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Hodjera v. BASF Catalysts, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

May 17, 2017

BASF CATALYSTS LLC, et al ., Defendants.


          A Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on defendant Whittaker, Clark & Daniels, Inc.'s motion to dismiss. Dkt. ## 17, 18, 29.[1] Plaintiffs Matthew and Sylvia Hodjera, a married couple, allege that Mr. Hodjera's mesothelioma was proximately caused by various corporate defendants' manufacture, sale, and/or distribution of asbestos-containing products. Defendant Whittaker, Clark & Daniels, Inc. (“WCD”) moves to dismiss, arguing that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it. WCD further argues that the complaint fails to include any factual allegations regarding WCD and thus fails to state a claim against it. Having reviewed the memoranda, declarations, and exhibits submitted by the parties, the Court grants the motion for the reasons that follow.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the complaint, Mr. Hodjera was exposed to asbestos or asbestos-containing products in Toronto, Ontario, between 1986 and 1994. Dkt. # 1-1 at 4. On May 20, 2016, Mr. Hodjera was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Id.

         On December 2, 2016, plaintiffs filed suit in King County Superior Court, alleging that Mr. Hodjera's mesothelioma had been proximately caused by the manufacture, sale, and/or distribution of asbestos-containing products by the following defendants: BASF Catalysts LLC; BorgWarner Morse Tec Inc.; Central Precision Limited; Charles B. Chrystal Company, Inc.; Dana Companies, LLC; Dana Canada Corp.; DAP Products, Inc.; Felt Products Mfg. Co.; Honeywell International Inc.; Imerys Talc America, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc.; Pneumo Abex LLC; Union Carbide Corporation; Vanderbilt Minerals LLC; Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft; Volkswagen Group of Canada; Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.; Whittaker, Clark & Daniels, Inc.; and Does 1-350, inclusive. Dkt. # 1-1 at 2-3. On January 11, 2017, defendant Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. removed the case. Dkt. # 1. Various motions to dismiss are now pending before the Court.


         WCD argues that the complaint fails to allege facts supporting either personal jurisdiction over WCD or a plausible claim for relief against WCD. Because the Court finds that it lacks personal jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims against WCD, it does not reach the question whether plaintiffs have successfully pled those claims.

         WCD is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in Stamford, Connecticut. Dkt. # 19-2, ¶ 3. WCD ceased all active business operations in February 2004 and currently exists to manage assets and liabilities. Id., ¶ 4. WCD has no real property, offices, employees, or registered agents in Washington state. Id., ¶¶ 5-8. The complaint contains no allegations regarding WCD: no mention of WCD's product, no discussion of Mr. Hodjera's contact with that product, no allegation that WCD's products were present in Toronto between 1986 and 1994. Indeed, after listing WCD as a defendant in the caption, the complaint does not mention WCD at all. See generally Dkt. # 1-1.

         Due process requires a district court to have personal jurisdiction over a defendant in order to adjudicate a claim against it. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 753 (2014). Plaintiffs have the burden of demonstrating that the Court may exercise personal jurisdiction over WCD. Harris Rutsky & Co. Ins. Services, Inc. v. Bell & Clements Ltd., 328 F.3d 1122, 1128-29 (9th Cir. 2003). Absent an evidentiary hearing, plaintiffs need only make, through the submission of pleadings and affidavits, a prima facie showing of facts supporting personal jurisdiction to avoid dismissal. Myers v. Bennett Law Offices, 238 F.3d 1068, 1071 (9th Cir. 2001). Provided the long-arm statute of the state in which the Court sits permits the Court's exercise of personal jurisdiction, [3] there are two ways to establish that the Court has personal jurisdiction over a particular defendant. Id. at 753-55. This order considers each in turn.

         A. General Jurisdiction

         A defendant is subject to a court's general personal jurisdiction when its contacts are “so constant and pervasive as to render it essentially at home” in the forum. Daimler AG, 134 S.Ct. at 751 (internal quotation and brackets omitted). General jurisdiction over a party ensures personal jurisdiction over that party for any claim, regardless of that claim's relationship to the forum. Id. at 761. WCD argues that it has no contacts with Washington state, let alone contacts “so constant and pervasive as to render it essentially at home” here. Plaintiffs do not dispute this point. The Court lacks general jurisdiction over WCD.

         B. Specific Jurisdiction

         A defendant may also be sued in a forum where it has minimal contacts, provided those contacts are purposefully directed at the forum, the claim arises out of those contacts, and the exercise of jurisdiction over that party is reasonable. See Pebble Beach Co. v. Caddy, 453 F.3d 1151, 1155 (9th Cir. 2006).

         Plaintiffs argue that Mr. Hodjera's illness was caused in part by his use of cosmetic products containing talc that WCD had sold. Dkt. # 51 at 2. To establish personal jurisdiction over WCD, plaintiffs argue that WCD purposefully availed itself of this Washington forum by selling talc to Johnson & Johnson for nationwide distribution in cosmetic products. Dkt. # 51 at 2. Plaintiffs attach a portion of deposition testimony explaining that WCD built a talc plant, called Metropolitan Talc, with the goal of supplying customers with talc produced by that plant. Dkt. # 52-3 at 9. Plaintiffs also attach a 1970 letter from the president of Metropolitan ...

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