Case Transferred due to Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Over Successor Corporation

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U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, October 1, 2021

In this matter, plaintiff Timothy Murphy sued defendant Viad Corporation for damages resulting from his asbestosis diagnosis. The plaintiff alleges exposure to asbestos from his operation and maintenance of two freshwater distilling plants while he served aboard the USS Frank E. Evans in the U.S. Navy. At that time, he was stationed at the U.S. Naval Station in Long Beach, California. The distilling plants at issue were manufactured, distributed, and sold by an Ohio company, Griscom-Russell. According to the plaintiff, the defendant is a successor-in-interest of Griscom-Russell. The defendant is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Arizona. The plaintiff is a resident of Michigan. The plaintiff contends that the defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction in Michigan based on Griscom-Russell’s business activities in the state between 1912 and 1962. In its motion to dismiss, the defendant counters that the exercise of personal jurisdiction would violate the Due Process Clause.

The plaintiff alleges the court has specific personal jurisdiction over the defendant. In order for specific personal jurisdiction to exist, the following three prongs must be satisfied: (1) the defendant must purposefully avail itself of the privilege of acting or causing a consequence in the forum state; (2) the plaintiff’s claim must arise out of the defendant’s contacts or activities in the forum state; and (3) the exercise of personal jurisdiction must be reasonable.

As to the first prong, the crux of the plaintiff’s argument is that Griscom-Russell, predecessor to the defendant, sold its fungible heat exchanger product line in Michigan between 1912 and 1962. The court found that the plaintiff “arguably” established that the defendant, through Griscom-Russell, purposefully availed itself of the privileges of Michigan. As to the second prong, the plaintiff essentially argues that, although the freshwater distilling plants to which the plaintiff was exposed were not sold in Michigan, Griscom-Russell’s steam generators were sold in Michigan. Therefore, a sufficient relationship exists between the plaintiff’s injuries, the defendant, and the state of Michigan. In support of his argument, the plaintiff relies on Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court. The court concluded that the plaintiff had failed to establish even “a marginal relation” between Griscom-Russell’s contacts in Michigan and the freshwater distilling plants that allegedly injured him. The court further rejected the plaintiff’s effort to analogize this case to Ford. As to the third prong, the court found that the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be unreasonable. Finally, rather than dismissing the case, the court opted to transfer it to the Central District of California to serve the interests of justice.

Read the full decision here.