Pump Manufacturer’s Motion to Dismiss Based on Personal Jurisdiction Denied

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, June 30, 2021

In this asbestos action, Christopher Sibley (the plaintiff) alleged asbestos exposure from his work as a Navy electrician in California. Defendant Viking Pump moved to dismiss due to a lack of personal jurisdiction. As per Rule 12(b)(2), a defendant can move to dismiss the matter based on personal jurisdiction grounds. Since personal jurisdiction is not authorized by federal statute, the court applied California law. As such, “[a] defendant is subject to general jurisdiction only where the defendant’s contacts with a forum are substantial or continuous and systematic … A defendant is subject to specific jurisdiction if the following ‘three-prong test’ is met:

  • (1) The non-resident defendant must purposefully direct his activities or consummate some transaction with the forum or resident thereof; or perform some act by which he purposefully avails himself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum, thereby invoking the benefits and protections of its laws;
  • (2) the claim must be one which arises out of or relates to the defendant’s forum-related activities; and
  • (3) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with fair play and substantial justice, i.e. it must be reasonable.”  Schwarzenegger v. Fred Martin Motor Co.

Viking argued that the plaintiff had not proffered evidence to show that Viking “sold any product at issue in this case in a California market … and Viking’s supply of products to the United States Navy has nothing to do with California markets.” The plaintiffs contended that the Supreme Court rejected this argument in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court. In Ford, the court found that personal jurisdiction existed as the defendant marketed and sold the same model in the forum state. Further, the court “has never framed the specific jurisdiction inquiry as always requiring proof of causation … i.e., proof that the plaintiff’s claim came about because of the defendant’s in-state conduct.” This court also cited another district court’s assertion that “it is not necessarily a prerequisite for specific jurisdiction that a company market or sell the specific product model at issue in the forum state.” Godfried v. Ford Motor Co.

In this matter, the notion that the plaintiff could not identify the type of Viking Pump he encountered was not fatal to his claim. While the court found that Viking did not show that the pumps supplied to the Navy were not the same that Viking supplied to civilians in California, the court also highlighted that Viking failed to show why that distinction would support their argument. Therefore, the court found that Viking did not proffer evidence contradicting the plaintiff’s claims that he was exposed to asbestos from a Viking pump in California, and that Viking supplied asbestos-containing pumps in California during the appropriate time period. Thus, the court denied Viking’s motion to dismiss without prejudice.

Read the full decision here.