Raw Asbestos Supplier to Transite Pipe Manufacturer Not Subject to Personal Jurisdiction

Plaintiff Donald Noll sued a number of manufacturers, sellers, and suppliers of asbestos and asbestos-containing products, including Special Electric. Noll alleged that he developed malignant mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos when he worked construction in Washington between 1977 and 1979 cutting asbestos-cement pipes. Those asbestos-cement pipes were manufactured by CertainTeed Corporation, and CertainTeed received most of its asbestos from Special Electric.

Special Electric moved to dismiss on the basis that the trial court lacked specific personal jurisdiction over it because its contacts were limited to the California-based corporation, Certain-Teed, and did not extend to Washington.  In the complaint, Noll alleged jurisdiction was proper because, “This Court has jurisdiction over this cause pursuant to RCW 4.12.025 because, at all times relevant herein, defendants transacted business and/or may be served with process in [King] County, Washington.”  Special moved to dismiss for lack of specific personal jurisdiction. Special argued that Noll had alleged no facts in support of its conclusory statement that the defendants transacted business in Washington.

The superior court granted Special’s motion to dismiss for lack of specific personal jurisdiction.  Division One of the Court of Appeals reversed and found that Noll had alleged sufficient facts for the trial court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Special.  It then concluded that a Washington court could assert specific personal jurisdiction over Special under a stream of commerce theory because the product was a known hazardous material.

The Court of Appeals focused on Special delivering asbestos to CertainTeed’s plant in California and CertainTeed then purposefully availing itself of Washington’s laws by selling large quantities of asbestos-cement pipes to Washington companies. But the Court of Appeals acknowledged that Special may not have been aware that CertainTeed was supplying the asbestos-cement pipes to companies in Washington, and it did not require any other evidence that Special purposefully availed itself of Washington’s laws.  Noll did not allege that Special was aware of CertainTeed’s connection to Washington. Noll did not allege that Special was aware that CertainTeed delivered any of its pipes outside of California.  Noll failed to allege any action taken by Special to purposefully avail itself of the benefits and protections of the Washington market. Showing only that an out-of-state manufacturer sold a component part to another out-of-state manufacturer who then sold the finished product into Washington is not enough to confer specific personal jurisdiction in Washington.

Read the full decision here.