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Farrar v. The Cessna Aircarft Co.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

March 27, 2019

ARRIN FARRAR, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CESSNA AIRCRAFT COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS E. JOHNSTON, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Textron Aviation, Inc.'s (“Textron”) and Defendant McFarlane Aviation, Inc.'s (“McFarlane”) motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.[1](ECF Nos. 6, 9.) For the reasons discussed herein, the Court GRANTS the motions. (ECF Nos. 6, 9.)

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of the March 16, 2016 crash of a Cessna 172 aircraft at Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia, in which Plaintiff Arrin Farrar (“Arrin Farrar”), a student pilot, was severely injured. (See ECF No. 1 at 13-14, ¶¶ 99-102.) The aircraft was manufactured by Cessna Aircraft Company (“Cessna”), which later merged with Textron and ceased to exist as a separate corporate entity, and the aircraft's seat rails were manufactured by McFarlane. (See ECF Nos. 20 at 1-2, 63-1 at 12 n.4.) Skylane Aviation, LLC (“Skylane”) owned the aircraft and registered it in West Virginia. (ECF No. 61-2 at 2.) Defendant Andrew Swepston (“Swepston”) performed repetitive maintenance and inspections on the aircraft. (See ECF No. 1 at 24, ¶ 145.)

         The crash that injured Arrin Farrar occurred when the right-side seat, in which the flight instructor was sitting slipped from its intended position and caused the instructor to pull the yoke of the plane backwards. (See Id. at 12-13, ¶¶ 90-97.) This caused the plane to pitch up and crash. (See Id. ¶¶ 93-97.) As a result of the crash, Arrin Farrar suffered from numerous fractures throughout his face and extremities. (See Id. at 13-14, ¶¶ 100-101.)

         On March 20, 2018, Plaintiffs, Arrin Farrar and his spouse Erin Farrar, filed the present action in this Court invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction as Plaintiffs are residents of Maine, (ECF No. 1 at 2, ¶¶ 4-5), Textron and McFarlane are Kansas corporations with their principal places of business in Kansas, (id. at 2-3, ¶¶ 7, 9), and Swepston is a resident of Ohio. (Id. at 3, ¶ 10.) Plaintiffs allege the following five counts against Textron and McFarlane: strict liability (Count I); negligence (Count II); breach of warranties (Count III); fraud (Count IV); reckless, outrageous, and willful and wanton conduct (Count V). (See Id. at 14-24, ¶¶ 103-43.) Plaintiffs further allege claims for negligence (Count VI) and breach of express and implied warranties (Count VII) against Swepston. (See Id. at 24-28, ¶¶ 144-63.)

         On July 9, 2018 and July 13, 2018 respectively, Textron and McFarlane filed the present motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. (ECF Nos. 6, 9.) Plaintiffs timely responded, (ECF Nos. 23, 25), and Textron and McFarlane timely replied. (ECF Nos. 30, 32.) On August 6, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a motion to conduct jurisdictional discovery. (ECF No. 19.) The Court granted Plaintiffs' motion on November 9, 2018 and ordered that Textron's and McFarlane's motions to dismiss be held in abeyance for a 60-day period of jurisdictional discovery to end on January 21, 2019. (See ECF No. 36 at 8.) That 60-day period was extended to February 15, 2019.

         Plaintiffs filed their supplemental response on March 1, 2019. (See ECF No. 61-2.) McFarlane and Textron filed their supplemental replies on March 7, 2019 and March 8, 2019 respectively. (See ECF Nos. 62, 63-1.) As such, Textron's and McFarlane's motions to dismiss are fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), a court may dismiss claims for lack of personal jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). “When a non-resident defendant files a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure challenging the court's power to exercise personal jurisdiction, ‘the jurisdictional question thus raised is one for the judge, with the burden on the plaintiff ultimately to prove the existence of a ground for jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.'” Felman Prod. v. Bannai, 517 F.Supp.2d 824, 827-28 (S.D. W.Va. 2007) (quoting Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989)). However, “[w]here, as here, the district court addresses the question of personal jurisdiction on the basis of motion papers, supporting legal memoranda, and the allegations in the complaint, the plaintiff bears the burden of making a prima facie showing of a sufficient jurisdictional basis to survive the jurisdictional challenge.” Consulting Eng'rs Corp. v. Geometric Ltd., 561 F.3d 273, 276 (4th Cir. 2009). “In considering whether the plaintiff has met this burden, the district court must construe all relevant pleading allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, assume credibility, and draw the most favorable inferences for the existence of jurisdiction.” Universal Leather, LLC v. Koro AR, S.A., 773 F.3d 553, 558 (4th Cir. 2014) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A federal court sitting in diversity, “has personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant if (1) an applicable state long-arm statute confers jurisdiction and (2) the assertion of that jurisdiction is consistent with constitutional due process.” Perdue Foods LLC v. BRF S.A., 814 F.3d 185, 188 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Nichols v. G.D. Searle & Co., 991 F.2d 1195, 1199 (4th Cir. 1993)). Here, because the West Virginia long-arm statute “‘is coextensive with the full reach of due process,' the Court need not conduct ‘the normal two-step formula.'” Knisely v. Nat'l Better Living Ass'n, No. 3:14-cv-15, 2015 WL 1868819, at *8 (N.D. W.Va. Apr. 23, 2015) (quoting In re Celotex Corp., 124 F.3d 619, 627 (4th Cir. 1997)). Thus, the Court's statutory inquiry merges with the constitutional inquiry and the Court need only consider whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction in the present case would be consistent with the Due Process Clause. See Id. (quoting In re Celotex Corp., 124 F.3d at 628).

         “A court's exercise of jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant comports with due process if the defendant has ‘minimum contacts' with the forum, such that to require the defendant to defend its interests in that state ‘does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Carefirst of Md., Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 397 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). A defendant's contacts may establish either general or specific jurisdiction. See Perdue Foods, 814 F.3d at 189.

         General, or all purpose, jurisdiction over a nonresident corporate defendant exists if the defendant's contacts with the forum state are so “continuous and systemic” as to render the defendant “at home” in the forum state. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 139 (2014). Generally, a corporation is at home only where it is incorporated and where it has its principal place of business. See Id. at 137. While the Supreme Court has not foreclosed the possibility that a corporation could be at home in a state where it is neither incorporated nor has its principal place of business, it has made it clear that “[a] corporation that operates in many places can scarcely be deemed at home in all of them.” Id. at 139 n.20.

         Specific personal jurisdiction over a corporate defendant exists if the suit “arises out of or relates to the defendant's contacts with the forum” and defendant has “‘purposefully established minimum contacts in the forum State' such ‘that [it] should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.'” Daimler, 571 U.S. at 127; see also Perdue Foods, 814 F.3d at 189 (quoting Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474 (1985)). The Fourth Circuit has directed its courts to look at the following to determine whether specific personal jurisdiction exists:

(1) the extent to which the defendant purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum state; (2) whether the plaintiff's claims arose out of those activities; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction is constitutionally reasonable.

Universal Leather, 773 F.3d at 559. “The ‘touchstone' of the specific jurisdiction analysis is whether the defendant ‘engaged in some activity purposefully directed toward the forum state.'” Sarver v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 2:14-cv-19968, 2016 WL 482994, at *3 ...


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