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Ruiz v. TRW Vehicle Safety Systems, Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Central Division

September 22, 2017




         Plaintiffs Nora Patricia Ruiz, individually and as representative of the Estate of Hector Ruiz, and Hector A. Ruiz as the biological son (Plaintiffs) sued Defendant TRW Vehicle Safety Systems, Inc. (TRW) alleging products liability, negligence, and wrongful death of Hector Ruiz. Doc. 26. TRW moved to dismiss the action for lack of personal jurisdiction, Doc. 13, and Plaintiffs opposed that motion, Doc. 27. For the reasons stated below, this Court will grant TRW's motion to dismiss or, if Plaintiffs request, transfer the case to a district with jurisdiction.

         I. Facts

         Plaintiffs are the surviving wife and son of Hector Ruiz. Doc. 27 at ¶¶ 1-2. They are residents of Jacksonville, Texas. Doc. 27 at ¶¶ 1-2. Defendant TRW is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Michigan. Doc. 14-1 at ¶ 5. TRW designs and manufactures original equipment automotive seat belt assemblies for its customers, most of which are motor vehicle manufacturers. Doc. 14-1 at ¶ 6.

         On January 21, 2015, Ruiz was driving a 2006 Ford F-250 southbound on Highway 47 in Gregory County, South Dakota, when his vehicle hit a patch of black ice and rolled. Doc. 26 at ¶¶ 24, 28. During the rollover, Ruiz was ejected from the vehicle, sustaining fatal injuries. Doc. 26 at ¶ 30. The Plaintiffs allege that at the time of the rollover, Ruiz was wearing his seat belt, and that the seat belt buckle became unlatched because it was defective. Doc. 26 at ¶¶ 29-30.

         The seat belt assembly in Ruiz's truck was manufactured by TRW. Doc. 14-1 at ¶ 9. TRW manufactured the seat belt assembly in Mexico and shipped the subject belt and retractor and buckle assemblies to a facility of Johnson Controls, Inc., a seat supplier to Ford Motor Company (Ford), in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Doc. 14-1 at ¶ 9. Ruiz's Ford F-250 was assembled in Kentucky at Ford's Kentucky truck plant in 2006, and then sold by Ford to All Star Ford-Palestine, a Ford dealership in Texas. Doc. 14-2 at ¶ 4. It appears from the title history of the pickup that it was sold and resold to several different parties in Texas. Doc. 14-3 at 10, 12. On December 12, 2013, Hector and Nora Ruiz bought the pickup. Doc. 14-3 at 6.

         Once TRW delivers its seat belt assemblies to a seat supplier or motor vehicle manufacturer, it has no further control over the assembly or where it goes. Doc. 14-1 at ¶ 11. TRW did not sell the seat belt assembly in South Dakota, does not advertise in South Dakota, does not conduct any business in South Dakota, is not licensed to conduct business in South Dakota, does not pay taxes in South Dakota, does not own property in South Dakota, and does not have any employees, management personnel, officers, or directors that reside in, or are located in, South Dakota. Doc. 14-1 at¶¶ 12a-12i.

         The Plaintiffs made a number of allegations regarding TRW's "significant business" in South Dakota: 1) TRW supplies automotive parts and safety systems to a global market and has been doing so for almost six decades; 2) TRW designs and manufactures component parts for millions of vehicles which are bound for every state in the United States, including South Dakota; 3) TRW places component parts into the stream of commerce; 4) TRW component parts and seatbelt systems are found in tens of thousands of vehicles in South Dakota; 5) TRW does not restrict its seat belt systems from being distributed, sold, or used in South Dakota; 6) TRW has contracts with companies like Ford and knows those companies sell their products in South Dakota; 7) TRW holds a significant quantity of intellectual property, such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets, which it demands be honored in South Dakota; 8) employees, officers, and directors of TRW may have visited, lived, conducted business, and worked in South Dakota[1]; 9) TRW manufactures and designs its products to comply with United States standards, including the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS); and 10) TRW works with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on safety issues for products in vehicles owned and used by South Dakota residents. Doc. 26 at 2-3; Doc. 27 at ¶ 33.

         II. Analysis

         A. Personal Jurisdiction

         The showing a plaintiff must make when the defendant contests personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2) depends on the stage of the case and the method the court employs to resolve the jurisdictional dispute. See K-V Pharm. Co. v. J. Uriach & CIA, S.A., 648 F.3d 588, 591-92 (8th Cir. 2011); Dakota Indus., Inc. v. Dakota Sportswear. Inc., 946 F.2d 1384, 1387 (8th Cir. 1991). At trial or after an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff must prove personal jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Creative Calling Sols.. Inc. v. LF Beauty Ltd., 799 F.3d 975, 979 (8th Cir. 2015); Epps v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 327 F.3d 642, 647 (8th Cir. 2003). But when, as here, the court limits its review of a Rule 12(b)(2) motion solely to affidavits and other written evidence, the plaintiff "need only make a prima facie showing of [personal] jurisdiction." Dakota Indus., 946 F.2d at 1387. "Although the evidentiary showing required at the prima facie stage is minimal, the showing must be tested, not by the pleadings alone, but by the affidavits and exhibits supporting or opposing the motion." K-V Pharm. Co., 648 F.3d at 592 (internal marks and citations omitted). This Court construes the materials filed in the light most favorable to the Ruiz Plaintiffs and resolves all factual disputes on jurisdictional issues against TRW at this time. Therefore, discovery on jurisdictional issues would be of no benefit to these Plaintiffs.

         A federal court sitting in diversity may exercise jurisdiction over nonresident defendants only if both the forum state's long-arm statute and the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause are satisfied. Morris v. Barkbuster. Inc., 923 F.2d 1277, 1280 (8th Cir. 1991). Because South Dakota's long-arm statute confers jurisdiction to the full extent permissible under the Due Process Clause, the question here is whether asserting personal jurisdiction over TRW comports with due process. Bell Paper Box. Inc. v. U.S. Kids. Inc.. 22 F.3d 816, 818 (8th Cir. 1994) (applying South Dakota law).

         Personal jurisdiction under the Due Process Clause may be either general or specific. Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations. S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 924-25 (2011). Courts with general jurisdiction over a defendant may hear "any and all claims" against the defendant, even if those claims are unrelated to the defendant's contacts with the forum state. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 754 (2014) (quoting Goodyear. 564 U.S. at 919). For general jurisdiction to exist, the defendant's contacts with the forum state must be "so 'continuous and systematic'" that the defendant is "essentially at home" there. Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 919 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). TRW's contacts with South Dakota fall far short of the sort of continuous and systematic presence necessary for general jurisdiction. Specific jurisdiction, by contrast, may be based on a defendant's solitary or irregular contact with the forum state. Daimler, 134 S.Ct. at 754. Unlike general jurisdiction, however, specific jurisdiction is limited to suits arising out of or relating to the defendant's contact with the forum state. Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 919.

         Courts may exercise specific jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant if the defendant has "certain minimum contacts" with the state such that having to defend a lawsuit there "does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Int'l Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 316 (quotation omitted). These minimum contacts must be based on "some act by which the defendant purposefully avails" himself of the forum state "such that he, should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474-75 (1985) (quotations omitted). It is the defendant, rather than the plaintiff or a third party, who must establish the minimum contacts in the forum state. Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 1122 (2014). Moreover, the defendant's contacts must be "with the forum State itself, not . . . with persons who reside there." Id.; see alsoId. at 1123 ("Due process requires that a defendant be haled into court in a forum State based on his own ...

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