By David D. Dean on March 1, 2016

In 2015, three foreign corporation asbestos defendants saw their attempts to obtain dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction denied by circuit court judges in Saint Louis City, Missouri, and Madison County, Illinois.

On August 6, 2015, Saint Louis City Circuit Court Judge David Dowd denied Genuine Auto Parts Company’s (“GAPC”) personal jurisdiction motion to dismiss in the matter of Quarders v. Advance Auto Parts, Inc. et al, No. 1422-CC01184 (Mo. Cir. Aug. 6, 2015).  courthouseIn its memorandum in support of the motion, Genuine Auto Parts argued forcefully that recent United States Supreme Court precedent compelled dismissal.  Citing the Court’s 2014 decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014), GAPC insisted that Daimler had sharply restricted the circuit court’s power to exercise general, or “all-purpose,” personal jurisdiction over foreign corporations.  Because GAPC neither had its principal place of business nor was incorporated in Missouri, the company maintained that it could not be sued in Missouri for claims unrelated to its in-state activities.

Judge Dowd’s order initially discussed GAPC’s contacts with Missouri and found that they were “unquestionably constant and pervasive.” However, Judge Dowd ultimately concluded that GAPC’s contacts with Missouri were unnecessary to his determination of personal jurisdiction because the company had “unequivocally consented to jurisdiction” by maintaining a registered agent in Missouri.  Judge Dowd cited a 1990 decision of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, Knowlton v. Allied Van Lines, Inc., 900 F.2d 1196, in support of this consent theory.

Just four days after Judge Dowd’s order in Quarders case, fellow Saint Louis City Circuit Court Judge Joan Moriarty also denied a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.  On August 10, 2015, Judge Moriarty denied defendant Meadwestvaco Incorporated’s motion to dismiss in the matter of Dixon v. Meadwestvaco, Inc., et al, No. 1422-CC00219 (Mo. Cir. Aug. 10, 2015). The plaintiff’s claims against Meadwestvaco related to activities entirely within the State of Kentucky.  Similar to GAPC in the Quarders case, Meadwestvaco was not incorporated in Missouri and did not have its principal place of business there.  Meadwestvaco maintained a registered agent for service of process in Missouri, just as GAPC did. The Dixon plaintiff devoted nearly the entirety of her second reply brief to the issue of consent to general jurisdiction.  Judge Moriarty’s reasoning closely followed Judge Dowd’s earlier ruling.  In fact, Judge Moriarty used language identical to that found in Judge Dowd’s order, holding that Meadwestvaco “unequivocally consented to jurisdiction” in Missouri by maintaining a registered agent there.

Employing similar reasoning, on November 6, 2015, Judge Stephen Stobbs in the Circuit Court of Madison County, Illinois, denied the personal jurisdiction motion of defendant Ford Motor Company in the case of Jeffs v. Anco Insulations, et al., No. 15-L-533 (Il. Cir. Nov. 6, 2015) (order denying motion to dismiss).  Like the defendants in the two Saint Louis City cases, Ford’s argument in support of its motion focused on the Supreme Court’s Daimler decision.  At the motion hearing, Ford’s attorney addressed the issue of maintaining a registered as consent to general jurisdiction, insisting that “it defies common sense, logic, et cetera, to suggest that by registering to do business in a state, you’ve somehow consented to jurisdiction for any and all claims.”  Judge Stobbs disagreed, and held that Ford’s registered agent in Illinois established the company’s “unequivocal consent to jurisdiction.”