Beware the Quagmire of Personal Jurisdiction: Presby Patent Trust v. Infiltrator Systems
A plaintiff in the District of New Hampshire recently found itself stuck in an unenviable and inescapable jurisdictional hole. Plaintiff Presby Patent Trust sued Infiltrator Systems, a Connecticut-based manufacturer and distributor of septic systems, in New Hampshire for allegedly infringing Presby’s patent on a method for processing effluent. Presby asserted that Infiltrator’s Advanced Treatment Leachfield (“ATL”) septic system performed the patented method. Infiltrator subsequently moved to dismiss the case, arguing that it lacks sufficient contacts with New Hampshire for the Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over it.
The Court first evaluated whether it could establish specific jurisdiction over Infiltrator and found that it could not. The parties agreed that Infiltrator purposefully directs activities at New Hampshire residents by selling other septic systems there. However, Judge Laplante determined that Presby’s infringement claim did not “arise out of or relate to” Infiltrator’s activities in the state because Infiltrator did not market or sell the accused ATL system in New Hampshire.
The Court also rejected Presby’s argument that the disjunctive nature of “arise out of or relate to” warranted specific jurisdiction in this case because Presby’s claims “relate to” Infiltrator’s septic system business. Judge Laplante determined that because “Presby has only alleged the most attenuated connection between Infiltrator’s sale of non-infringing products, its research and development efforts, and the potential for infringing activities in New Hampshire,” it could not exercise specific jurisdiction over Infiltrator.
Next, the Court considered whether it could exercise general jurisdiction which, under the Supreme Court’s Daimler standard, requires that the defendant’s contacts with the forum state “be of such a degree that they essentially render the defendant ‘at home’ in the forum state.” Judge Laplante found that, although Infiltrator conducted numerous business activities in New Hampshire, “none of these activities essentially render New Hampshire a surrogate for Infiltrator’s principal place of business” in Connecticut, “[n]or has Presby differentiated Infiltrator’s activities [there] from its activities in Connecticut or any other state.” Therefore, the Court lacked general jurisdiction over Infiltrator as well and granted Infiltrator’s motion to dismiss.
In addition, Judge Laplante denied Presby’s request for jurisdictional discovery. Presby sought to investigate Infiltrator’s planned marketing and sale of the ATL system in New Hampshire, as well as similar activities on a national level. However, the Court ruled that Presby’s request was unlikely to result in evidence to support the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Infiltrator.
This opinion emphasizes that careful consideration of a defendant’s contacts with the forum state and their relationship to the activities accused of infringement must be undertaken when deciding where to file suit. Otherwise, the case could get flushed away.
The case is Presby Patent Trust v. Infiltrator Systems, Inc., Case No. 14-cv-542-JL (D.N.H.), before Judge Joseph N. Laplante.