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Young v. American Talc Co.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

November 21, 2017

VICKIE YOUNG, as Personal Representative of the Estate of JAMES NATHAN RHODES, Plaintiff,
AMERICAN TALC COMPANY, et al. Defendants.


          Loretta C. Biggs United States District Judge

         Master Industries, Inc. (“Master Industries”) and Master Industries Worldwide, LLC (“Master Worldwide”), (collectively “the Master Defendants”), move to dismiss the claims against them for lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF Nos. 275, 282.) For the reasons set forth below, the Master Defendants' motions to dismiss will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         James Nathan Rhodes was diagnosed with mesothelioma on or about April 2, 2013 and died on October 20, 2013. (ECF No. 306 ¶ 2.) According to the Complaint, [1] Mr. Rhodes “contract[ed] an incurable asbestos cancer . . . as a result of breathing asbestos dust.” (Id. ¶ 7.) Mr. Rhodes “worked full days as a boiler room, turbine room and powerhouse mechanic and . . . was exposed to asbestos beginning in approximately 1966.” (Id.) In addition, Plaintiff alleges that “Mr. Rhodes was an avid bowler” who “bowled regularly in Kannapolis, North Carolina, Salisbury, North Carolina and Rock Hill, South Carolina, ” from the 1990's through 2013. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 14B.) Plaintiff further alleges that Mr. Rhodes “regularly and frequently” used Easy Slide, a product manufactured by the Master Defendants, which he applied to the sole of his bowling shoe “to allow him to slide on the approach to throwing the ball to the pins.” (Id. ¶¶ 10, 11.) According to Plaintiff, Easy Slide “was a talc- or powder-based product that also contained substantial amounts of carcinogenic asbestos fibers.” (Id. ¶ 11.)

         Master Industries, founded in 1969 and dissolved effective November 15, 2012, was a California corporation, with its principal place of business in California. (ECF No. 282-1 ¶¶ 2, 3, 6.) The company “manufactured and distributed various bowling products and accessories, ” including Easy Slide. (Id. ¶ 5.) Effective January 1, 2012, Master Worldwide, “a separate, distinct and wholly unrelated entity” from Master Industries, “purchased the assets, but not the liabilities, of Master Industries.” (ECF No. 275-1 ¶ 3; ECF No. 282-1 ¶ 4.) Master Worldwide is a “Utah limited liability company which was formed . . . on June 29, 2011.” (ECF No. 275-1 ¶ 2.) Like Master Industries, Master Worldwide “manufactures and distributes bowling products and accessories.” (Id. ¶ 4.) “One of the product lines purchased from Master Industries . . . [was] the ‘Easy Slide' product.” (Id.)

         In response to the Master Defendants' motions to dismiss, Plaintiff requested limited jurisdictional discovery on the issue of specific personal jurisdiction.[2] (ECF Nos. 291, 292 at 2.) The Court granted Plaintiff's Motion for Limited Jurisdictional Discovery. (ECF No. 324.) Following the close of the limited discovery period, the parties submitted supplemental briefs on the issue of personal jurisdiction, (ECF Nos. 334, 335, 336), as ordered by the Court, (ECF Nos. 328, 330). The Court heard oral argument on November 3, 2017 pursuant to Plaintiff's request, (ECF No. 488), and during the hearing the Court granted the Master Defendants' motions to dismiss. The following serves as the basis for the Court's ruling in this matter.


         When a nonresident defendant challenges personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the jurisdictional issue is for the judge to resolve with the plaintiff having to bear the ultimate burden of proving jurisdiction. See Grayson v. Anderson, 816 F.3d 262, 267 (4th Cir. 2016); Carefirst of Md., Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003).

         The Fourth Circuit has observed that the plaintiff's burden of proof “varies according to the [procedural] posture of [the] case and the evidence that has been presented to the court.” Grayson, 816 F.3d at 268. Ordinarily, where a court decides a pretrial personal jurisdiction motion without conducting an evidentiary hearing-relying instead on motion papers, supporting legal memoranda, and allegations in the complaint-the plaintiff only has to make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction. Consulting Eng'rs Corp. v. Geometric Ltd., 561 F.3d 273, 276 (4th Cir. 2009). Where, however, the parties have engaged in discovery on the issue of personal jurisdiction and have submitted evidence beyond the pleadings, as in this case, the court “must hold the plaintiff to its burden of proving facts, by a preponderance of the evidence, that demonstrate the court's personal jurisdiction over the defendant.” Grayson, 816 F.3d at 268; see also AARP v. Am. Family Prepaid Legal Corp., 604 F.Supp.2d 785, 797 (M.D. N.C. 2009) (holding the plaintiff to a preponderance of the evidence standard because the parties had engaged in jurisdictional discovery).


         “The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment constrains a State's authority to bind a nonresident defendant to a judgment of its courts.” Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 1121 (2014). A federal district court can exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant only if “(1) such jurisdiction is authorized by the long-arm statute of the state in which the district court sits; and (2) application of the relevant long-arm statute is consistent with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Universal Leather, LLC v. Koro AR, S.A., 773 F.3d 553, 558 (4th Cir. 2014). North Carolina's long-arm statute “permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction . . . to the outer limits allowable under federal due process.” Id.; Dillon v. Numismatic Funding Corp., 231 S.E.2d 629, 630-31 ( N.C. 1977) (holding that, by enacting N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-75.4(1)(d), the North Carolina General Assembly “intended to make available to the North Carolina courts the full jurisdictional powers permissible under federal due process”). The two-prong test, therefore, “merges into [a] single question, ” allowing the court to proceed directly to the constitutional analysis. Universal Leather, 773 F.3d at 558-59; see ESAB Grp., Inc. v. Zurich Ins. PLC, 685 F.3d 376, 391 (4th Cir. 2012).

         Under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, two paths permit a court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant. Universal Leather, 773 F.3d at 559. One path is general jurisdiction, “which permits a court to assert jurisdiction over a defendant based on a forum connection unrelated to the underlying suit.” Walden, 134 S.Ct. at 1121 n.6. The other path is specific jurisdiction, which “depends on an ‘affiliatio[n] between the forum and the underlying controversy.'” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011)). As previously stated, Plaintiff seeks only to proceed on a “claim of specific not general jurisdiction.” (ECF No. 336 at 1 n.1 (citing ECF No. 292 at 2).) The Court will, therefore, confine its analysis to whether it has specific jurisdiction over the Master Defendants.

         Specific jurisdiction requires “that the relevant conduct have such a connection with the forum state that it is fair for the defendant to defend itself in that state.” CFA Inst. v. Inst. of Chartered Fin. Analysts of India, 551 F.3d 285, 292 n.15 (4th Cir. 2009); Universal Leather, 773 F.3d at 559 (recognizing that the touchstone of the specific jurisdictional inquiry is fairness). A court may exercise specific jurisdiction when “the defendant has purposefully directed [its] activities at residents of the forum and the litigation results from alleged injuries that arise out of or relate to those activities.” Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985) (quotations and citation omitted). The Fourth Circuit employs a three-prong test to determine whether the exercise of specific jurisdiction comports with the requirements of due process: “(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 (alteration in original) (quoting Tire Eng'g & Distribution, LLC v. Shandong Linglong Rubber Co., 682 F.3d 292, 302 (4th Cir. 2012)). Only if the court finds that the plaintiff has satisfied the purposeful availment prong does the court need to consider the remaining prongs of the specific jurisdiction test articulated by the Fourth Circuit. Consulting Eng'rs, 561 F.3d at 278.

         The “purposeful availment” prong of the specific jurisdiction analysis “ensures that a defendant will not be haled into a jurisdiction solely as a result of random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts.” Burger King, 471 U.S. at 475 (quotations and citation omitted). It is rooted in the concept of minimum contacts and contemplates whether “the defendant's conduct and connection with the forum [s]tate are such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.” Universal Leather, 773 F.3d at 559 (alteration in original) (quoting Fed. Ins. Co. v. Lake Shore, Inc., 886 F.2d 654, 658 (4th Cir. 1989)). The analysis is “flexible” and involves a ...

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