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Gasket Manufacturer’s Motion to Dismiss on Personal Jurisdiction Granted

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Court: United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts

Plaintiffs Robert and Judith Gillis of Massachusetts filed this action against numerous defendants in Massachusetts state court, alleging the defendants caused Robert Gillis to be exposed to asbestos and to, thereafter, develop mesothelioma.

Defendant John Crane Inc. filed a notice of removal with the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. After filing a motion to amend their complaint, the plaintiffs named PBV Inc. and Copeland Corporation LLC as additional defendants. Copeland is an Indiana corporation with its principal place of business in Indiana. PBV is an Ohio corporation with its principal place of business located in Ohio. PBV filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The motion to dismiss was referred to the magistrate judge for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(1).  

PBV claimed that pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), the plaintiffs’ claims must be dismissed because they failed to demonstrate that PBV had sufficient contacts with Massachusetts such that the court could exercise personal jurisdiction over it.  

Robert Gillis allegedly sustained occupational exposure to asbestos by “servic[ing] products, building systems, machinery, and other apparatuses[.]” Relevant to PBV and Copeland, he allegedly serviced and installed Copeland compressors, which included asbestos-containing compressor gaskets manufactured by PBV, while working as a pipefitter and HVAC worker for Harris Environmental Systems in Massachusetts from 1968 to 2008. Beginning in 1966, PBV was a major supplier for Copeland’s products and worked with Copeland to design and manufacture gaskets for use in Copeland compressors. According to Copeland, PBV was the sole gasket supplier for its compressors. Though unable to identify the manufacturer of gaskets replaced, the plaintiffs argued that based on PBV’s “exclusive relationship with Copeland” as the supplier of compressor gaskets, and Copeland’s “national distribution network,” Robert Gillis worked with compressor gaskets “manufactured, marketed, sold, and distributed” by PBV. In addition, PBV, together with Copeland, “intended to, and did, market and sell compressors with asbestos-containing gaskets and replacement kits with asbestos-containing gaskets in Massachusetts.”  

The court agreed with PBV that the plaintiffs failed to establish that its contacts with Massachusetts were sufficient to satisfy either general or specific personal jurisdiction. With respect to general jurisdiction, PBV was not incorporated in Massachusetts and had no place of business there. As to specific personal jurisdiction, PBV did not target Massachusetts for its products. Rather, “At most, PBV collaborated with Copeland with respect to the design and manufacture of the gaskets, but all of those contacts took place in Ohio.” Further, Copeland oversaw the marketing and sale of the finished products, including sales in Massachusetts. The court further recommended that the plaintiffs’ request for jurisdictional discovery be denied.

Read the full decision here.