Personal jurisdiction — the issue of where a defendant can be sued — seems like it should be a straightforward issue. But of course it is not, as the Supreme Court evolves its understanding of minimum contacts, the notion of doing business over the internet develops, state courts apply and misapply ancient “consent” to do business rules, and various jurisdictions decide as a policy matter to be open or closed to litigation tourism.
Today’s case is one we wished we would see more often. In Kingston v. Angiodynamics, Inc., 2021 WL 3022320 (D. Mass. Jul. 16, 2021), plaintiff sued alleging injuries from an implantable medical device manufactured by defendants, specifically a high-radiopacity catheter, comprised of a polymeric mixture of silicone and barium sulfate. Barium sulfate is thought to contribute to the reduction of the mechanical integrity of silicone in vivo as the particles of barium sulfate dissociate from the surface of the catheter over time. Plaintiff asserted that defendants’ manufacturing process involved too high a concentration of barium sulfate particles, leading to the improperly high viscosity of the raw silicone before polymerization and causing improper mixing of barium sulfate particles within the silicone matrix.
Defendants stood behind the product, and also moved to dismiss based on the absence of personal jurisdiction. Kingston was a resident of Kentucky; the allegedly defective product was used in Kentucky, and the injury was suffered in Kentucky. Plaintiff alleged in the complaint that AngioDynamics’ principal place of business and headquarters are in New York, but in seeking remand to state court, asserted that defendants’ core operations were actually in Massachusetts. However, while there was some indication of some business done in Massachusetts, this did not indicate Massachusetts was defendants’ principal place of business. The defendants were a parent and subsidiary company both of which were incorporated in Delaware. The parent corporation was headquartered in New York where all significant corporate decisions for both the parent and subsidiary were being made. The court concluded that defendants’ principal place of business is not in Massachusetts. It made no difference which test was used to determine where defendants’ principal place of business was, the so-called “nerve center test;” “center of corporate activity test;” or “locus of operations test.” The answer was the same.
Some of these remand observations are on point for the motion to dismiss as well. In determining whether a non-resident defendant is subject to its jurisdiction, a federal court exercising diversity jurisdiction is the functional equivalent of a state court sitting in the forum state. Daynard v. Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, P.A., 290 F.3d 42, 51 (1st Cir. 2002) Accordingly, this district court could only exercise personal jurisdiction within the limits set by Massachusetts’ long-arm statute and the due process clause of the Constitution.
Kingston argued that the court had jurisdiction over defendants pursuant to a section of the Massachusetts long-arm statute which provides for the exercise of personal jurisdiction over an individual in a cause of action “arising from the person’s … transacting any business in this commonwealth.” Mass. Gen. L. c. 223A, § 3(a). For jurisdiction to exist under this provision, the facts must satisfy two requirements—the defendant must have transacted business in Massachusetts, and the plaintiff’s claim must have arisen from the transaction of business by the defendant.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Attorney Gen., 479 Mass. 312, 317, 94 N.E.3d 786 (2018). The statute’s “arising from” requirement means a claim arises from a defendant’s transaction of business in the forum state if the claim was made possible by, or lies in the wake of, the transaction of business in the forum state. The inquiry ultimately boils down to a but for causation test which asks, did the defendant’s contacts with the Commonwealth constitute the first step in a train of events that resulted in the personal injury.
On the specific jurisdiction prong, the court noted that plaintiff had adduced some evidence to support the assertion that defendants have a Massachusetts location at which some employees conduct business, but she failed to support the assertion that “but for” defendants’ activities in Massachusetts, her injury would not have occurred. Defendants’ corporate decisions were made at its global headquarters in New York and their products—including the device at issue in this litigation—were manufactured in New York, which was also AngioDynamics’ sole United States manufacturing location. Plaintiff provided no evidence to support the contention that Defendants’ activities specific to Massachusetts caused the harm.
Even beyond the reach of the statute, under the due process clause, specific jurisdiction “may only be relied upon where the cause of action arises directly out of, or relates to, the defendant’s forum-based contacts.” Pritzker v. Yari, 42 F.3d 53, 60 (1st Cir. 1994)). “In contrast to general, all-purpose jurisdiction, specific jurisdiction is confined to adjudication of issues deriving from, or connected with, the very controversy that establishes jurisdiction.” Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A., 564 U.S. at 919. The specific jurisdiction inquiry is threefold: relatedness, purposeful availment and reasonableness. Here, plaintiff’s attempt to rely on the Court’s recent decision in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Jud. Dist. Ct., ––– U.S. ––––, 141 S. Ct. 1017, 1026, 209 L.Ed.2d 225 (2021) to support her argument was to no avail. Unlike here, the plaintiffs there were residents of the forum states, used the allegedly defective products in the forum states and suffered alleged injuries when those products malfunctioned in the forum states. Id. at 1031.
The court then turned to the general jurisdiction prong, and the due process limitations therein. Even if Kingston had satisfied her showing under the long-arm statute, which she did not, plaintiff also failed to satisfy the due process analysis. “For jurisdiction to be proper, constitutional requirements of due process must be met.” Shipley Co. v. Clark, 728 F. Supp. 818, 822 (D. Mass 1990). General jurisdiction applies when the defendant’s contacts with the forum state have been “so ‘continuous and systematic’ as to render them essentially at home in the forum State.” Goodyear Dunlop Tires Ops., S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011). Neither defendant could be characterized as “at home” in Massachusetts; conducting some business in the Commonwealth was inadequate for general jurisdiction purposes.
Plaintiff also sought leave to conduct jurisdictional discovery, but the court found that her allegations, even if proven, were too attenuated to state a valid claim and therefore such discovery would be futile.