By Jenna Marie Stupar on June 2, 2016

gavel court

This March, the Southern District of Illinois ruled in favor of Defendant The William Powell Company (“Powell”) on its motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Farr v. The William Powell Company & Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 15-cv-1305-MJR-SCW (S.D. Ill. 2016).

Plaintiff Jimmie Farr served in the United States Navy in the 1950s and 1960s. Farr was diagnosed with mesothelioma in January 2015 and filed suit in Illinois state court against three defendants in October of that year.  Farr alleged that he was injured in Illinois due to asbestos exposure while serving in the Navy from 1953 to 1961.  After the case was removed to federal court, Powell moved to dismiss for a lack of personal jurisdiction

The Court began its analysis by noting that it is the plaintiff’s burden of proof to establish personal jurisdiction once the argument has been raised by a defendant. Accordingly, Plaintiff needed to establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction to survive the motion.

The Court analyzed whether it enjoyed general personal jurisdiction or specific personal jurisdiction. With respect to general jurisdiction, Plaintiff argued Powell purposefully directed activities at Illinois and that its contacts with the state were not merely random or fortuitous.  Plaintiff presented evidence that Powell sells goods via the internet which are distributed throughout Illinois by at least two plumbing companies.  Additionally, Plaintiff argued that his injury occurred and arose in Illinois. The Court, however, was not persuaded.

Significantly, Judge Reagan found that Powell is not incorporated in Illinois and does not have a principal place of business nor a “physical presence” in Illinois.

After making these findings, he noted that the threshold for general jurisdiction is high, stating that “[t]he fact [that] Powell sells or distributes products in Illinois (or that end up in Illinois) is not enough to establish personal jurisdiction over Powell in Illinois court.” Citing to the Supreme Court’s ruling in J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro, Judge Reagan wrote that “merely placing a product in the stream of commerce does not equate to a defendant engaging in conduct purposefully directed at the forum.”  The judge concluded his general personal jurisdiction analysis by finding Powell “clearly” does not have the continuous and systematic contacts “or the constant and pervasive affiliations with Illinois which support the exercise of general jurisdiction,” and cited a 7th Circuit case which stated that general jurisdiction “should not lightly be found.” Kipp v. Ski Enterprise Corp. of Wisconsin, Inc., 783 F.3d 695, 697-98 (7th Cir. 2015).

In analyzing whether there was specific personal jurisdiction, the court engaged in a two-step inquiry: (1) did Powell purposefully direct its activities at the forum state, or purposefully avail itself of the privilege of conducting business in Illinois; and (2) did the alleged injury arise out of Powell’s forum-related activities. As Judge Reagan determined there was not purposeful availment in the general jurisdiction analysis, above, he focused on the second inquiry, ultimately concluding the injury did not arise out of forum-related activities.

Plaintiff’s argument that his injury occurred while he was working in Illinois was unconvincing to the Court because it placed emphasis on the wrong relationship. “The proper question is not whether the plaintiff experienced a particular injury or effect but whether the defendant’s conduct connects him to the forum in a meaningful way” (citing Walden v. Fiore, 134 S. Ct.  1115, 1125 (U.S. 2014)).   While Plaintiff established his own connection to the forum state (alleging his injury occurred there), he failed to connect Powell to Illinois. It was not enough that other companies, discussed above, distribute Powell products in Illinois; that distribution is not forum-related activity that Powell engaged in out of which Plaintiff’s injury arose and as such was insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction.

Accordingly, the Court dismissed Powell for lack of personal jurisdiction, and Plaintiff’s claims against a different defendant were subsequently remanded to the state trial court in St. Clair County on an unrelated motion.