Michigan Court Examines Specific Personal Jurisdiction Husch Blackwell LLP


[co-author: Lazaro Aguiar ]

In Murphy v. Viad Corporation, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan recently considered the issue of specific personal jurisdiction in the context of asbestos claims under the standard established by the United States Supreme Court in his recent decision in Ford Motor Co. v. Mountain. Eighth judicial district. To research. In so doing, the Court emphasized that specific jurisdiction cannot be established when the products in question have never been sold or marketed in this forum.


On April 21, 2021, Timothy Murphy (“Murphy” or “the Plaintiff”) filed an asbestos product liability action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan after receiving diagnosed with asbestosis in 2018. Murphy alleged exposure to asbestos while serving in the US Navy aboard the USS Frank E. Evans (“Evans”) in the 1960s while he was stationed in Long Beach, California. Murphy sued the defendant Viad Corporation (“Viad”) for liabilities relating to the freshwater distillation equipment manufactured by Griscom-Russell and installed on board the Evans. In his complaint, the plaintiff asserted that the Court had specific personal jurisdiction over Viad; The plaintiff never claimed that the tribunal had personal jurisdiction through general jurisdiction. Viad then filed a motion for dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Court decision

The Court began its analysis by stating that in order to demonstrate specific jurisdiction over a defendant, the plaintiff’s claims must satisfy both Michigan law and due constitutional process. Here, using the three-fold test established by 6e Circuit Court of Appeal, the Court determined that specific jurisdiction would be established if:

(1) Viad deliberately used Michigan;

(2) The cause of action must arise out of Viad’s Michigan business; and

(3) There is a substantial connection between Viad and Michigan, so the exercise of personal jurisdiction is reasonable.

See Intera Corp. vs. Henderson, 428 F. 3d 605 (6e Cir.) The plaintiff argued that Viad’s predecessor, Griscom-Russell, manufactured and distributed hundreds of thousands of products from 1912 to 1964 in commerce and that these products were specifically brought to the State of Michigan. Further, the plaintiff argued that the defendant “marketed and sold a line of fungible heat exchanger products in Michigan and encouraged local businesses to purchase heat exchangers.” Although the Court noted that Plaintiff’s complaint lacked “specificity,” the Court nonetheless found that Viad may have deliberately availed itself of Michigan’s privileges through its transactions in the State, even though those transactions involved a product. different from the one that would have caused the injuries.

The Court noted, however, that deliberate use alone is not sufficient to confer specific jurisdiction and that there must always be a substantial connection between Viad and Michigan so that the exercise of personal jurisdiction is reasonable. . For a substantial connection to exist, the plaintiff’s claims must “arise out of” or “relate to” the defendant’s contacts in the State.. See Ford Motor Co. v. Mountain. Eighth judicial district. To research, 141 S. Ct. 1017 (2021). The applicant argued that, under the recent Supreme Court decision in Ford Motor Co. v. Mountain. Eighth judicial district. To research, the respondent’s relationship with Michigan was sufficient to establish specific jurisdiction. In Ford, the Supreme Court held that the defendant was subject to personal jurisdiction in Montana for claims arising from an accident involving one of its vehicles simply because (1) the accident occurred in Montana and (2 ) the defendant did substantial business in advertising, selling, and servicing the plaintiff’s vehicle model in Montana. Therefore, the Supreme Court found that the defendant had a close relationship with the state forum and the claims related to the conduct of the defendants in Montana.

In this case, the plaintiff argued that Viad’s relationship with Michigan was akin to Ford’s contact with Montana. First, the plaintiff claimed that Viad’s predecessor allegedly targeted Michigan consumers by selling certain asbestos-containing products (heat exchangers) in the state. Second, the plaintiff alleged that Viad’s predecessor produced the distillation equipment containing asbestos on board the warship to which the plaintiff was exposed. The court, however, determined that the plaintiff’s claims were insufficient to establish specific jurisdiction against the defendant in Michigan. contrary to Ford, where the defendant has done substantial business by advertising, selling and servicing the type of product at issue in the forum state, neither Viad nor his predecessor has ever marketed or sold any distillation equipment freshwater in Michigan. The defendants’ conduct in the State of Michigan involved a completely independent product line and, as such, the court determined that Viad did not reasonably expect to be brought to court in Michigan for claims relating to its freshwater distillation equipment that has never been sold or marketed in Forum State. The Court noted that the fact that two separate products both contained asbestos does not affect the merits of Michigan exercising personal jurisdiction over the defendant. In such circumstances, the Supreme Court made it clear that “specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of a defendant’s unrelated activities in the state”. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Ct. Of California, San Francisco Cty., 137 S. Ct. 1773; OK Ford Motor Co., 141 S. Ct. At 1031.

To take with

Although some have speculated that the Supreme Court’s “tied to” standard set out in Ford will significantly expand specific jurisdiction when it comes to dealing with large national corporations doing business in the United States, this ruling serves as a reminder of the limits to personal jurisdiction under Supreme Court jurisprudence set out in Good year, Daimler, and Bristol myers. The fact that an unrelated line of products may be marketed and sold by a defendant in the forum does not create specific personal jurisdiction over that defendant; the specific product (or type of product) at issue should be the source of the respondent’s contacts within the forum.

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