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M.J. v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 4, 2019

M.J. by and through her next friend NIESHA OLIVER, Plaintiff,
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, et al., Defendants.



         This matter was originally filed in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri on March 26, 2019 by Plaintiff M.J. by and through her next friend, Niesha Oliver (“Plaintiff”) against Defendants Ford Motor Company (“Ford”) and one John Doe. On June 27, 2019, Ford removed the case to this Court. On July 5, 2019, Ford filed its Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction [Doc. No. 5]. A hearing on the Motion was held on August 29, 2019. For the reasons enumerated below, the Court finds that there is no personal jurisdiction over Ford. Ford's motion will be granted.

         Facts and Background [1]

         Plaintiff is the natural daughter of the decedent, Bryant Johnson. Plaintiff is a minor child who resides in St. Louis County, Missouri. Ford is a Delaware Corporation whose business includes designing, manufacturing, assembling, and selling automobiles. Ford is registered to do business in the State of Missouri, does substantial and continuous business activities in the State of Missouri, and derives substantial and continuous business revenue from its business activities in the State of Missouri. Ford maintains offices in St. Louis, Missouri, places vehicles for sale in Missouri, and has a manufacturing plant in Missouri. Plaintiff does not allege that the Vehicle in question was manufactured in Missouri or sold by Ford to any party in Missouri.

         Ford designed, manufactured, assembled, and supplied the 2010 Ford Fusion with the vehicle identification number 3FAHP0JA3AR286083 (the “Vehicle”). Ford sold, distributed, marketed and otherwise placed the Vehicle into the stream of commerce. Ford also designed, manufactured, constructed, assembled, and inspected the steering wheel and steering wheel column of the Vehicle. Decedent Bryant Johnson owned the Vehicle. On August 31, 2017, Bryant Johnson was operating the Vehicle for its intended purposes and in a reasonably anticipated manner when the steering wheel of the Vehicle suddenly dislodged from the steering column, causing Bryant Johnson to crash into a pole at the intersection of West Florissant and Ferguson in St. Louis County, Missouri. Bryant Johnson died as a result of the injuries sustained in the crash.

         Plaintiff brought this action against Ford alleging strict product liability for defective design, manufacture, assembly or installation of the steering wheel (Count I), and negligence in designing, manufacturing, selling, distributing, and failing to warn about the defective Vehicle (Count II).

         In its Motion to Dismiss, Ford argues that the Court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over Ford in this case would violate Ford's constitutional due process rights. Specifically, Ford claims that (1) this Court lacks general jurisdiction over Ford because Ford is not “at home” Missouri; and (2) this Court lacks specific jurisdiction over Ford because Plaintiff's action does not arise out of or relate to Ford's contacts with Missouri. In support of its motion to dismiss, Ford submitted the July 3, 2019 affidavit of Ram Krishnaswami. Krishnaswami avers that Ford is in the business of designing and manufacturing new cars and trucks, is incorporated in Delaware, and has its principle place of business in Dearborn, Michigan. Krishnaswami further states that Ford's primary design and engineering decisions with respect to the Vehicle were made in Michigan and that the Vehicle was assembled in Mexico and sold to an independently-owned Ford dealership in Memphis, Tennessee.


         Legal Standard

         “To survive a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, a plaintiff must plead ‘sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that the defendant[] can be subjected to jurisdiction within the state.'” Creative Calling Sols., Inc. v. LF Beauty Ltd., 799 F.3d 975, 979 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting K-V Pharm. Co. v. J. Uriach & CIA, S.A., 648 F.3d 588, 591-92 (8th Cir. 2011)). The Court views the evidence in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs and resolves factual conflicts in the plaintiffs' favor; however, plaintiffs carry the burden of proof and that burden does not shift to defendants. Epps v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 327 F.3d 642, 647 (8th Cir. 2003).

         Personal jurisdiction may be either general or specific. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco Cty., 137 S.Ct. 1773, 1780 (2017). “Specific jurisdiction refers to jurisdiction over causes of action arising from or related to a defendant's actions within the forum state, while general jurisdiction refers to the power of a state to adjudicate any cause of action involving a particular defendant, regardless of where the cause of action arose.” Viasystems, Inc. v. EBM-Papst St. Georgen GmbH & Co., KG, 646 F.3d 589, 593 (8th Cir. 2011). The Supreme Court has made clear that the “primary concern” in determining the presence of personal jurisdiction is “the burden on the defendant.” Bristol-Myers, 137 S.Ct. at 1780 (quoting World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 292 (1980)).

         General Personal Jurisdiction

         “[O]nly a limited set of affiliations with a forum will render a defendant amenable to general jurisdiction in that State.” Bristol-Myers, 137 S.Ct. at 1780 (quoting Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 137 (2014) (quotation marks omitted)). “For an individual, the paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction is the individual's domicile; for a corporation, it is an equivalent place, one in which the corporation is fairly regarded as at home.” Daimler, 571 U.S. at 137 (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 924 (2011) (quotation marks 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, 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).

         As a preliminary matter, the Court addresses Plaintiff's argument that Goodyear, Daimler, and BNSF are so factually distinguishable from the instant case that “their holdings are inapplicable to the case at bar.” The holdings in Goodyear, Daimler, and BNSF are broadly applicable to the doctrine of personal jurisdiction. The factual differences identified by Plaintiff are inconsequential to the legal analysis undertaken in determining personal jurisdiction. For example, Plaintiff asserts that “the swaying factors in [Goodyear, Daimler, and BNSF] are that in each one, Plaintiff had no dealings in the State in which they sought to bring suit.” ...

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