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Antonini v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 23, 2017

KATHERINE ANTONINI, Plaintiff,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert D. Mariani United States District Judge

         I. Introduction The above captioned matter is a product liability suit arising out of a motor vehicle accident in which Plaintiff, Katherine Antonini, was injured because of an alleged design flaw or flaws in her 2005 Ford Explorer. (Doc. 14). Defendant, Ford Motor Company, has moved to dismiss, arguing that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendant. (Doc. 10). For the reasons that follow the Court will deny Defendant's Motion.

         II. Procedural Background and Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff, a resident of Milford, Pennsylvania, was the owner of a 2005 Ford Explorer. (Doc. 14 at ¶ 1, 68). This particular Ford Explorer was assembled in Louisville, Kentucky, and sold by Defendant to an independent Ford dealership in Monroe, New York. (Doc. 10-2 at ¶ 5). In 2005, the dealership sold the car to an owner in New York. (Doc. 10-3). Then, in 2012, the owner appears to have sold the car to the Healey Brothers Automotive Group in New York. (Id.). Thereafter, Plaintiff purchased the vehicle and brought it to Pennsylvania. (Id.).

         On March 18, 2016, Plaintiff was driving her 2005 Ford Explorer in Pike County, Pennsylvania, when it was involved in an accident. (Doc. 14 at ¶¶ 68, 73). Plaintiff, who was wearing her seatbelt, claims that she sustained serious injuries as a result of the crash because the vehicle, which was designed, manufactured, and marketed by Defendant, was not reasonably crashworthy. (Id. at¶¶ 69-71, 74-75, 95). On October 4, 2016, Plaintiff filed her single count complaint in this Court. (Doc. 1). Defendant then filed its Motion to Dismiss, arguing that the vehicle at issue was not manufactured or sold in Pennsylvania and was not brought into Pennsylvania through any action of Defendant. (Doc. 10). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, (Doc. 14), along with its Brief in Opposition to Defendant's Motion, (Doc. 13).[1] The issue is now ripe for decision.

         III. Standard of Review

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12, a defendant may move to dismiss a complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). "Once challenged, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction." O'Connor v. Sandy Lane Hotel Co., 496 F.3d 312, 316 (3d Cir. 2007). "However, when the court does not hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction and the plaintiff is entitled to have its allegations taken as true and all factual disputes drawn in its favor." Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 97 (3d Cir. 2004); see also Toys "R" Us, Inc. v. Step Two, S.A., 318 F.3d 446, 457 (3d Cir. 2003) ("It is well established that in deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, a court is required to accept the plaintiff's allegations as true, and is to construe disputed facts in favor of the plaintiff."). "Of course, by accepting a plaintiffs facts as true when a motion to dismiss is originally made, a court is not precluded from revisiting the issue if it appears that the facts alleged to support jurisdiction are in dispute." Carteret Sav. Bank, FA v. Shushan, 954 F.2d 141, 142 n.1 (3d Cir. 1992).

         IV. Analysis

         "The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment limits the power of a state court to render a valid personal judgment against a nonresident defendant." World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, AAA U.S. 286, 291, 100 S.Ct. 559, 62 L.Ed.2d 490 (1980). "Due process requires that the defendant be given adequate notice of the suit and be subject to the personal jurisdiction of the court." Id. (internal citations omitted). In the context of federal courts, it is the Fifth Amendment that imposes restrictions on the exercise of personal jurisdiction. See Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., 137 S.Ct. 1773, 1783-84, 198 L.Ed.2d 395 (2017). However, "[f]ederal courts ordinarily follow state law in determining the bounds of their jurisdiction over persons." Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 753, 187 L.Ed.2d 624 (2014) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A)). In Pennsylvania, the state's long-arm statute provides that personal jurisdiction extends "to the fullest extent allowed under the Constitution of the United States." 42 Pa. C.S.A. 5322(b). Accordingly, this Court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant if doing so does not violate the Due Process Clause. Pennzoil Prods. Co. v. Colelli & Assocs., Inc., 149 F.3d 197, 200 (3d Cir. 1998).

         There are two types of personal jurisdiction: "general jurisdiction and specific jurisdiction." O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 317. "A court with general jurisdiction may hear any claim against that defendant, even if all the incidents underlying the claim occurred in a different State." Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 137 S.Ct. at 1780. "But 'only a limited set of affiliations with a forum will render a defendant amenable to' general jurisdiction in that State." Id. (quoting Daimler AG, 134 S.Ct. at 760). "Specific jurisdiction is very different. In order for a state court to exercise specific jurisdiction, 'the suit must 'aris[e] out of or relat[e] to the defendant's contacts with the forum.'" Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Daimler AG, 134 S.Ct. at 754). Here, the only arguments that Plaintiff has raised concern whether this Court has specific personal jurisdiction.[2]

         The Third Circuit has articulated a three-part test to determine whether a district court can exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a defendant. See O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 317. "First, the defendant must have 'purposefully directed [its] activities' at the forum." Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472, 105 S.Ct. 2174, 85 L.Ed.2d 528 (1985)). "Second, the litigation must 'arise out of or relate to' at least one of those activities." Id. (quoting Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 80 L.Ed.2d 404 (1984)). "And third, if the prior two requirements are met, a court may consider whether the exercise of jurisdiction otherwise 'comport[s] with "fair play and substantial justice."'" Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Burger King, 471 U.S. at 476).[3] The first two steps address "whether a defendant has the requisite minimum contacts with the forum, " D'Jamoos ex rel. Estate of Weingeroff v. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., 566 F.3d 94, 102 (3d Cir. 2009), and the third step concerns whether exercising jurisdiction is reasonable under the circumstances.

         As applied to Defendant, the first prong of this test is easily met. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint outlines a variety of ways in which Defendant purposefully directed its activities at Pennsylvania. For example, the Amended Complaint alleges that Defendant is registered to do business in Pennsylvania, maintains offices and employees in the state, and sells its products throughout Pennsylvania. (Doc. 14 at¶¶ 5, 7, 12, 14). Further, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant has spent millions of dollars advertising Ford products in Pennsylvania and that these advertisements were directly targeted at Pennsylvania residents. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26). This is more than sufficient to satisfy the purposeful contact prong.

         The second prong focuses on the relatedness of the defendant's in-state contacts and the litigation. Although the Supreme Court has yet to articulate the scope of this requirement, lower courts have established a variety of tests. Gentex Corp. v. Abbott, 978 F.Supp.2d 391, 399-400 (M.D. Pa. 2013). In the Third Circuit, the relatedness "analysis begins with but-for causation, but does not end there." Colvin v. Van Wormer Resorts, Inc., 417 F.App'x 183, 187 (3d Cir. 2011). This Circuit has recognized that "[t]he animating principle behind the relatedness requirement is the notion of a tacit quid pro quo that makes litigation in the forum reasonably foreseeable." O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 322. Consequently, "[b]ut-for causation cannot be the sole measure of relatedness because it is vastly overinclusive in its calculation of a defendant's reciprocal obligations." Id. Instead, "specific jurisdiction requires a closer and more direct causal connection than that provided by the but-for test." Id. at 323.

The relatedness requirement's function is to maintain balance in this reciprocal exchange. In order to do so, it must keep the jurisdictional exposure that results from a contact closely tailored to that contact's accompanying substantive obligations. The causal connection can be somewhat looser than the tort concept of proximate causation, but it must nonetheless be intimate ...

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