Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Granted for Boiler Manufacturer

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Supreme Court of New York, New York County, March 25, 2021

Defendant Cleaver-Brooks, Inc. filed this instant motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a)(8) on the grounds that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over them. This lawsuit stems from plaintiff Darrell Nelson’s diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma, which plaintiffs allege resulted from Mr. Nelson’s exposure to asbestos from his work as a maintenance worker and boiler operator for the Red Wing School District in Red Wing, Minnesota from 1977 to 1997. The plaintiffs allege that Mr. Nelson was exposed to asbestos from dust created from performing repair and maintenance on Cleaver-Brooks boilers at the Red Wing School District.

Cleaver-Brooks moves to dismiss the action for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(8). Cleaver-Brooks contends that this court does not have general jurisdiction over it because Cleaver-Brooks is not domiciled in New York, is not incorporated in New York, and does not maintain a place of business in New York. Cleaver-Brooks argues that the plaintiffs also cannot establish specific jurisdiction pursuant to CPLR 302(a)(2) because the plaintiff cannot establish that Cleaver-Brooks committed a tortious act within New York, and there is no evidence Mr. Nelson suffered an injury in New York as a result of a Cleaver-Brooks product.

The court noted that jurisdiction over a non-domiciliary is governed by New York’s general jurisdiction statute CPLR 301, and long-arm statute CPLR 302(a). Further, to determine whether the court has jurisdiction over defendant, the court must analyze general personal jurisdiction and specific personal jurisdiction. First, the court found that general personal jurisdiction cannot be exercised over Cleaver-Brooks because at the time this action was commenced; the defendant was neither incorporated nor maintained their principal place of business in New York.

Under CPLR 302(a)’s long arm statute, the court may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a non-resident when it: “(1) transacts any business within the state or contracts anywhere to supply goods or services in the state; or (2) commits a tortious act within the state, except as to a cause of action for defamation of character arising from the act; or (3) commits a tortious act without the state causing injury to person or property within the state, except as to a cause of action for defamation of character arising from the act, if he (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; or (4) owns or possesses any real property situated within the state.”

Cleaver Brooks argued that specific personal jurisdiction cannot stand, as there is no nexus between the alleged Cleaver-Brooks goods, Mr. Nelson’s injury and the state of New York. In opposition, the plaintiffs argue that the defendant is subject to jurisdiction under CPLR 302 based upon Cleaver-Brooks presence in the State of New York, operating several sales offices within the state from which it sold its packaged boilers. In support of their claim, the plaintiffs attach a Cleaver-Brooks Packaged Boiler Advertisement, which lists Cleaver-Brooks Sales Representatives within the state of New York. The plaintiffs admit that they have little knowledge regarding Cleaver-Brooks and its operations, particularly at the time Mr. Nelson worked with Cleaver-Brooks products. The plaintiffs concede that they are not aware of Cleaver-Brooks employees, offices, distribution centers, and warehouses within New York during the time at issue in this matter. As such, the plaintiffs aver that it is necessary to deny the defendant’s motion and allow the plaintiffs the opportunity to gather discovery.

In response, the court noted that Cleaver-Brooks has demonstrated that the court does not have general jurisdiction over it. Further, with regards to specific jurisdiction, New York’s long-arm statute is a single act statute and proof of one transaction in New York is sufficient to invoke jurisdiction, even though the defendant never enters New York, so long as the defendant’s activities here were purposeful and there is a substantial relationship between the transaction and the claim asserted. However, the plaintiffs have not submitted any evidence, which demonstrates a substantial relationship between Cleaver-Brooks alleged transactions in New York and the plaintiffs’ injuries. Accordingly, the court granted Cleaver-Brooks’ motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction.

Read the full decision here.