Joint Compound Defendant Dismissed for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction on Appeal District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District, July 25, 2018

FLORIDA — The plaintiff Steven Bolin alleged that he developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos from his work with various products in Florida from 1969 to 1981. Specific to the appellant, Bolin’s amended complaint alleged that he used Southern Wall Products’ (SWP) joint compound while working as a laborer and/or construction worker in Florida in 1975-1977. SWP moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, and in support, supplied an affidavit averring that SWP and its predecessor Ruco never had an office in Florida, that their principal place of business was in Georgia, and that they never marketed or sold any product in Florida in the 1970s. The plaintiff opposed the motion by providing testimony from Steven Bolin stating that he recalled using Ruco joint compound in Clearwater Florida in 1977, and by quoting testimony from SWP’s corporate representative that showed that the company was distributing its products in Florida in 2017, and that twenty percent of their sales currently came from the state.

Florida law requires application of a dual pronged test to determine whether courts have jurisdiction over a defendant. First, one must examine whether the facts as pleaded are sufficient to support jurisdiction pursuant to a long arm statute, here section 48.193, Florida Statutes. Then, one must determine whether federal constitutional due process requirements of minimum contacts are met. The court acknowledged that there was a dispute of fact in relation to the first prong given Bolin’s testimony regarding use of Ruco products and SWP’s assertions that they did not sell in Florida in the 1970s. However, they determined that the trial court erred in denying SWP’s motion to dismiss because there were insufficient contacts with the forum state to meet the second prong.

The court agreed with SWP that “the minimum contacts analysis must be made at the time of the acts subjecting the foreign subject to jurisdiction.” Thus, the activity of SWP in Florida in 2017 was not relevant to the plaintiff’s current cause of action. Steven Bolin’s testimony regarding his use of Ruco joint compound amounted to a single use, which was not enough to prove minimum contacts with the forum state, absent any further evidence about SWP and Ruco’s contacts with Florida in the 1970s. The order denying SWP’s motion to dismiss was reversed, and the court ordered that on remand, the trial court must dismiss SWP from the action.

Read the full case decision here.

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