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Fulford v. Climbtek, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

September 20, 2017

CLIMBTEK, INC., et al.,



         Before the Court is the Supplemental Motion to Dismiss (Doc, 61) filed by Michigan Ladder Company, LLC ("Michigan, LLC"). In its motion, Michigan, LLC asserts that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it. Marvin Fulford and Rena Fulford ("Plaintiffs") and Intervenor Plaintiff, the State of Louisiana, Office of the Governor, Division of Administration, Office of Risk Management ("ORM") filed memoranda in opposition, (Docs. 76, 82, 99), and Michigan, LLC filed reply memoranda. (Doc. 94, 95, 108). The Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For the following reasons, Michigan, LLC's motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This suit arises out of an allegedly defective ladder. (Doc. 102 at ¶ 6). On February 2, 2015, Marvin Fulford was allegedly servicing a suspended heating unit in Winnsboro, Louisiana while standing on an articulated ladder when it collapsed. Id. Mr. Fulford then allegedly fell, fractured his spine, and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Id. Plaintiffs filed the instant action on January 8, 2016, naming Climbtek, Inc., the alleged manufacturer of the ladder, as the sole defendant. (Doc. 1 at p. 2). Plaintiffs brought claims under the Louisiana Products Liability Act, claiming that the ladder was defective and unreasonably dangerous. (Doc. 1 at p. 2). Plaintiffs then advised the Court that Climbtek, an Illinois company, had been dissolved, and they requested additional time to determine whether it was a viable Defendant. (Doc. 7 at p. 2). On June 1, 2016, Plaintiffs filed their Second Amending Complaint, adding Michigan, LLC as a defendant. (Doc. 11 at p. 1). Plaintiffs alleged that Michigan, LLC manufactured the ladder at issue, it purchased Climbtek's assets, and it is therefore responsible for Plaintiffs' injuries. (Id. at ¶ 4, 16-B), On June 30, 2017, the Magistrate Judge granted Plaintiffs Motion for Leave to File its Third Amended Complaint, which named seven additional defendants. (Doc. 101).

         On August 4, 2016, the Court ordered that Plaintiffs show cause why their claims against Climbtek should not be dismissed for failure to effectuate service of process. (Doc. 20). At the show cause hearing, Plaintiffs requested time to conduct discovery to determine whether Michigan, LLC was liable for Climbtek's obligations. (Doc. 23). The Court granted Plaintiffs request, and allowed Plaintiffs seventy-five days to conduct limited discovery on the relationship between Michigan, LLC and Climbtek. Id. The Court granted one extension of time, and discovery concluded on January 1, 2017. (Doc. 37).

         While this discovery was ongoing, Michigan, LLC filed its first motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(2), asserting that the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over it. (Doc. 25). The Court denied the motion without prejudice, concluding that the Court lacked sufficient information regarding the relationship between Michigan, LLC and Climbtek. (Doc. 60 at p. 3). In the interest of judicial efficiency, the Court ordered Michigan, LLC to refile its motion to dismiss with additional evidence. (Doc. 60 at p. 3-4). Michigan, LLC then refiled its motion to dismiss on February 3, 2017. (Doc. 61).


         Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes dismissal of a complaint where the Court lacks personal jurisdiction. "Where a defendant challenges personal jurisdiction, the party seeking to invoke the power of the court bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction exists." Luv N' Care, Ltd. v. Insta-Mix, Inc., 438 F.3d 465, 469 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing Wyatt v. Kaplan, 686 F.2d 276, 280 (5th Cir. 1982)). Where a defendant disputes the factual bases for jurisdiction, courts "may receive interrogatories, depositions, or 'any combination of the recognized methods of discovery' to help it resolve the jurisdictional issue. Walk Haydel & Assocs., Inc. v. Coastal Power Prod. Co., 517 F.3d 235, 241 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Thompson v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 755 F.2d 1162, 1165 (5th Cir. 1985). Courts have broad discretion over the scope of discovery. Walk Haydel, 517 F.3d at 241.

         Where, as here, a court does not hold an evidentiary hearing on jurisdictional issues, "it should not act as a fact finder and must construe all disputed facts in the plaintiffs favor and consider them along with the undisputed facts." Id. at 241 (internal citations omitted). At this stage, the plaintiff also need only present a prima facie case for personal jurisdiction. Id. However, in assessing whether the plaintiff has presented a prima facie case for personal jurisdiction, courts "will not 'credit conclusory allegations, even if uncontroverted."' Sealed Appellant I v. Sealed Appellee 1, 625 Fed.Appx. 628, 631 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Panda Brandywine Corp. v. Potomac Elec, Power Co., 253 F.3d 865, 869 (5th Cir. 2001)).


         A court has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant if the forum state's long-arm statute confers personal jurisdiction over that defendant, and the forum state's exercise of jurisdiction complies with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Latshaw v. Johnston, 167 F.3d 208, 211 (5th Cir. 1999). Because Louisiana's long-arm statute extends jurisdiction to the full limits of due process, the Court must determine only whether the exercise of its jurisdiction in this case satisfies federal due process requirements. La. R.S. § 13:3201(B).

         The exercise of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant satisfies the Due Process Clause if: (1) the defendant has purposefully availed itself of the benefits and protections of the forum state by establishing "minimum contacts" with that state; and (2) exercising personal jurisdiction over the defendant does not offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Latshaw, 167 F.3d at 211 (citing International Shoe Co. v. State of Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). These required "minimum contacts" may be established by contacts sufficient to assert specific jurisdiction or general jurisdiction. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474 (1985) (quoting World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980)).

         A. General Jurisdiction

         A court may exercise general pex-sonal jurisdiction over a defendant when its "affiliations with the State are so 'continuous and systematic' as to render [it] essentially at home in the forum State." Goodyear Dimlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown,564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011) (quoting International Shoe, 326 U.S at 317). A corporation is generally only "at home" in the state of its incorporation or its principal place of business. BNSF R. Co. v. Tyrrell, 581 U.S. _____, _____, 137 S.Ct. 1549, 1558 (2017) (internal citations omitted). "Injecting a product, even in substantial volume, into a forum's 'stream of commerce, ' without more, does not support general ...

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