Pennsylvania Statute Authorized General Personal Jurisdiction if Foreign Corporation Registered in Pennsylvania U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, March 19, 2018

PENNSYLVANIA — The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania held that the defendants were subject to general personal jurisdiction due to the consent provision in Pennsylvania’s long-arm statute. The facts are as follows: the plaintiff, Thomas Gorton, alleged he developed mesothelioma as a result of his work at various phone companies and from changing automobile brakes. None of the alleged exposure took place in Pennsylvania. The case was filed in state court and removed to federal court. Defendants Ford Motor Company, Pacific Bell Telephone Co., Nevada Bell Telephone Co., and AT&T, Inc. moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, among other grounds.

The court first addressed specific jurisdiction, and found there was none because the plaintiff failed to show that his injuries were caused by any of the defendants’ activities that were directed at the state of Pennsylvania. However, the court did find there was personal jurisdiction with regard to Ford and AT&T, Inc., due to the fact that those companies had registered to do business in Pennsylvania. Pursuant to a section of Pennsylvania’s long-arm statute, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5301, the court found that Ford and AT&T, Inc.’s registration as foreign corporations subjected them to general personal jurisdiction. This is because the statute mandates that corporate registration “enables the tribunals of this Commonwealth to exercise general personal jurisdiction” over registering corporations. The court analyzed this consent-based jurisdiction as different from the traditional bases of general personal jurisdiction. Since the statute was not enacted until 1978, the court also held that Ford and AT&T, Inc. were not subject to general personal jurisdiction for any acts arising before that date, even though they registered as foreign corporations in Pennsylvania long before 1978. However, since the plaintiff alleged exposure after that date, general personal jurisdiction existed as to Ford and AT&T, Inc. No personal jurisdiction existed over Pacific Bell and Nevada Bell because they never registered as foreign corporations in Pennsylvania. Finally, the court dismissed the complaint in its entirety due to insufficient pleading, but granted leave to amend.

Read the full decision here.

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