Action Dismissed Against Canadian Automotive Defendant Based on Lack of Specific Jurisdiction U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, May 17, 2017
The plaintiffs filed suit against multiple defendants alleging Mr. Hodjera’s mesothelioma was caused by exposure to the defendants’ products from 1986-94. Volkswagen of Canada (VWGC) moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the court lacked personal jurisdiction.
The court started its analysis by stating that due process requires the court to have personal jurisdiction over the defendant before it can adjudicate a claim. General jurisdiction is available when the defendant’s “contacts are so constant and pervasive as to render it essentially at home.” The court quickly found that it lacked general jurisdiction over VWGC. However, a defendant might also be sued if it has minimal contacts in a forum when the complaint arises out of those contacts by specific jurisdiction. The court will not exercise specific jurisdiction over the defendant unless it is reasonable to do so.
VWGC argued that its principal place of business was Ajax, Canada and that it did not conduct business in Washington State. Further, VWGC pointed out that it did not have employees, sales representatives, offices or plants in the state. The plaintiffs countered and took the position that Mr. Hodjera’s mesothelioma was caused in part by work on VWGC brakes and clutches in Canada. The plaintiffs also believed they had satisfied one of the tests for specific jurisdiction because Mr. Hodjera’s exposure took place in Canada where VWGC carried on its business. The plaintiffs also noted that the fairness test for specific jurisdiction was met. Specifically, breaking up the case into several claims in different jurisdictions would be unfair. The court was not persuaded and noted that the plaintiffs failed to claim that “his exposure in Ontario would not have occurred but for VWGC’s contacts with Washington state.” Further, the court noted the Constitution does not allow jurisdiction over a defendant solely for fairness.
The court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction but permitted the plaintiffs to file a motion for leave to amend the complaint to address the deficiencies with respect to jurisdiction.