By Jenna Marie Stupar and Nicho Kelly on July 1, 2016

AsbestosIn November, the Madison County Circuit Court denied a motion by Ford Motor Company to dismiss an asbestos case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court found that Ford’s “substantial” business activities were such that it was at home in Illinois and subject to the court’s jurisdiction. Jeffs v. Anco Insulations, Inc. et al, No. 15-L-533 (Cir. Ct. Mad. Co. 2015).  Last month, the Illinois Supreme Court granted Ford’s motion for a supervisory order with the Illinois Supreme Court under Rule 383, and ordered the Fifth District to hear the appeal.

The November Order

Decedent Dale Jeffs worked as an insulator, including at a Ford plant in Michigan. Plaintiff alleged that the Decedent was exposed to asbestos that caused his mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions. Ford moved to dismiss the claim against it for a lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that there was no specific personal jurisdiction because the alleged exposure did not occur in Illinois. Ford further argued there was no basis for the court to assert general personal jurisdiction.

In the order denying Ford’s motion to dismiss, the court addressed general personal jurisdiction only. Applying the standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Daimler AG v. Bauman (134 S. Ct. 746, 751 (U.S. 2014)), the court assessed whether Ford’s contacts with the state of Illinois were “so constant and persuasive” that Ford was “essentially at home” there.  Under Daimler, a corporation is considered to be at home in its state of incorporation and principal place of business. Ford’s principal place of business is in Michigan and is incorporated in Delaware.  As such, the court examined Ford’s contacts with Illinois to determine whether Ford could fairly be considered at home there as well.

The court conducted a two-step analysis. He first examined whether Ford had “purposefully established minimum contacts” with Illinois. After noting that Ford had a history of owning property, selling cars, employing workers, and engaging in litigation in Illinois without making objections to personal jurisdiction, the court determined that Ford had, in fact, availed itself of the protection of the Illinois Courts and the benefits of Illinois law.

Next, the analysis focused on whether asserting personal jurisdiction over Ford would comport with fair play and substantial justice in light of the company’s contacts with Illinois.  The court concluded that it did because of “Ford’s unequivocal consent to jurisdiction in Illinois.”  In reaching such a conclusion, he noted that Ford is authorized, licensed, and has been doing business in Illinois since 1922.  Additionally, the court listed the number of Ford dealers in Illinois, its volume of sales, the number of Ford employees in Illinois, and its financial investments in business operations in Illinois.  Because of these factors, the court found that Plaintiff met her burden of establishing jurisdiction over Ford, and ultimately denied Ford’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Ford’s Appeal and the Supreme Court’s Order

Ford sought leave to appeal the decision, but was denied by a three member panel of the Fifth District.  Ford continued the appeal process and filed a motion for a supervisory order with the Illinois Supreme Court under Rule 383.  Rule 383 supervisory orders are granted in cases in which the trial or appellate court exceeded its authority or abused its discretionary authority. See People ex rel. Daley v. Suria, 112 Ill. 2d 26 (1986).  The Illinois Supreme Court granted Ford’s motion on May 25, 2016, and ordered the Fifth District to hear the appeal.

This case has the potential to be an important development in asbestos litigation in Madison County, and Illinois generally.  Stay tuned for updates on Ford’s appeal and other noteworthy developments in asbestos litigation.