Hand on bible, swearing in

Plaintiffs Allowed Additional Discovery to Establish Personal Jurisdiction over Hydraulic-Pump Defendant

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division

Plaintiffs William Weaver and Judy Weaver filed suit, claiming that William Weaver was exposed to the defendants’ asbestos-containing products while employed as a railway yard worker from approximately 1966 to 1977. One of the defendants, Eaton Hydraulics LLC f/k/a Eaton Hydraulics Inc. — sued as successor to Vickers Inc. (“Eaton”) — filed an original and renewed motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2).

The plaintiff’s relevant work occurred in North Carolina, and Eaton is a Delaware corporation, with its principal place of business in Ohio. The plaintiffs’ claims arise out of the defendants’ purposeful efforts to serve directly, or indirectly, the market for their asbestos and/or asbestos-containing products in North Carolina, either through direct sales or through utilizing an established distribution channel with the expectation that their products would be purchased, and/or used, within North Carolina.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) allows for dismissal of a claim for lack of personal jurisdiction. When a district court considers a question of personal jurisdiction it must construe all relevant pleading allegations in the light most favorable to plaintiff, assume credibility, and draw the most favorable inferences for the existence of jurisdiction. Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989); see Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Akzo, N.V., 2 F.3d 56, 60 (4th Cir. 1993).

The defendant, Eaton, challenged the existence of personal jurisdiction, arguing that it does not have minimum contacts with North Carolina such that the exercise of jurisdiction does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice'” and that this suit does not arise out of such contacts. International Shoe v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). In response, the plaintiffs argued that the facts alleged in their complaint establish jurisdiction, and they asked the court to defer ruling on Eaton’s motion and permit the parties to engage in limited jurisdictional discovery in the event that it finds the allegations in the complaint lacking.

The court noted that the plaintiffs had alleged facts that could establish the requisite contacts with North Carolina to support specific personal jurisdiction. For example, the plaintiffs alleged that William Weaver was exposed to Eaton’s asbestos-containing products, which Eaton may have placed in North Carolina through “direct sales,” which could support specific personal jurisdiction over Eaton with regard to this action.

Eaton argued that the plaintiffs failed to allege sufficient facts demonstrating that Eaton purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting business in North Carolina. Based on the limited information available to it, the court could not yet determine whether the plaintiffs will meet their burden “ultimately to prove the existence of a ground for jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.” Combs, 886 F.2d at 676. The court accordingly denied Eaton’s Motion to Dismiss without prejudice for further consideration of the issues raised after a period of jurisdictional discovery.

Read the full decision here.