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Hein v. Taco Bell Inc.

as corrected.: January 22, 1991.

NORMAN HEIN, APPELLANT,
v.
TACO BELL, INC., RESPONDENT



Pekelis, J. Deierlein and Winsor, JJ. Pro Tem., concur.

Author: Pekelis

Dr. Norman Hein appeals the dismissal of his personal injury suit against Taco Bell, Inc., for lack of personal jurisdiction. He contends (1) that the State of Washington has general jurisdiction over Taco Bell pursuant to RCW 4.28.080(10) and (2) that the 1-year California statute of limitations should not be applied to bar his claim pursuant to RCW 4.18.040.

I

Hein is a lifelong resident of Washington State with a graduate degree in dentistry. Taco Bell is a California corporation which operates fast food restaurants in various states and has been qualified to transact business as a foreign corporation in Washington since 1966.

On April 6, 1987, Hein purchased a taco salad at a Taco Bell restaurant in Anaheim, California. After returning to a nearby hotel room, Hein bit into the taco salad and cracked several teeth. He emptied the contents of his mouth and found among the partially chewed greens a three-quarter-inch aluminum staple.

Hein returned to the restaurant and showed the staple to the manager. While recounting what had happened, Hein noticed a large plastic bag of vegetable greens behind the manager, fastened with what he identified as the same type of aluminum staple as that found in his taco salad. The manager gave Hein a Santa Ana, California address and phone number where he could obtain further information about filing a claim.

Shortly after returning to Seattle, Hein wrote to Taco Bell at the address given to him by the manager of the Anaheim restaurant. Four to six weeks later, he received a telephone call from Kevin Shranne, who identified himself as an employee of Taco Bell. Shranne gave Hein another address in Garden Grove, California. Shranne also promised to get back to Hein within a week, reportedly telling him that "he wanted to see what he could do for [Hein]." Hein waited approximately 4 to 6 weeks but Shranne never called back. In July 1987, he wrote another letter to Taco Bell, this time mailing it to the Garden Grove address provided by Shranne. He received no response to this letter.

By March 1988, Hein concluded that Taco Bell was not going to entertain his claim and retained counsel in Washington. On December 13, 1988, he filed a complaint for damages against Taco Bell in King County Superior Court. A copy of the complaint was served on Taco Bell's registered agent, the CT Corporation, in Seattle.

On February 24, 1989, Taco Bell filed a motion to dismiss Hein's lawsuit pursuant to CR 12(b)(2), (3) and (6). Taco Bell argued that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over it, that the applicable California statute of limitations, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code ยง 340(3), had elapsed, and that King County was an inconvenient forum.

On March 24, 1989, the trial court granted dismissal, concluding that it could not exercise personal jurisdiction over Taco Bell. The court did not reach Taco Bell's remaining grounds for dismissal. Reconsideration was denied on September 12, 1989.

II

Hein contends that the trial court had general jurisdiction over Taco Bell pursuant to RCW 4.28.080(10). He argues that Taco Bell is "doing business" in Washington because it conducts continuous and substantial corporate activities in this state.

[1] The plaintiff has the burden of establishing that the trial court has personal jurisdiction. Shute v. Carnival Cruise Lines, 897 F.2d 377, 379 (9th Cir. 1988). Whether the trial court may properly exercise personal jurisdiction is a question of law reviewable de novo when the underlying facts are undisputed. Gray & Co. v. ...


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