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Burnside v. Peterbilt Motors Company

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 28, 2018

JAMES BURNSIDE, et al., Plaintiffs,



         I. Introduction & Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs, James and Maria Burnside, initiated this litigation after Mr. Burnside was allegedly injured when the bobtail truck he was working on began leaking propane and caught fire.[1] Plaintiffs' Complaint raises claims for product liability, strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty against a number of parties who designed, marketed, sold, repaired, and/or inspected the truck, propane tank, or propane tank's safety valve.[2] (Doc. 1). Presently before the Court is Defendant Peterbilt Motors Company's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 26). Within the Motion, Defendant Peterbilt asserts that (1) the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendant Peterbilt and (2) Plaintiffs' Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion in part, deny it in part, dismiss the claims against Defendant Peterbilt for lack of personal jurisdiction, allow Plaintiffs' a period of time for jurisdictional discovery, and allow Plaintiffs' the opportunity to amend their Complaint.

         II. Background

         On July 21, 2017, Mr. Burnside was allegedly injured in Avoca, Pennsylvania, when the bobtail truck he was working on began leaking propane and caught fire. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 10, 15). According to Plaintiffs, "Defendant Peterbilt designed, marketed, sold, supplied and/or distributed the subject product, the bobtail truck and its component parts which caught fire." (Id. at ¶ 11). Plaintiffs further allege that Defendant Peterbilt placed the truck and component parts "into the stream of commerce." (Id. at ¶ 17). According to an affidavit submitted by Defendant Peterbilt in connection with its Motion, the subject truck was sold by Peterbilt of Connecticut to a purchaser located in Colorado and was then delivered to Canada. (Doc. 26-2 at ¶¶ 8, 10-11).

         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."); Eurofins Pharma U.S. Holdings v. BioAlliance Pharma SA, 623 F.3d 147, 155 (3d Cir. 2010) (same). "Of course, by accepting a plaintiff's 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

         Defendant Peterbilt first asserts that Plaintiffs have failed to establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction. (Doc. 26-1 at 6). In response, Plaintiffs have submitted no relevant evidence on their behalf. Further, neither party has requested a hearing on the Motion. Thus, the Court will consider the allegations in Plaintiffs' Complaint in analyzing the question of whether the Court can assert personal jurisdiction over Defendant Peterbilt. See Miller Yacht Sales, 384 F.3d at 97.

         "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, 444 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." Sandy Lane Hotel, 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, Plaintiffs only argue that the Court has specific personal jurisdiction over Defendant Peterbilt; they advance no argument that general jurisdiction exists.[3]

         The Third Circuit has articulated a three-part test to determine whether a district court can exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a defendant. See Sandy Lane Hotel, 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).[4] 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.

         Plaintiffs argue that the first Sandy Lane Hotel prong is met because the truck that caused the injury "was designed, marketed, sold, supplied and/or distributed by Defendant Peterbilt and ultimately arrived in Pennsylvania in the possession of [Mr. Burnside]'s employer." (Doc. 32-1 at 7). These assertions, however, do not explain how Defendant Peterbilt purposefully directed any of its activities at Pennsylvania. While the Court does not doubt Plaintiffs' statement that "[m]aterials sent into Pennsylvania provide some evidence of purposeful availment of the forum," (id.), Plaintiffs' Complaint fails to allege that Defendant Peterbilt sent any materials into Pennsylvania. Instead, Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges only that a truck that Defendant Peterbilt designed, marketed, sold, and distributed ended up in Pennsylvania. The pleading, however, is devoid of any allegations that Defendant Peterbilt played any part in directing the truck, or any other materials for that matter, into Pennsylvania. Nor does Plaintiffs make any other assertions as to how Defendant Peterbilt has purposefully directed any of its activities at Pennsylvania. Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to plead that Defendant Peterbilt purposefully directed its activities at Pennsylvania. As such, Plaintiffs cannot establish that Defendant Peterbilt has the required minimum contacts with Pennsylvania under the test articulated in Sandy Lane Hotel.

         Nevertheless, this conclusion does not end the Court's analysis. Although not an altogether independent inquiry from the test articulated in Sandy Lane Hotel, courts have sometimes found that a defendant has the requisite minimum contacts with a forum under the "stream of commerce theory." Under this formulation of the rule, courts "find a basis for personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant, often a manufacturer or distributor, which has injected its goods into the forum state indirectly via the so-called 'stream of commerce.'" D'Jamoos, 566 F.3d at 104-05. In Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Superior Court of Cal.,480 U.S. 102, 107 S.Ct. 1026, 94 L.Ed.2d 92 (1987), the Supreme Court attempted to outline the contours of when it is appropriate for a court to exercise personal ...

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