Floor Tile Manufacturer Dismissed for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

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

Plaintiff Kathleen DiFranco brought this matter as a result of alleged injuries to the decedent, Anthony J. DiFranco, stemming from asbestos exposure throughout his career as a carpenter. Along with other products, the plaintiff alleges asbestos exposure due to Amtico floor tiles manufactured by the defendant, American Biltrite, Inc. Before the court is American Biltrite’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims based on lack of personal jurisdiction and motion for summary judgment.

The court reviewed the requisites for personal jurisdiction and the plaintiff’s burden to make a prima facie showing that the defendant is subject to the personal jurisdiction of the court (citing Leuthner v. Homewood Suites by Hilton, 151 AD3d 1042, 58 NYS3d 437 [2d Dept. 2017]). New York recognizes two types of personal jurisdiction: general and specific. General jurisdiction applies when a defendant is “essentially at home” in the state. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 122, 134 S Ct 746, 751, 187 L. Ed. 2d 624 (2014). In situations where a defendant is not sufficiently “at home” in New York such that the court’s exercise of general jurisdiction would be appropriate, the court may be able to exercise specific jurisdiction if the plaintiff’s claim arises transacting business within the state or contracting anywhere to supply goods or services in the state, committing a tortious act within the state, committing a tortious act outside the state that causes injury within the state, and owning, using, or possessing real property in the state.

Even if the plaintiff can establish the requisite elements for the exercise of personal jurisdiction under CPLR 302, it must also appear that a finding of personal jurisdiction comports with federal due process, which requires that a non-domiciliary have “certain minimum contacts” with the forum and “that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Williams v. Beemiller, Inc., supra, citing International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S Ct 154, 90 L. Ed. 95 [1945]). The plaintiff does not dispute that the court lacks general jurisdiction over American Biltrite, and so the issue before the court is whether American Biltrite is subject to specific jurisdiction.

The plaintiff argues that American Biltrite is subject to specific jurisdiction pursuant to CPLR 302 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 DiFranco was allegedly exposed to asbestos. For a court to exercise specific jurisdiction over a claim, there must be an “affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State.” Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773, 1781 (2017), citing Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919, 131 S Ct 2846, 2851, 180 L. Ed. 2d 796. 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. Pichardo v. Zayas, 122 AD3d 699, 701, 996 NYS2d 176 (2d Dept. 2014). With regard to the first prong, there must be a finding that the non-domiciliary’s activities were “purposeful,” in that it availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, thus invoking the benefits. In order to satisfy the second prong of the jurisdictional inquiry, there must be an “articulable nexus” or a “substantial relationship” between a defendant’s in-state activity and the cause of action asserted and protections of its laws.

In the matter at hand, the court found that the plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie basis for specific jurisdiction, as there is no evidence connecting American Biltrite’s business transactions in New York to the decedent’s alleged exposure to asbestos. However, CPLR 302(a)(3) also provides that 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. Even assuming that the plaintiff’s injury occurred in New York, the plaintiff has failed to establish that American Biltrite’s business activities in New York are sufficient to subject it to personal jurisdiction pursuant to CPLR 302(a)(3), or that those activities are connected to the plaintiff’s instant claims. Therefore, the court granted American Biltrite’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Read the full decision here.