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

Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County

The plaintiff alleged that the decedent, Harvey A. Fitzwater, who was allegedly diagnosed with mesothelioma on October 10, 2016, was exposed to asbestos from using ovens manufactured by defendant Baker Perkins from 1965-67 at several locations in Alaska and Washington State. Baker Perkins moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint, which was filed in the New York City Asbestos Litigation (New York County, New York), for lack of personal jurisdiction.

As to general jurisdiction, Baker Perkins argued that its successor company—the defendant named in the plaintiff’s complaint—was a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business in North Carolina. Additionally, it argued that the current Baker Perkins was a Delaware company with a principal place of business in Michigan. As such, the court lacked general personal jurisdiction over it, as a foreign entity. The court agreed, finding that “general personal jurisdiction cannot be exercised over defendant because at the time this action was commenced, defendant was neither incorporated nor maintained their principal place of business in New York.”

With regard to specific jurisdiction under New York’s long-arm statute, Baker Perkins argued the decedent had not alleged that he was exposed to asbestos from Baker Perkins ovens in New York, and furthermore, Baker Perkins ovens had never been manufactured in New York. Given this, the defendant argued that specific personal jurisdiction could not be exercised over it, as there was no nexus between the alleged Baker Perkins ovens, the decedent’s injury, and the State of New York. On this argument, the court also agreed, holding that “[p]laintiff [had] failed to demonstrate that defendant transacted business in New York or that plaintiff’s cause of action [arose] from defendant’s activity in New York.” As such, Baker Perkins had made a prima facie showing of entitlement to summary judgment, and the burden shifted to the plaintiff.

The court found that the plaintiff’s opposition made no mention of Baker Perkins and its conduct in the State of New York. Instead, the plaintiff argued that Baker Perkins had failed to offer proof that it preserved the personal jurisdiction defense by asserting same in its answer, and then argued that because the defendant had fully participated in the case for over three years without raising the issue, it should therefore be precluded from any jurisdictional relief now. On these arguments, the court found that Baker Perkins had indeed included an affirmative defense regarding lack of personal jurisdiction in its answer, and further held that a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction could be made at any time.

The court concluded that in order for a New York court to exercise jurisdiction over a foreign entity under the long-arm statute, “there must be a clear connection between New York and the specific claims at issue.” Here, the products from which Decedent alleged exposure were neither manufactured in New York nor used by the decedent in New York. As such, the court lacked jurisdiction over the defendant, and Baker Perkins was entitled to summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint.