Additional Discovery Ordered to Determine Location of Exposure in Facility Defendant’s Personal Jurisdiction Challenge

LOUISIANA — The plaintiff, Frederico Lopez, filed suit against the defendants, alleging he developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos while working as a gasket cutter for Lamons Gasket Company from 1971-1973 and as a pipefitter for Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) from 1973-1986. Lopez passed away on November 9, 2017. The plaintiffs amended their complaint to include ConocoPhillips (Conoco) as a defendant. The amended complaint claimed that Lopez was “exposed to asbestos during his work for KBR at premises/sites owned and/or operated by…ConocoPhillips, as successor in interest to Conoco, Inc., Chevron Corporation, Epl Oil and Gas Inc., and Texaco, Inc.” They contend his job responsibilities at the Conoco site required him to “use or handle asbestos or asbestos-containing products and/or equipment requiring or calling for the use of asbestos or asbestos-containing products.” Conoco moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction.

The court began its analysis and stated that the burden to establish personal jurisdiction falls upon the plaintiff. Relying on the McFadin matter, the court noted that jurisdiction may be asserted over a nonresident defendant when: the forum state’s long-arm statute confers personal jurisdiction over that defendant; and the exercise of personal jurisdiction comports with the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” As to the due process clause, the exercise of specific jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant is valid when minimum contacts do not violate traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. The minimum contacts test is heavily dependent on facts according to the court. The court noted that although the complaint alleged that the plaintiff was exposed to asbestos while working for KBR at sites owned by Conoco, it did not specify where those sites were located. Moreover, the plaintiff “recanted” testimony that illustrated that he didn’t know whether the offshore work for Conoco was located in Louisiana or not. The court assumed for purposes of location that testimony as to “in the yard” work meant the location in Texas. The plaintiffs submitted in their opposition that upon information and belief, witnesses would offer testimony that they worked offshore with Lopez. Later in the opposition, the plaintiffs asserted that the location was on Louisiana’s continental shelf but offered nothing supporting that assertion even with the “unnamed” witnesses. Although the court generally is required to accept the truth of the assertions within the complaint, it need not do so when the assertions are based on “information and belief.” In short, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to establish a prima facie case as these assertions were raised for the first time in the plaintiff’s oppositions. However, the court recognized that evidence related to exposure at a Conoco offshore facility within Louisiana waters would establish specific jurisdiction over Conoco. Accordingly, the court ordered the parties to obtain jurisdictional discovery on that issue and deferred ruling on the motion to dismiss pending the additional discovery.