Motion to Dismiss on Lack of Jurisdiction Denied as Limited Discovery is Required U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, January 9, 2016

On October 28, 2015, the plaintiff, Estelle Grimes, widow of plaintiff-decedent Thomas Grimes, brought suit against the defendants and numerous other corporations who also allegedly mined, sold, or distributed asbestos in New Jersey state court. On December 1, 2015, the case was removed from state to federal court. The plaintiff amended the complaint on August 1, 2016. The defendants ACL and Bell filed mirror-image motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on August 4, 2016 before the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

The defendants argued, among other things, that they were Canadian corporations, were not registered to do business in New Jersey, and that all sales of asbestos were made F.O.B. (Free on Board). The plaintiff countered that this argument has been rejected each and every time it’s been proffered in the State of New Jersey and specifically pointed to one unpublished New Jersey appellate court opinion involving ACL and three New Jersey trial court orders denying a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction filed by either ACL or Bell.

In reviewing these arguments, the District Court reasoned that although the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating facts that support personal jurisdiction, courts are to assist the plaintiff by allowing jurisdictional discovery unless the plaintiff’s claim is clearly frivolous. In this case, the plaintiff’s allegations here are clearly not frivolous. Indeed, while somewhat vague, the plaintiff submitted deposition testimony taken in the Austin v. Johns-Manville case in which the then-Vice President and Secretary of ACL testified that he dealt with the Johns Manville plant in Manville, New Jersey on a direct basis.

In conclusion, the District Court held it would not grant the motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction, but will deny it, subject to renewal after some limited discovery directed towards the jurisdictional issues. Further, it’s important to note that most, if not all, of the information pertinent to this issue presumably would be in ACL or Bell’s control, and the plaintiff should have a fair opportunity to test the defendants’ oft-asserted claims of lack of personal jurisdiction. Given the frequency with which ACL and Bell have litigated this issue in this and other courts, discovery concerning the defendants’ contacts with New Jersey should be easy to find. Such discovery in any case must be focused on the existence, or not, of ties to New Jersey that would justify the exercise of personal jurisdiction.

Read the full decision here.

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