Court Grants Tile Maker’s Motion to Dismiss Finding No Basis for Specific Jurisdiction

Supreme Court of New York, Suffolk County, October 28, 2021

In this matter, the plaintiff, Kathleen DiFranco, sued to recover damages for personal injuries allegedly incurred by the decedent as a result of exposure to products containing asbestos through his work as a carpenter. The plaintiff alleged the decedent was exposed to asbestos while working with floor tiles containing asbestos made by the defendant, American Biltrite, Inc.

The defendant filed motions to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims against it based on lack of personal jurisdiction. The defendant argued there is no basis for general jurisdiction and no basis for finding that it is subject to specific jurisdiction under New York state law.

The plaintiff did not dispute that the court lacked general jurisdiction with respect to the defendant, as the defendant was not incorporated in New York, nor did it maintain its principal place of business in the state. The plaintiff argued the defendant was subject to specific jurisdiction because it transacted with the New York sales offices of Union Carbide Corporation, a New York corporation, for the purchase of asbestos fiber during the years when the decedent was allegedly exposed to the defendant’s products.

In order to determine whether personal jurisdiction exists under CPLR 302 (a) (1), a court must determine (1) whether the defendant transacted business in New York and, if so, (2) whether the cause of action asserted arose from that transaction.

The court determined that the plaintiff had failed to establish a prima facie basis for specific jurisdiction over the defendant based on the defendant’s purchase of asbestos fibers from a New York corporation. In analyzing this, the court noted the plaintiff’s causes of action did not pertain to an alleged breach of any agreement between American Biltrite and Union Carbide for the purchase of asbestos fibers. Nor was there evidence connecting America Biltrite’s business transactions in New York to the plaintiff’s alleged exposure to asbestos while working with the tiles outside of New York. As such, the plaintiff failed to demonstrate a substantial relationship between American Biltrite’s in-state activity and the claims asserted by the plaintiff.

The plaintiff also failed to establish that jurisdiction over American Biltrite is proper under CPLR 302 (a) (3). Under that provision, New York courts may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident corporation when it commits a tortious act outside the state causing injury to a person or property within the state, but only if the nonresident corporation (i) regularly does or solicits business, or engages in any other persistent course of conduct, or derives substantial revenue from goods used or consumed or services rendered in the state, or (ii) expects or should reasonably expect the act to have consequences in the state and derives substantial revenue from interstate or international commerce.

The plaintiff alleged that the decedent developed asbestosis and lung cancer while he was a resident of New York. The court held that even if the decedent’s injury occurred in New York, the plaintiff had failed to establish that the defendant’s business activities in New York were sufficient to subject it to personal jurisdiction or that those activities are connected to the plaintiff’s claims.

Accordingly, the court granted American Biltrite’s motion to dismiss the complaint based on lack of personal jurisdiction.

Read the full decision here.