Recent Personal Jurisdiction Decision in St. Louis City, Missouri Limits the Use of a Registered Agent to Establish Personal Jurisdiction
On October 28, 2016, Judge Robert Dierker issued an order in the case of Bristol v. Ford Motor Co., et al., 1522-CC10413, denying Ford’s Motion to Dismiss Based upon Lack of Personal Jurisdiction. Ford argued that there was no personal jurisdiction in the matter pursuant to Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014), which states, “A court may assert jurisdiction over a foreign corporation to hear any and all claims against [it] only when the corporation’s affiliations with the State in which suit is brought are so constant and persuasive as to render [it] essentially ‘at home’ in the forum State.” Diamler, 134 S. Ct. at 751.
Plaintiff alleges decedent was exposed to Ford brake products in Utah when he was an employee of a Ford dealership. Based on discovery in this case, it was determined Ford brake products contained asbestos, during the time decedent was working on its products. The Court found Ford had and continues to have extensive manufacturing operations in Missouri and is licensed to do business in Missouri but is not incorporated in Missouri, nor does it have its principal place of business in Missouri. Ford products that contained asbestos brake linings were manufactured in Missouri and shipped to the dealership in Utah.
Based on the foregoing, Judge Dierker found that, although it is unclear that plaintiff’s decedent worked directly on vehicles made in Missouri, it is reasonable to infer that he did so. Judge Dierker also inferred that decedent was exposed to asbestos-containing brake linings on vehicles made in Missouri.
In his Order, Judge Dierker specifically rejected the finding that maintaining a registered agent is Missouri is sufficient to establish jurisdiction, stating “The Court also rejects the contention (albeit adopted by other rulings in this Circuit) that being registered to do business in Missouri constitutes consent to the general jurisdiction of the Missouri courts.”
Though Judge Dierker found the existence of a registered agent insufficient to establish jurisdiction, he concluded that plaintiff adequately established specific personal jurisdiction in this case, based upon the evidence presented that allegedly dangerous Ford products were shipped to the decedent’s employer in Utah from Ford plants in Missouri, thereby creating a clear risk of asbestos exposure to plaintiff’s decedent in Utah. Judge Dierker stated the plaintiff has shown that, for the purposes of due process and the Missouri “long-arm” statute, RSMo. § 506.500, it reasonable that Ford be sued in Missouri on account of its conduct in Missouri.
This is the second time Judge Dierker has specifically made the contention that the existence of a registered agent in Missouri will not establish personal jurisdiction. In Smith v. Union Carbide, et al. (1422-CC00457), DuPont filed a Motion to Dismiss Based on Lack of Personal Jurisdiction. Judge Dierker rejected Plaintiff’s arguments that service upon DuPont’s registered agent in Missouri was sufficient to confer general personal jurisdiction against DuPont. In reaching this opinion, Judge Dierker applied the due process analysis set forth in Daimler and found that DuPont is neither incorporated in, nor has its principal place of business in, Missouri and that Plaintiff failed to present evidence “indicating that this is an ‘exceptional case’ under Daimler, such that general personal jurisdiction should be extended beyond these paradigmatic forums.”
Though Judge Dierker denied Ford’s Motion to Dismiss Based upon Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, his finding that the existence of registered agent is not enough to establish jurisdiction in Missouri bolsters Defendants’ arguments when contesting personal jurisdiction in St. Louis City Circuit Court.
On September 29, 2016, the Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of State ex rel. Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. The Honorable Colleen Dolan, SC95514, in which an Indiana resident, Russell Parker, sued Norfolk Southern Railway Company under the federal employer’s liability act in a Missouri state circuit court, seeking damages for cumulative trauma injuries he alleges he sustained during the course of his employment with Norfolk Southern. Although it operates railroad lines in Missouri, the railway company is incorporated in and has its principal place of business in Virginia. Norfolk Southern moved to dismiss Parker’s lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction. The circuit court denied Norfolk Southern’s motion in December 2015. Norfolk Southern has appealed this issue to the Missouri Supreme Court.
Norfolk Southern’s point on appeal is whether the circuit court may exercise personal jurisdiction (legal authority) over Norfolk Southern. Related to this are issues of whether the allegations in Parker’s Petition arise from or relate to Norfolk Southern’s activities in Missouri are sufficient to give rise to specific jurisdiction, and whether the circuit court has general jurisdiction over Norfolk Southern through its operations in Missouri, even though it is not incorporated in Missouri and does not have a principal place of business in Missouri. The Missouri Supreme Court must also decide whether Norfolk Southern consented to jurisdiction and whether, under the due process clause, an out-of-state corporation’s compliance with mandatory business registration requirements can lead to a finding that the corporation has consented to jurisdiction.