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Lube Oil Purifier Manufacturer Successful on Motion to Dismiss Based on Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division; April 11, 2022

The plaintiffs, George Lishman and Vicki Lishman filed a complaint on January 26, 2021 against Alfa Laval Inc., (“defendant” or “Alfa Laval”) in addition to other defendants, alleging that Mr. Lishman developed mesothelioma resulting from exposure to the defendants’ asbestos-containing products. Mr. Lishman was a life-long Illinois resident. Alfa Laval is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in Virginia, and serves as successor-in-interest to the Sharples Corporation (“Sharples”), a company that manufactured lube oil purifiers.

Alfa Laval filed a motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction. A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(2) tests whether a federal court has personal jurisdiction over a defendant. Curry v. Revolution Labs., LLC, 949 F.3d 385, 392 (7th Cir. 2020). Although the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction, when opposing a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss based on the submission of written materials, a plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction. Id.; Matlin v. Spin Master Corp., 921 F.3d 701, 705 (7th Cir. 2019). “In evaluating whether the prima facie standard has been satisfied, the plaintiff ‘is entitled to the resolution in its favor of all disputes concerning relevant facts presented in the record.'” Curry, 949 F.3d at 393 (citation omitted). Also, when analyzing a Rule 12(b)(2) motion without conducting an evidentiary hearing, courts accept the well-pleaded, undisputed facts in the complaint as true. Matlin, 921 F.3d at 705.

Personal jurisdiction is either general or specific. SeeFord Motor Co. v. Montana Eight Judicial District Court, 141 S. Ct. 1017, 1024, 209 L. Ed. 2d 225 (2021). There are three essential requirements to establish personal jurisdiction: (1) the defendant must have purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum state; (2) the alleged injury must arise from or relate to the defendant’s forum-related activities; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with the traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. SeeLexington Ins. Co. v. Hotai Ins. Co., Ltd., 938 F.3d 874, 878 (7th Cir. 2019). The court focused on the second prong here—whether Mr. Lishman’s injury arose from or was related to Alfa Laval’s forum-related activity.

Here, the evidence was clear that Mr. Lishman was not exposed to Sharples lube oil purifiers in Illinois. Notwithstanding, Plaintiffs argued that Defendant purposefully availed itself of the benefits of its activities in Illinois since Sharples possessed manufacturing plants in Illinois. Therefore, the plaintiffs argued that Mr. Lishman’s injuries arise out of Alfa Laval’s forum-related conduct. However, the court found that the plaintiffs failed to make the connection between Alfa Laval’s interaction with the forum and its relation to Mr. Lishman’s injuries because Sharples’ Illinois manufacturing efforts were not for the product at issue here. Rather, the lube oil purifiers at issue were only manufactured in Pennsylvania. Further, while the plaintiffs argued that Sharples maintained a sales office in Oak Brook, Illinois, they did not show that the sales were for the lube oil purifiers at issue. Accordingly, the court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss.

Read the full decision here.