Lack of Personal Jurisdiction over Talc Defendant Leads to Grant of Summary Judgment in Part U.S. District Court, M.D. Florida, July 10, 2018

FLORIDA — The plaintiff Susan Stevenson maintained suit against several defendants including Imerys Tac America Inc. (Imerys) alleging that her decedent, Judith Minneci, had developed peritoneal mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos contaminated talc and talcum powder. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the plaintiff used Johnson and Johnson baby powder from 1942-1985.

Imerys moved for summary judgment arguing that the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over it. The plaintiff responded that two contacts between Florida and the defendant established jurisdiction. First, its predecessor was registered to do business in Florida from 1966-1978 and that predecessor had a registered agent in Miami. The plaintiff also took the position that Imerys knew or “should have known” that its talc would reach end users in Florida. The plaintiff conceded that the court lacked general jurisdiction over Imerys.

The court began its discussion by noting the standard for jurisdiction. Essentially, the court was tasked with denying the motion only if the allegations in the complaint did not rise to the level of a prima facie case for jurisdiction. Relying on International Shoe, the court noted that a “defendant must have certain contacts with the forum state such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend the notions of fair play and substantial injustice.” Moreover, the court honed in on whether or not the defendant intentionally availed itself to the forum state. The test for whether specific jurisdiction is determined by a three prong test: 1) whether the plaintiff’s claims arise out of or relate to at least one of the defendant’s contacts with the forum; 2) whether the nonresidential defendant purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, thus invoking the benefit of the forum state’s laws; and 3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction comports with the traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” As to the first prong, The plaintiff argued that the fact that the defendant’s predecessor was registered and had a registered agent in Miami to do business established contacts. However, the court was not persuaded because Imerys did not supply Johnson and Johnson with talc during the years its predecessor was registered to do business in Florida. As for the second prong or whether the defendant had availed itself to the forum, the court determined that Imerys’ targeting of Florida was scant at best. In fact, the plaintiff did not offer any evidence that the defendant availed itself to the “privileges of doing business in Florida.” Having failed to establish the first two prongs, the court need not analysis the third. Consequently, any exercise of specific jurisdiction over the defendant would violate the due process clause. Summary judgment was therefore granted in part as to the issue of jurisdiction.

Read the full case decision here. 

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