Personal Jurisdiction Challenges Growing in Madison County; May Lead to Fewer Asbestos Filings

ILLINOIS — Continuing a national trend following the Bristol Myers Squibb Co. v. Supreme Court of California (2017) and Daimler AG v. Bauman (2014), the Supreme Court of Illinois has issued a personal jurisdiction opinion that will limit the ability of out-of-state plaintiffs to file suit in Illinois against “non-resident” or foreign defendants.

In the matter of Aspen American Insurance Company v. Interstate Warehousing, Inc., Eastern Fish Company (Eastern) is a New Jersey-based corporation that sources and imports fish products. In 2013, Eastern contracted with defendant to store some of its fish products in a refrigerated warehouse near Grand Rapids, Michigan. On March 8, 2014, part of the warehouse’s roof collapsed, causing ruptured gas lines and an ammonia leak. The leak contaminated the fish products that were stored in the warehouse, rendering them unfit for human consumption. The plaintiff, which insures Eastern, paid Eastern’s claim for the loss and, in exchange, received subrogation rights. On July 14, 2014, the plaintiff filed this subrogation action against the defendant in the circuit court of Cook County. The plaintiff’s complaint sets forth various causes of action, including breach of contract and negligence, and asserts that the defendant is responsible for the loss of Eastern’s fish products. The complaint also alleges that the defendant “maintain[s] a facility in or near Chicago.” [Citation Omitted].

The Supreme Court of Illinois applied the Daimler AG decision and emphasized that two types of personal jurisdiction are subject to the due process analysis — Specific and General. “Specific jurisdiction is case-specific. That is, specific jurisdiction exists when the plaintiff’s cause of action arises out of or relates to the defendant’s contacts with the forum state. In contrast, general jurisdiction is all-purpose. Where general jurisdiction exists, the plaintiff may pursue a claim against the defendant even if the conduct of the defendant that is being challenged occurred entirely outside the forum state.” [Citation Omitted]. In this case, the court found that the plaintiff did not complain of any conducted committed by the defendant in Illinois so specific jurisdiction was not satisfied. Further, as the defendant was a non-resident to Illinois and did not have its principle place of business in Illinois, the plaintiff could not establish general jurisdiction.

This decision will likely play an integral role for current and future asbestos-related lawsuits that are filed in Madison County, Illinois. Asbestos litigation accounts for over two-thirds of all civil cases filed in Madison County — this overwhelming percentage may be on its way to change following Aspen and the national trend in personal jurisdiction decisions.

Read the full decision here.