No Jurisdiction over Foreign Auto Manufacturer, But Case Remanded for Consideration of Jurisdictional Discovery Florida District Court of Appeal, Second District May 17, 2017

Plaintiffs Kenneth and Carol Jones filed suit against various defendants after Kenneth Jones developed mesothelioma. Defendant Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft (VWAG) sought review of an interlocutory order denying its motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court reversed the trial court’s order and remanded.

In its motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, VWAG submitted a supporting affidavit and the court held an evidentiary hearing to determine this issue. The hearing had no testimony and the trial court received nothing into evidence. The trial court ruled, without providing statements regarding its rationale, that specific jurisdiction existed.

At the outset the court noted that VWAG did not waive the defense of personal jurisdiction. The plaintiff conceded that general jurisdiction did not exist, and adequately alleged both specific jurisdiction under Florida’s long-arm statute and the requisite minimum contacts with Florida. VWAG satisfied its burden to file a legally sufficient affidavit contesting the jurisdictional allegations. The plaintiff then submitted multiple documents in response to the affidavit. The court noted that it did not reverse for a proper hearing, because neither party challenged on appeal the procedure employed by the trial court. Further, even if the trial court did conduct a proper hearing, the plaintiff would have been unable to establish the requisite minimum contacts. Nothing that the plaintiff presented to the court established that VWAG had sufficient minimum contacts with Florida. Mr. Jones only worked on one Volkwagen vehicle which he brought into Florida himself. “The ‘defendant’s suit-related actions must create a substantial connection with the state before that state can exercise jurisdiction consistent with due process.'” Although Mrs. Jones relied on an agency or parent-subsidiary theory through VWAG’s Volkswagen Group of America’s (VWOA) conduct in Florida – VWOA’s parts-distribution center in Jacksonville since 1967 – this did not establish the “‘high and very significant'” degree of control over VWOA’s internal day-today operations necessary to support her theory.

However, given that the trial court never addressed the plaintiff’s motion to compel jurisdictional discovery, the court remanded for the trial court to consider this motion.

Read the full decision here.

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