Court Grants Equipment Manufacturer’s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction and Denies Plaintiffs’ Request for Jurisdictional Discovery

State of New York, Supreme Court, County of Monroe, May 16, 2022

Plaintiffs John and Jayne Gaub commenced an asbestos-related lawsuit on February 22, 2021, against several defendants, including Textron, Inc., sued individually and as alleged successor to Bridgeport Machines, Inc. (defendant) for damages from personal injuries from Mr. Gaub’s alleged asbestos exposure from various products, including brakes changed in his presence on Bridgeport machines. All of Mr. Gaub’s work with and around Bridgeport products occurred in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Mr. Gaub was diagnosed with mesothelioma in October 2020.

Textron filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint, pursuant to CPLR 3211(a) and/or CPLR 3212 for lack of personal jurisdiction arguing that the plaintiffs, who had the burden of proof to establish jurisdiction, could not establish that the court had either general or specific personal jurisdiction because Textron is not incorporated in New York, has no principal place of business in New York, and there were no acts which would render long-arm jurisdiction appropriate. The defendant is incorporated in Delaware, and has its principal place of business in Providence, Rhode Island. It was undisputed that Mr. Gaub’s alleged exposures from Bridgeport products occurred at worksites in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Therefore, Textron argued that the court cannot exercise jurisdiction over it because it is not incorporated in, nor is its principal place of business in New York State (see Daimler AG v. Bauman, (134 S Ct 746 [2014]) and further, that the alleged tortious conduct and Mr. Gaub’s alleged exposures all existed, occurred, or arose outside of New York State (see Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S Ct 1773 [2017]).

The plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that it should be stayed pursuant to CPLR 3211(d)/CPLR 3212 because the defendant failed to produce requested discovery, including a Textron corporate representative for deposition testimony. The plaintiffs argued they needed to depose Textron’s corporate representative and examine its records regarding the supplier(s) of the alleged asbestos components of its milling machinery; if any of those suppliers were located in New York, shipped its products from this state, or the transactions otherwise occurred within this jurisdiction, that would be a basis for long-arm jurisdiction pursuant to CPLR 302(a)(1). In response, Textron argued that it had provided complete discovery, including verified interrogatory responses confirming Textron sold Bridgeport in 1986, had disclosed to the plaintiffs the documents in its possession concerning Bridgeport, and that Textron did not have a corporate representative with personal knowledge of its former Bridgeport operations. Textron further argued the plaintiffs’ pre-motion communications on the claimed discovery deficiencies concerned information unrelated to the personal jurisdiction issue, and the plaintiffs should be barred from raising those issues in an effort to delay a properly brought motion for summary judgment.

CPLR 302(a)(1) subjects a non-domiciliary to personal jurisdiction when it “transacts any business within the state” and there is a substantial relationship between the transaction and the legal claim asserted. “Essential to the maintenance of a suit against a non-domiciliary under CPLR § 302(a)(1) is the existence of some articulable nexus between the business transacted and the cause of action sued upon.” McGowan v. Smith, 52 NY2d 268, 272 (1981). To determine whether jurisdiction exists under CPLR 302(a)(1), the court must decide whether the defendant transacts any business in the state of New York and, if so, whether the plaintiffs cause of action arises out of such business transactions. Johnson v Ward, 4 NY3d 516, 519 (2005). There must be a relatedness between the transaction and the legal claim being asserted. Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank, SAL, 20 NY 3d 327, 339 (2012); Gottlieb v. Merrigan,170 AD 3d 1316, 1317 (3rd Dept. 2019).

It is well settled that the party asserting jurisdiction bears the ultimate burden of proof to establish the same. Urfirer v. SB Bldrs., LLC, 95 AD3d 1616 (3d Dept. 2012); Daniel B. Katz & Assoc. Corp. v. Midland Rushmore, LLC, 90 AD3d 977, 978 (2d Dept. 2011). However, “on a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff may defeat the motion by showing that facts ‘may exist’ to support the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant.” Raipurohit v. Raipurohit, 122 AD3d 706, 708 (2d Dept. 2014); see Yin Jun Chen v. Lei Shi, 19 AD3d 407 (2d Dept. 2005).

Here, the court found the record void of any proof showing that granting jurisdictional discovery would lead to evidence of alleged transactions within New York that would bear a substantial relationship to Mr. Gaub’s exposure to asbestos-containing materials at his workplaces in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The court reasoned that the plaintiffs’ communications pertaining to discovery sought information unrelated to personal jurisdiction, and the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a “sufficient start” to justify additional jurisdictional discovery. The court also held “Textron cannot produce documents nor a corporate representative it does not possess, and the absence of records and people does not support denial of this motion.” Accordingly, the court found that the plaintiffs failed to justify additional jurisdictional discovery being that there was no connection between Mr. Gaub, his work with Bridgeport products, and New York, and granted Textron’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Read the full decision here