Personal Jurisdiction Motion Denied as Court Focuses on State-Related Contact

WASHINGTON — Decedent Donald Varney alleged that he developed mesothelioma from ambient exposure to defendants’ products while working in various positions at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, WA, and at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco, CA. Defendants Taco, Inc. and Aurora Pump Company filed identical Motions to Strike and Motions to Dismiss, which the court denied.

The defendants’ Motion to Strike pre-judgment interest argued that Washington law made prejudgment interest unavailable for claims of unliquidated damages, and that the plaintiffs’ damages were unliquidated because they could not be determined before a verdict. The court found that the plaintiffs’ requests were in line with Washington law, and that awardable interest could accrue from the date of a jury verdict, through appeal and remand, until final judgment.  The court further clarified that its order denying the motion was silent as to whether any damages were liquidated or unliquidated, or whether the plaintiffs were entitled to interest allowable at law.

The defendants’ Motion to Dismiss challenged the pleadings as failing to state a claim, as lacking standing, and on a personal jurisdiction basis.  The court summarily denied the motion regarding failure to state a claim, finding that the complaint gave sufficient notice of the what, where, when, and how of the exposure.  Regarding standing arguments, the defendants argued that a personal representative had not yet been appointed following the decedent’s passing.  In denying the motion without prejudice, the court acknowledged that the plaintiffs were still within their allotted time to appoint representatives and substitute them for the decedent, and noted the plaintiffs’ counsel’s representation that they would timely comply.

The court began its analysis of the defendants’ personal jurisdiction arguments by noting that Washington’s long-arm statute was “coextensive with federal due process requirements,” making the jurisdictional analysis under state and federal law the same.  The defendants only challenged specific jurisdiction. Specifically, in their reply, the defendants argued in their Reply that the pleadings were unclear as to whether the decedent’s illness arose out of work with their respective products in Washington only, in California only, or in both states.  In denying this motion, the court noted that this argument “mistakenly focuses on the plaintiff D. Varney’s injury rather than on the defendants’ Washington-related conduct. Personal jurisdiction jurisprudence focuses on whether ‘the defendant {emphasis original} has sufficient contacts with the sovereign.’”

Read the full decision here.