GE Granted Dismissal on Personal Jurisdiction Grounds While Plaintiff’s Loss of Consortium Claim Remains Against Several Defendants U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, December 2, 2016

The plaintiff filed this complaint against multiple defendants asserting claims in negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, and loss of consortium for her decedent’s development of mesothelioma. The decedent was alleged to have been exposed to asbestos while serving in the U.S. Navy on board the USS Maryland from 1941-46.

Three defendants moved to dismiss the loss of consortium claim. The moving defendants argued that Illinois’ wrongful death act rendered her survival loss of consortium claim as “superfluous.” The plaintiff countered and argued that her loss of consortium claims were properly brought under the survival act and wrongful death act. The court began its analysis with the standard for a motion to dismiss. It is meant to “test the sufficiency of the complaint, not to decide the merits” of the claim. The “Court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draw all inferences in Plaintiff’s favor.” Here, the court noted that the wrongful death act permits an action for the personal representative’s loss arising after her decedent’s passing.  Relying on Dunleavey, the court pointed out the distinction between loss of consortium for the surviving spouse in common law as opposed to that which the wrongful death act permits. The court found Dunleavey analogous and stated that the loss of consortium claim for her decedent’s injury to the marriage during the interval between decedent’s injury and his death is derivative of the surviving personal injury claims.” That potential recover is different than the potential recovery under the wrongful death act because it is for injuries prior to his death and not after his death. Accordingly, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the loss of consortium claim.

General Electric (GE) moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. It took the position that it was a New York corporation with its principal place of business in Massachusetts. Moreover, GE argued that Perez had not “alleged injuries that directly arise out of or relate to GE’s activity in Illinois.” The plaintiff contended that jurisdiction was established by GE registering to do business in Illinois. The court noted that the burden falls upon the plaintiff to establish jurisdiction once contested.

Jurisdiction is proper when the defendant has sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state. The court may exercise jurisdiction by general, specific or consent. General jurisdiction is proper when the “affiliations with the state are continuous and systematic.”  GE argued that general personal jurisdiction could not be applied to GE since it was not “at home” in Illinois. The plaintiff countered by arguing that GE has never moved to dismiss based on that argument in prior cases in Illinois and stated that it employs 4,300 people in the state. The court agreed with GE and stated although it employs people in Illinois, the court had to view that in context to GE’s overall footprint as worldwide corporation.

Specific jurisdiction requires “an activity or occurrence” with the forum state. For example, specific jurisdiction may be established when a defendant intentionally directs his activity at a forum state resident. Here, the court agreed with GE that the plaintiff’s injuries occurred while serving in the Navy in states including Hawaii and California but not Illinois. Although the plaintiff relied on a California case concerning claims based on the same product, that case dealt with multiple plaintiffs.

As for consent jurisdiction, the court pointed out that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to determine whether registering to do business in Illinois constitutes jurisdiction without minimum contacts. Further, several courts had already found that registering to do business was not enough by itself to assert jurisdiction over a foreign corporation. Although the plaintiff relied upon a string of cases, the court was not persuaded and noted that the Illinois statute that GE followed was silent as to jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court found a lack of personal jurisdiction over GE granted the motion to dismiss.

Read the full decision here.

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