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Conrad v. Missouri Walnut Group, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division

August 5, 2019

MISSOURI WALNUT GROUP, LLC, et al., Defendants.



         Defendant Ecolab Inc., on behalf of Food Protection Services, L.L.C., moves to dismiss the claims by plaintiff Christopher Conrad for lack of personal jurisdiction. For the reasons discussed below, the Court concludes that it lacks personal jurisdiction over Ecolab and Food Protection Services, Inc. However, in lieu of dismissing this case, the Court transfers it to the District of Kansas-the district in which Conrad allegedly was injured.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Conrad filed this action in state court in Jackson County, Missouri on July 27, 2018. He alleged “acute chemical poisoning” caused by exposure to fumes in Kansas City, Kansas. Defendant Missouri Walnut Group, LLC removed this case to federal court, asserting diversity jurisdiction. Missouri Walnut Group then sought to have this case transferred to the Southwestern Division of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, and the Court granted the motion.

         On January 8, 2019, the Court permitted Plaintiff to amend his complaint to add newly identified entities as defendants. Doc. 30. One of those new defendants, a contractor allegedly involved with fumigation, was Food Protection Services. On March 11, 2019, Food Protection Services' corporate successor, Ecolab, filed an answer. Doc. 48.

         On May 10, 2019, Ecolab filed the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.


         a. Personal Jurisdiction

         Personal jurisdiction over a defendant may be specific, where the claim “arises out of or relates to the defendant's contacts with the forum”-or general, where the defendant's “affiliations with the State are so continuous and systematic as to render them essentially at home in the forum State.” Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 127 (2014) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Ecolab asserts that it is not incorporated in Missouri and has no principal-place-of-business in Missouri; that, prior to Ecolab's acquisition of it, Food Protection Services was not organized under Missouri law and did not have its principal place of business in Missouri; that Conrad's claims against Ecolab arise out of activities that occurred in Kansas; and that Conrad himself is a lifelong resident of Kansas, although he lived in Missouri for a few months in late 2017 and early 2018. Suggestions in Support of Defendant Ecolab Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction (Doc. 62), p. 6; see also Doc. 61-6 (Declaration of Justin Moses).

         Conrad argues that the Court has jurisdiction over Ecolab because Conrad resided in Missouri when he was injured, Ecolab's predecessor Food Protection Services may have contracted with its co-defendants in this case to fumigate lumber in Missouri, those contracts were administered in a co-defendant's principal office in Missouri, and currently there are 48 Ecolab-affiliated licenses active in Missouri. Conrad further argues that “[o]nly as discovery progresses can the scope, depth and percentage of Food Protections Services, LLC's Missouri contacts as to its aggregate business be adequately assessed, including whether Defendant Food Protection Services, LLC was the fumigation applicator at the Neosho treatment facility.” Doc. 65, p. 2.

         There is no dispute that Conrad's alleged injury occurred in Kansas. Moreover, arrangements to perform the fumigation at issue were made through, and the applicator and technicians who performed the services were dispatched from, Food Protection Services' office in Kansas City, Kansas. Thus, this suit concerning Conrad's alleged injuries cannot be said to give rise to personal jurisdiction in Missouri. See, e.g., Johnson v. Arden, 614 F.3d 785, 795 (8th Cir. 2010) (“Specific jurisdiction is proper ‘only if the injury giving rise to the lawsuit occurred within or had some connection to the forum state, meaning that the defendant purposely directed its activities at the forum state and the claim arose out of or relates to those activities.'” (citation omitted)). The fact that Conrad resided in Missouri at the time of the incident does not suggest that Food Protection Services purposely directed its activities at Missouri. The Court thus lacks specific personal jurisdiction over Food Protection Services.

         As for general jurisdiction, “only a limited set of affiliations with a forum will render a defendant amenable to general jurisdiction in that State.” Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco Cty., __ U.S. __, 137 S.Ct. 1773, 1780 (2017) (quotation marks and citation omitted). “The paradigm forums in which a corporate defendant is at home . . . are the corporation's place of incorporation and its principal place of business . . . .” BNSF Ry. Co. v. Tyrrell, __ U.S. __, 137 S.Ct. 1549, 1558 (2017) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Only in an “exceptional case” could “a corporate defendant's operations in another forum . . . be so substantial and of such a nature as to render the corporation at home in that State.” Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Neither Ecolab's nor Food Protection Services' place of incorporation nor principal place of business is in Missouri. Doc. 61-6, ¶ 5, Doc. 62, p .1. Therefore, for the Court to find that it has general jurisdiction over either entity, the contacts between the entity and Missouri would have to be “so substantial and of such a nature as to render [it] at home in that state.” Conrad does not allege, let alone prove, substantial contacts between either company and Missouri. Even if Conrad's allegations regarding a contract with a Missouri-based co-defendant to fumigate lumber at one Missouri location and 48 active Ecolab-affiliated licenses in Missouri were to be supported by evidence, those contacts would not be so substantial as to rise to the level of a place of incorporation or principal place of business. See Bristol-Myers Squibb, 137 S.Ct. at 1781 (noting that “continuous activity of some sorts within a state is not enough to support the demand that the corporation be amenable to suits unrelated to that activity” (quotation marks and citation omitted)); see also Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 139 (2014) (“[T]he general jurisdiction inquiry does not focus solely on the magnitude of the defendant's in-state contacts. . . . A corporation that operates in many places can scarcely be deemed at home in all of them. Otherwise, ‘at home' would be synonymous with ‘doing business' tests framed before specific jurisdiction evolved in the United States. Nothing in International Shoe and its progeny suggests that a particular quantum ...

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