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Rio v. Ipeco Holdings, Ltd.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

February 1, 2018

LOURDES DEL RIO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
IPECO HOLDINGS, LTD., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          THE HONORABLE JOHN C. COUGHENOUR, JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Ipeco Holdings, Ltd.'s (“Ipeco”) motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 66) and Plaintiffs' motion for an award of costs and fees (Dkt. No. 67). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court hereby DENIES Ipeco's motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 66) and DENIES Plaintiffs' motion for an award of costs and fees (Dkt. No. 67) for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         This is a product liability action brought by a group of American Airlines crewmembers and their spouses. (Dkt. No. 67 at 6.) Plaintiffs allege that they endured a near-death experience while on a flight from New York to Argentina caused by a defective first-officer's seat (the “Subject Seat”) designed and manufactured by Ipeco. (Dkt. No. 1 at 8-10.)

         On October 3, 2014, American Airlines Flight 953 departed JFK International Airport in New York bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Id. at 8.) Just over 100 miles north of Buenos Aires, the plane experienced a sudden negative g-force descent, causing passengers and crewmembers to hit the cabin ceiling as well as other inflight disorder. (Id. at 9.) Plaintiffs allege this unexpected descent occurred because a switch on the Subject Seat caused it to be moved into the full-forward position leading to an inadvertent disengagement of the plane's autopilot function. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiffs further allege that design and manufacturing defects with the Subject Seat and its components caused this unsafe condition. (Id.) The pilots were eventually able to overcome the emergency and safely land the plane in Buenos Aires. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiffs allege physical, mental, and emotional injuries as a result of the inflight incident. (Id.)

         The subject plane was a Boeing 777-200, manufactured by Defendant the Boeing Company (“Boeing”). (Id. at 8.) The Subject Seat was designed and manufactured by Ipeco at its facilities in the United Kingdom. (Dkt. No. 66-2 at 2.) Post-production, Ipeco is alleged to have shipped the seat to Boeing at its manufacturing plant in Everett, Washington. (Dkt. No. 67-7 at 2.) Boeing installed the seat during the manufacturing of the subject plane, which it then sold to American Airlines. (Dkt. No. 67-5 at 1.)

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs initially brought suit in the Central District of California against Boeing and Ipeco's U.S. subsidiary, Ipeco Inc. (“Ipeco USA”). (Dkt. Nos. 67-1, 67-4, 66-2 at 3.) Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit when they learned that Ipeco USA was not a proper party because it did not manufacture the Subject Seat. (Dkt. No. 67 at 7.) Plaintiffs subsequently refiled their lawsuit against Boeing and Ipeco in the Eastern District of New York. (Id.) Plaintiffs chose New York because Boeing had offices in the state, the flight had departed from New York, and Plaintiffs believed, incorrectly, that Ipeco had shipped the Subject Seat to New York. (Id.)

         Ipeco moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. (Dkt. No. 33.) After the New York Court, Honorable Carol B. Amon, ordered jurisdictional discovery, Plaintiffs learned that Ipeco had shipped the Subject Seat from Great Britain to Washington. (Dkt. No. 67-7 at 8.) Rather than respond to Ipeco's motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs asked Judge Amon to transfer the case to the Western District of Washington. (Dkt. Nos. 33, 67-3 at 3.) After a hearing, Judge Amon granted Plaintiffs' motion to transfer the case to this Court. (Dkt. Nos. 42, 67-3 at 28.)

         This Court was assigned the case on May 2, 2017. (Dkt. No. 43.) On June 6, 2017, Ipeco filed an answer to Plaintiffs' complaint. (Dkt. No. 63.) On November 11, 2017, the parties appeared before the Court for a status conference. (Dkt. No. 65.) On December 14, 2017, Ipeco filed this motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. (Dkt. No. 66.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Rule 12(b)(2) Motion for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

         When a defendant moves to dismiss a case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating personal jurisdiction exists. See Sher v. Johnson, 911 F.2d 1357, 1361 (9th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). If a 12(b)(2) motion is supported only by written materials, such as the pleadings and affidavits, “the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdictional facts.” Id. The Court must resolve conflicts in the documentary evidence in favor of the plaintiff. Rio Properties, Inc. v. Rio Int'l Interlink, 284 F.3d 1007, 1019 (9th Cir. 2002).

         At the outset, the Court must resolve a factual dispute regarding Ipeco's contacts with Washington. The parties present conflicting evidence about whether Ipeco shipped the Subject Seat from Great Britain to Washington or whether Boeing arranged for shipment. (Compare Dkt. No. 66-2 at 2, with Dkt. Nos. 67-3, 67-4, 67-6, 67-7.) Ipeco included with its motion a declaration from its Finance Director Sara Nash, who stated the following regarding the shipment of the Subject Seat:

Ipeco Holdings made the Subject Seat available to Boeing for pickup at Ipeco Holdings' facilities in the United Kingdom, and shipment of the Subject Seat from the United Kingdom to Boeing's facilities in Washington State was arranged for by Boeing pursuant to Boeing's shipping instructions and Boeing's choice of mode of transportation.

(Dkt. No. 66-2 at 2.) Based on Nash's declaration, Ipeco argues that it was not involved in shipping the Subject Seat to Washington. (Dkt. No. 66 at 14.) Plaintiffs answer with significant evidence that Ipeco shipped-or was at least involved in shipping-the Subject Seat.

         First, Plaintiffs point to the seat's sales invoice. (Dkt. No. 67-7.) The Ipeco-generated invoice indicates that the seat was to be shipped to Boeing's plant in Everett, Washington and lists the method of shipment. (Id.) Next, Plaintiffs point to two declarations filed by Ipeco USA in the prior lawsuit in California. (Dkt. Nos. 67-4, 67-6.) One is from Ipeco USA's General Manager who stated “Ipeco UK sells and ships all new and replacement Flight Deck Seats for use on Boeing commercial aircraft directly to Boeing . . . .” (Dkt. No. 67-4 at 3.) The second is from Boeing's procurement agent for Ipeco flight deck seats who stated “Boeing orders the seats directly from IPECO Holdings, Ltd. in the United Kingdom; thereafter IPECO Holdings, Ltd. ships the seats directly from the United Kingdom to Boeing in Washington.” (Dkt. No. 67-6 at 3.)

         Finally, Plaintiffs point to a statement made by Ipeco's counsel during the hearing before Judge Amon to determine whether the case should be transferred to this Court. Ipeco's counsel stated on the record: “We should never have been in the Eastern District of New York when in September of 2016, we gave them a declaration that said Ipeco Holdings ships seats directly from the United Kingdom to Boeing in Washington.” (Dkt. No. 67-3 at 11.)

         Given this competing evidence, the Court must resolve the dispute in favor of the Plaintiffs. The Court concludes for the purposes of this motion that Ipeco shipped the Subject Seat to Washington.[1]

         B. Plaintiffs' Theories of Personal Jurisdiction

         Ipeco asserts that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction because the company has only minimal contacts with Washington that are unrelated to the claims in this lawsuit. (Dkt. No. 66 at 10.) Plaintiffs oppose the motion on three grounds. First, they argue Ipeco consented to personal jurisdiction based on its litigation conduct. (Dkt. No. 67 at 12.) Second, Plaintiffs argue the issue of personal jurisdiction was mooted when Judge Amon transferred the case to this Court. (Id. at 14.) Third, Plaintiffs assert this Court has ...


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