Standard to Establish Personal Jurisdiction

The plaintiff must adduce facts sufficient to satisfy two requirements--one statutory and one constitutional--to establish personal jurisdiction. The statutory prong requires that the court assess whether the defendant's actions fall within the scope of Pennsylvania's long-arm statue, 42 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 5322(b). Pennsylvania's long-arm statute permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction to the fullest limits of due process as defined under the Constitution of the United States, as such, federal law defines the parameters of the Court's in personam jurisdiction. See id.; Vetrotex Certainteed Corp. v. Consol. Fiber Glass Prods. Co., 75 F.3d 147, 150 (3d Cir. 1996). Accordingly, in light of Pennsylvania's long arm statute, the court's proper focus will be on whether the exercise of jurisdiction comports with the United States Constitution's guarantees of due process.

To determine whether the court has personal jurisdiction under the Due Process Clause, the court must ask whether the defendant has certain minimum contacts with the forum state "such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Courts have identified two categories of personal jurisdiction--general jurisdiction and specific jurisdiction. General jurisdiction is based on the defendant's "continuous and systematic" contacts with the forum. See Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 416 (1984). General jurisdiction exists even if the cause of action at issue arises from non-forum activities. See N. Penn Gas Co. v. Corning Natural Gas Corp., 897 F.2d 687, 690 n.2 (3d Cir. 1990). Specific jurisdiction on the other hand only exists "only if the plaintiff's cause of action arises out of a defendant's forum-related activities, such that the defendant 'should reasonably anticipate being haled into court' in that forum." Remick v. Manfredy, 238 F.3d 248, 255 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Vetrotex, 75 F.3d at 151). In other words, specific personal jurisdiction is present when the defendant's actions at issue in the case amount to sufficient minimum contacts to satisfy due process requirements. See Helicopteros Nacionales, 466 U.S. at 414-15. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals observed with respect to specific jurisdiction that "it is entirely possible that a court might have personal jurisdiction in a particular case over a defendant but not have jurisdiction over it in other cases." D'Jamoos ex rel. Estate of Weingeroff v. Pilatus Aircraft, Ltd., 566 F.3d 94, 102 (3d Cir. 2009).

Courts conduct a three-part inquiry to determine whether there is personal jurisdiction, which was described by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals as follows:

First, the defendant must have "purposefully directed [its] activities" at the forum. Second, the litigation must "arise out of or relate to" at least one of those activities. And third, if the first two requirements have been met, a court may consider whether the exercise of jurisdiction otherwise "comport[s] with 'fair play and substantial justice.'"

Id. (internal citations omitted). The first two steps in this three part inquiry determine whether the defendant has sufficient minimum contacts with the jurisdiction by assessing whether "'the defendant purposefully avail[ed] itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protection of its laws.'" Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985) (quoting Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958)). It is not necessary for the purposes of this requirement to show that the defendant physically entered the forum state. D'Jamoos, 566 F.3d at 103. Nevertheless, ...


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