Friday, April 16, 2021

U.S. Supreme Court Latest Pronouncement on Personal Jurisdiction Over Out-of-State Defendants In a Products Liability Case


United States Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court recently issued a notable decision in the case of Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, No. 19-368 (U.S. March 25, 2021), in which the Court affirmed a decision finding the existence of personal jurisdiction over products liability claims by an in-state plaintiff for in-state injuries against an out-of-state defendant.

Defendant Ford had sought to extend the Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017), which rejected personal jurisdiction over claims by out-of-state plaintiffs against out-of-state defendants for out-of-state injuries.

Ford asserted that, under the Bristol-Myers analysis, specific jurisdiction requiresd a “causal link” between the defendant’s forum contacts and the plaintiff’s claims, which was not present in this Ford case because the cars involved in the accidents were not designed, manufactured, or first sold in-state.

The five-justice majority disagreed.  The majority rejected a strict causal link standard and distinguishing the forum-shopping circumstances of Bristol-Myers from the claims in Ford by in-state plaintiffs for in-state injuries. The majority held that the Court’s specific jurisdiction standard includes suits that sufficiently “relate to” a defendant’s forum contacts, even in the absence of a causal link.

Applying this standard to the two cases before it, the majority held that Ford’s activities in Montana and Minnesota, including marketing, selling, and servicing the same models of cars at issue in the cases, enticed residents to purchase Ford cars and, as such, were sufficiently related to the plaintiffs’ claims to create specific jurisdiction over their suits. The Court held: “Ford had systematically served a market in Montana and Minnesota for the very vehicles that the plaintiffs allege malfunctioned and injured them in those States. So there is a strong ‘relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation,’—the ‘essential foundation’ of specific jurisdiction.”

Commentators have noted that now, following the Ford decision, it appears that a defendant’s showing that a plaintiff’s claim does not arise out of or is not causally linked to the defendant’s conduct in the forum state may not be enough to prevail on a defense argument that a court lacks personal jurisdiction if a plaintiff can show that the claim sufficiently “relates to” the defendant’s conduct in the state.

Commentators have also noted that the Bristol-Myers analysis still also stands.  Those commentators have asserted that the Ford decision does not disturb the U.S. Supreme Court’s previous rejection in Bristol-Myers of specific jurisdiction over claims by non-resident plaintiffs against a non-resident company whose product allegedly injured the plaintiffs. 

Anyone wishing to review this decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Dale Larrimore of the Philadelphia law firm of Larrimore & Farnish, LLP for bringing this decision to my attention.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Pennsylvania Superior Court Addresses Claims of Corporate Negligence in a Medical Malpractice Case

 

In the case Ruff v. York Hospital, 2021 Pa. Super. 39 (Pa. Super. March 11, 2021 Shogan, J., Stabile, J., and Murray, J.) (Op. by. Shogan, J.), the court affirmed the lower court's denial of a Plaintiff’s post-trial motions in a medical malpractice case in which a defense verdict was entered. In so ruling, the Pennsylvania Superior Court touched upon a number of different issues pertinent to medical malpractice cases.

The Superior Court emphasized that, in the context of a medical malpractice case, corporate negligence is a doctrine under which a hospital owes a direct duty to its patients to ensure their safety and well-being while the patients are in the hospital.

The Court noted that, in order to establish a claim of corporate negligence, the Plaintiff must show that the hospital had actual or constructive knowledge of the alleged defect or procedures that allegedly created the harm. The court noted that corporate negligence typically involves claims of systemic negligence in the actions and procedures of the hospital itself, rather than any individual acts of its employees.

The Court otherwise ruled that a hospital’s oversight duty does not require that the hospital direct or override a physician’s clinical judgment in any given case.

The Superior Court also found that the jury instructions utilized the trial court on corporate negligence, which conformed to the Suggested Standard Jury Instruction, were adequate.

On an evidentiary issue, the Superior Court ruled that the Plaintiff’s expert was properly allowed to reference a learned treatise as support for the expert’s opinions, but that the Plaintiff was properly precluded by the trial court from placing the learned treatise itself into evidence.

The Superior Court also found that the Plaintiff’s expert was properly precluded by the trial court from offering any opinion that the Defendant’s conduct was reckless. The Superior Court noted that, whether conduct was reckless was to be determined by the jury and was not a proper subject of expert testimony. In this regard, the court noted that expert witnesses are not permitted to render legal opinions and may not offer opinions on whether conduct complied with the law.

As stated, overall, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the Plaintiff’s post-trial motions.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.


I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm for bringing this case to my attention.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

TORT TALK TIP

 


REMEMBER:  A week from today (i.e., April 21st) is Administrative Professional's Day.  Don't forget to thank those in your office who make your life easier.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Eastern District Court in Philadelphia Transfers Wal-Mart Slip and Fall Case to Middle District Court

In the case of Darrup v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, No. 2:20-CV-05450-JDW(E.D. Pa. Feb. 18, 2021 Wolson, J.), the court granted a Defendant store’s Motion to Transfer the Case from the Eastern District Federal Court in Philadelphia to the Middle District Court of Pennsylvania.

Judge Joshua D. Wolson began his Opinion by writing, "Philadelphia has much to recommend it. World class cuisine. Great universities. Gritty. But one thing that Philadelphia, and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as a whole, lacks is any connection to this case."  See Op. at p. 1.

Judge Wolson noted that, in this case, the Plaintiff was "channel[ing] her inner W.C. Fields and argues she'd rather be in Philadelphia."  See Op. at p. 1.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff resided in Northumberland County and was alleging personal injuries as a result of a slip and fall that had allegedly occurred at a Wal-Mart store located in Northumberland County.  By the time the lawsuit was filed, the Plaintiff lived in Arizona and asserted that it would be more convenient for her to have to travel to Philadelphia for the litigation as opposed to a courthourse located in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The court found that everything about this case happened in the Middle District of Pennsylvania except for the Plaintiff filing suit in the Eastern District Court in Philadelphia.

The court noted that all of the relevant witnesses were located within the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The court stated that, when a Plaintiff’s choice of forum has little or no connection to the operative facts of the case and, where the Plaintiff lives outside of the chosen forum, that Plaintiff’s choice of forum should receive little weight.

As stated, the court granted a Motion to Transfer the case up to the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.  The companion Order of Court can be viewed HERE.

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm for bringing this case to my attention.


Pennsylvania Superior Court Reverses Trial Court Decision to Transfer Venue of a Products Liability Case Out of Philadelphia County


In the case of Hangey v. Husqvarna Professional Products, Inc., No. 3296 EDA 2017 (Pa. Super. March 8, 2021) (en banc), the court reversed the trial court’s granting of Preliminary Objections on venue issues.

The court found that it was an abuse of discretion to change venue out of Philadelphia based solely on the Defendant conducting only de minimis business in that county.

The Superior Court noted that “regular” conduct of business does not mean “principal,” and a Defendant may perform acts regularly even though such acts are only a small part of its total activities.

On the venue question, the courts must determine whether the evidence, including the scope of the Defendant’s business, established that a Defendant’s contacts with the venue satisfied the quantity prong of the quality/quantity test.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court noted that the number and dollar figure of sales by the Defendant in Philadelphia, and the fact that the Defendant has an authorized dealer in Philadelphia to sell its products, is relevant to the determination of whether its contacts with Philadelphia satisfy the “quantity” prong of the venue analysis. The court additionally stated that he percentage of sales of a corporation in a venue is only one factor to be considered under this analysis.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this Majority Opinion of this decision may click this LINK.  The Dissenting Opinion by Judge Stabile can be viewed HERE


I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm for bringing this case to my attention.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Cummins Mediation Services Can Help Bring Your Case to a Close

 

(570) 319-5899

DanCummins@CumminsLaw.net

Federal Court Addresses Validity of Direct Claims of Liability Asserted Against Trucking Company


In the case of Miller v. M.H. Malueg Trucking, Co., LLC, No. 2:20-CV-00413-RJC (W.D. Pa. March 8, 2021 Colville, J.), the court granted a Defendant trucking company’s Motion to Dismiss a Plaintiff’s direct negligence claim against the trucking company arising out of a motor vehicle accident after the court found that the Plaintiff had conceded that she had not pled facts sufficient to support a claim for punitive damages that could serve as the predicate for a direct negligence claim against that trucking company.

The court noted that the parties had previously filed a Stipulation agreeing that the Defendant driver was an agent of the Defendant trucking company.

The Plaintiff had alleged in her Complaint that the Defendant trucking company was vicariously liable for the driver’s negligence and was also liable for negligent hiring, training, monitoring, and supervising the driver, for failing to ensure PennDOT regulations were followed, and was also negligent for failing to maintain a proper driver safety program for its drivers.

The Defendant moved to dismiss all direct claims of liability and did not move to dismiss the vicarious liability count.

Citing the case of Sterner v. Titus Transp., 2013 WL 6506591 (M.D. Pa. 2013)[other citations omitted], the court held in this Miller case that the claims of direct corporate negligence was subject to dismissal when the agency relationship was admitted and when the Plaintiff had not pled a basis for punitive damages.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK


Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (March 25, 2021).

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Jurisdiction Challenge Rejected Given that Defendant Company Was Registered in Pennsylvania as of the Date the Claim Was Filed


In the exposure to asbestos case of Data v. AO Smith Corp., No. 2:19-CV-00879-CRE (W.D. Pa. Feb. 11, 2021 Eddy, Mag. J.), a federal magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation it which it was recommended that the District Court deny a Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the case based upon jurisdictional arguments.

The court ruled that Pennsylvania’s statute imposes general jurisdiction on all companies registering to do business in Pennsylvania is constitutional.

Notably, the court ruled that jurisdiction exists over a Defendant even for causes of action that arose prior to Defendant's registration in Pennsylvania as a foreign company so long as the corporation is so registered as of the time the lawsuit is filed.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.


I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm for bringing this case to my attention.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Snow/Ice is Not On/Of Real Estate for Real Estate Exception to Sovereign Immunity to Apply


Judgment was entered in favor of the Defendant in the case of Temple v. Housing Auth. of City of Meadville, No. AD 2020-243 (C.P. Crawford, Co. March 18, 2021 St. John, S.J.), which involved a slip and fall incident due to wintry conditions on the property of the Housing Authority of the City of Meadville. 

The Plaintiff allegedly fell on a driveway in her aunt’s housing complex due to snow that had allegedly come upon the driveway after being blown there by a snowblower operated by an employee of the Defendant.

The Housing Authority moved for summary judgment on the grounds that, as a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania agency, it had immunity from any tort claims under the Sovereign Immunity Act.

The Court emphasized within the opinion that the Plaintiff had conceded that the Housing Authority qualified as a Commonwealth entity and that the Sovereign Immunity Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 8521, et seq., applied.

The Plaintiff attempted to have this case read as falling under the real estate exception to immunity for the Defendant.

The Court analyzed the “on/of” distinction  under the real estate exception under the Sovereign Immunity Act as it related to snow and ice that had accumulated on the Housing Authority’s property. 

The Court noted that the case law of Pennsylvania has not interpreted the language of the Act regarding a “dangerous condition of Commonwealth agency real estate” to include substances, like ice or snow, that were merely lying on the real estate. The Court noted that the inapplicability of the real estate exception was the same even if the snow came upon the surface by being thrown there by a snowblower operated by an employee.

Ultimately, the Court determined the Plaintiff offered no facts that could prove that the snow and ice derived, originated from, or had the Commonwealth realty as its source.  Accordingly, the real estate exception to the immunity provided by the Act was found not to be implicated by the facts of the accident.

As a result, the Court ruled the Plaintiff’s claims and evidence were insufficient to abrogate the Housing Authority’s immunity under the Sovereign Immunity act.

Anyone wishing to review this decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Brian J. Murren and Attorney Jon McAnney of the Lemoyne, PA law firm of Tucker Arensberg, P.C. for bringing this case to my attention.

Save The Date: Lackawanna Pro Bono Golf Tournament