Illinois Asbestos Court Rules on Personal Jurisdiction in First Post-Daimler Decisions
In what is believed to be the Court’s first post-Daimler written decisions on the issue, Madison County, Illinois Judge Stephen A. Stobbs recently issued two decisions addressing whether the Court has personal jurisdiction over two different asbestos defendants. In both matters, the defendants asserted their business dealings in the state of Illinois did not rise to the level of subjecting them to personal jurisdiction.
These two decisions illustrate the Court’s propensity to address personal jurisdiction over each Defendant on a case-by-case basis, with dramatically different results. It seems that companies that had little to no contact with the State of Illinois or its residents would fare well in challenging the Court’s personal jurisdiction. However, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s clear mandate in Daimler, it appears the Madison County Court may construe a company’s normal business contacts with Illinois as that company’s efforts to become “at home” in the state, unwittingly subjecting that company to the Court’s jurisdiction.
Case #1: Court Finds Insufficient Evidence to Support Specific Jurisdiction; Rules for Defendant
On October 20, 2015, the Court granted Murco, Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction in the Voss v. Murco Wall Products, et al., Madison County, Illinois, Case No. 15-L-0055 and dismissed Murco from the case.
Murco, a Texas defendant, maintained that it did not conduct business or make sales of Murco products to Illinois; never shipped any asbestos-containing products to Illinois; and never held a license to do business in the state. Plaintiff argued that Mr. Voss, an Illinois resident, offered testimony that he purchased and used Murco joint compound in Illinois, and that the case was therefore one of specific jurisdiction. The court found that plaintiff had offered insufficient evidence to support this claim. Plaintiff also argued that Illinois courts could permissibly exercise jurisdiction over Murco based on an alleged franchise agreement with another manufacturer of joint compound who did have Illinois sales and whose successor was separately sued in the case. The Court, citing the lack of evidence of any sales by Murco in Illinois during the relevant time period, granted Murco’s motion, holding that “[m]erely placing a product in the stream of commerce, even where it is foreseeable that the product would ultimately end up in the forum state, is insufficient to establish minimum contacts with the forum state.”
Case #2: Court Keeps Company on the Hook; Denies Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction
On November 4, 2015, the Court denied a large automotive manufacturer’s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction in Jeffs v. Anco Insulations, Inc., et al., Madison County, Illinois, Case No. 15-L-533. The Court rejected defendant’s argument that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman supported its position that there was no specific jurisdiction over it since there were no Illinois exposures to asbestos by the decedent. The decedent worked as a union insulator at various sites from 1968 to 1995, including at defendant’s plant in Michigan. In reaching its decision, the Court found that defendant had consented to jurisdiction in Illinois, consistent with the Illinois Business Corporation Act and the notions of fair play and substantial justice. The Court acknowledged that defendant was incorporated in Delaware and its principal place of business was in Michigan; however, the Court pointed out that the auto maker historically had a multitude of contacts with Illinois, including: regularly conducting business in Illinois since 1922; owning real property in Illinois; keeping a registered agent in Illinois; maintaining 156 dealers in Illinois and litigating matters throughout Illinois, including Madison County, without objecting to personal jurisdiction.
The Court further quoted from an amicus brief the company recently filed with the Illinois Supreme Court in Folta v. Ferro Engineering, wherein the company stated, it “conducts substantial business in Illinois and operates an assembly plant in Chicago that manufactures several vehicles… …[it] employs over 4,000 people at the Chicago Assembly Plant. In the past five years, [it] has invested over a half a billion dollars in its business operations in Illinois.” The Court subsequently found the company’s contacts with Illinois were substantial and such contacts exceeded the minimum contacts required by federal due process standards. The Court concluded the company has unequivocally consented to jurisdiction in Illinois and that the Court’s jurisdiction over it was proper.