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Sullick v. United Pet Group, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 12, 2015

JOHN SULLICK, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED PET GROUP, INC., doing business as

MEMORANDUM

JAN E. DuBOIS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff John Sullick ("plaintiff" or "Sullick") commenced this action against defendants United Pet Group, Inc. d/b/a Marineland a/k/a Marineland Aquarium Products ("UPG"), Tetra Holdings (US), Inc. t/a Perfecto Manufacturing, Inc., Worldwide Aquarium & Pet Center, and NEWA Tecno Industria, S.R.L. ("NEWA"), alleging breach of warranties, strict liability, and negligence under Pennsylvania law. Subsequently, UPG filed an Answer with Affirmative Defenses, in which it asserted six crossclaims against defendant NEWA.[1] The suit arises out of a fire at plaintiff's home, which was allegedly caused by a defective Marineland Stealth aquarium heater marketed, designed, manufactured, assembled, and distributed by defendants.

Presently before the Court is Defendant NEWA Tecno Industria, S.R.L.'s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint and Defendant United Pet Group, Inc.'s Crossclaims for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction. For the following reasons, the Court denies NEWA's Motion to Dismiss.

II. BACKGROUND[2]

A. The Parties

Plaintiff John Sullick is a resident of Pennsylvania. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) Defendant and crossclaimant UPG is a Delaware corporation with principal places of business in Cincinnati, Ohio and Blacksburg, Virginia. (Am. Compl. ¶ 2; Guoli Decl. ¶ 11.) Between 1986 and the end of 2009, UPG distributed products manufactured by NEWA, including aquarium heaters, to retailers across the United States. (Guoli Decl. ¶ 11; UPG Resp., Ex. A, 25 (Distribution Agreement between NEWA and UPG).)

Defendant/crossclaim defendant NEWA is an Italian company with its office and principal place of business in Loreggia, Italy. (Guoli Decl. ¶ 4.) NEWA has never owned or maintained an office or any real property in Pennsylvania nor has it maintained employees, sales agents, or a sales force there. ( Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) NEWA has never directly sold, shipped, marketed, or advertised its aquarium heaters in Pennsylvania, and it sells its products to distributors that are all located outside of Pennsylvania. ( Id. ¶¶ 5, 8, 10.) It has never paid taxes or maintained a bank account in the state. ( Id. ¶ 9.)

B. Factual Background

According to plaintiff, at some time before August 25, 2012, he "became the owner of a Marineland Stealth aquarium, which included a Marineland Stealth aquarium heater, " and which he subsequently used in his home. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 18-19.) On or about August 25, 2012, the Marineland Stealth aquarium heater allegedly caught fire, in turn setting fire to plaintiff's residence and causing damage to plaintiff's real and personal property. (Am. Compl. ¶ 20.)

Defendant NEWA manufactures Marineland Stealth heaters, which it sells to U.S.-based distributors like UPG. (UPG Resp., Ex. A, 25.) UPG distributed NEWA's products, including its aquarium heaters, to retailers across the United States, including the nationwide retail pet supply chain stores Petco and Petsmart, until the relationship ended at the close of 2009. (UPG Resp., Ex. G, Hr'g Tr. 49:6-22.) Between 2007 and early 2010, Petco and Petsmart sold approximately 2, 000 to 5, 000 NEWA Stealth heaters each year in Pennsylvania alone.[3] ( Id. at 49:23-50:8.) According to NEWA's Managing Director, Giacomo Guoli, NEWA was aware that UPG distributed NEWA's Stealth heaters to Petco and Petsmart in every U.S. state and that Petco and Petsmart were the largest distributors of NEWA's Stealth heaters in the U.S. market.[4] (Guoli Dep. Tr. 37:8-9, 37:16-19, 39:3-6, 65:2-8.)

NEWA and UPG also cooperated to maximize sales of NEWA aquarium heaters to Petco and Petsmart. For example, NEWA worked with UPG to create "private label products, " including aquarium heaters, for Petco and Petsmart, meaning products that were marketed and sold under the Petco and Petsmart names. (Guoli Dep. Tr. 74:7-12, 74:17-23.) NEWA also performed the final assembly and formatting of the packaging for its aquarium heaters, which was submitted to Petco and Petsmart for their approval. (UPG Resp., Ex. G, Hr'g Tr. 59:1-10.) NEWA submitted all its products to Underwriters Laboratories, a U.S. safety testing and certification organization located in Chicago, for approval in order to meet Petco and Petsmart requirements. ( Id. at 60:1-25.) NEWA further cooperated with UPG to manage quantities of product shipped, inventories, and pricing specifically for Petco and Petsmart orders and to assess what changes to the NEWA heater packaging would be acceptable to Petsmart. (UPG Resp., Ex. H, I, K, & L.)

C. Procedural History

Sullick filed his Complaint in this Court on May 23, 2014, and amended his Complaint to add defendants on June 20, 2014. UPG filed its Answer, Affirmative ...


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