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Court of Appeals Reverses Dismissal of Asbestos Manufacturer Based on Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division One, July 13, 2020

In Noll v. Special Electric Co., the Court of Appeals of Washington, Division One, recently opined on an order of remand regarding the trial court’s dismissal of an action because the court lacked personal jurisdiction over the defendant. The trial court concluded that the plaintiff did not allege sufficient facts for Washington to exercise specific jurisdiction over the defendant. In granting the defendant’s original motion, the court held that the plaintiff failed to allege any action taken by the defendant to purposefully avail itself of the benefits and protections if the Washington market. On remand, the plaintiff presented a new motion to establish specific jurisdiction with additional evidence. The trial judge who ruled on the remand also denied the plaintiff’s motion.

Thereafter, the plaintiff appealed the decision. The Court of Appeals initially considered reviewing the documentary evidence, but opted to defer to the trial court as to the facts of the case. The Court of Appeals held that it could not discern the reasoning or underlying facts supporting the decision to deny personal jurisdiction against the defendant, and remanded the decision to the trial court with several questions, pertinent to determining whether the defendant purposefully availed itself in Washington. Notably, the defendant manufactured asbestos-containing materials which were incorporated into CertainTeed asbestos-cement pipe. In its review based on the request of the Court of Appeals, the trial court found that the defendant intended for its asbestos to be incorporated into products sold across the U.S., including Washington; that CertainTeed asbestos-cement pipe containing the defendant’s asbestos was sold in Washington as part of the regular flow of commerce; and that the defendant knew or should have known that CertainTeed sold asbestos cement pipe in Washington.

The defendant requested the court to affirm the first judge’s order of dismissal, which was declined by the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals held that the findings made by the trial court supported a conclusion that bringing the defendant into a Washington court did not violate its due process rights. In analyzing the facts of the present case, the court held that establishing purposeful availment for the exercise of personal jurisdiction in Washington State cases requires a showing of actual awareness. However, unlike the original trial court, the Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff sufficiently established the defendant’s purposeful availment in Washington.

In its analysis, the Court of Appeals referenced numerous Annual Reports of CertainTeed regarding the sale of their asbestos-cement pipe. There was also evidence relied upon that established that the defendant kept informed as to the needs and product specifications of CertainTeed’s asbestos-cement pipe. After its review of the responses to the questions posed to the lower court, the Court of Appeals held that plaintiff showed sufficient evidence to support a finding of personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

Therefore, the Court of Appeals reversed the grant of dismissal.