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Indemnity Insurance Co. of North America v. K-Line America

June 14, 2007

INDEMNITY INSURANCE COMPANY OF NORTH AMERICA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
K-LINE AMERICA, INC., ET. AL., DEFENDANTS.
K-LINE AMERICA, INC., ET. AL. THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WORLD COMMERCE SERVICES, LLC, ET. AL., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara S. Jones United States District Judge

Opinion & Order

The seven cases consolidated herein arise out of a 30-car train derailment and involve more than a dozen parties who have filed numerous pleadings and amended pleadings, including various complaints, third-party complaints, crossclaims, and counterclaims.*fn1 Before the Court are (1) the Motion of Third-Party Defendant Plano Molding Co. ("Plano") to Dismiss the Third-Party Complaint of Defendants / Third-Party Plaintiffs KLine America, Inc. ("KLA") and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd. ("Kawasaki") (jointly, "K-line"); (2) the Motion of Third-Party Defendant CMT International, Inc. ("CMT") to Dismiss the Third-Party Complaint of K-Line; and (3) Plano's Motion to Dismiss the Third-Party Complaint of Defendant / Third-Party Plaintiff Union Pacific Railroad ("Union Pacific"). All three Motions assert, inter alia, lack of personal jurisdiction. For the reasons stated herein, all three Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Court does not dismiss the Third-Party Complaints of K-Line and Union Pacific insofar as they assert causes of action against Third-Party Defendants other than Plano and CMT.

The Parties

Defendant / Third-Party Plaintiff Kawasaki, a Japanese corporation with its principal place of business in Japan, is a common carrier that provides "intermodal" transportation across ocean and land routes. Defendant / Third-Party Plaintiff KLA, a Michigan corporation with its principal place of business in Virginia, acts as an agent for Kawasaki.*fn2 Defendant / Third-Party Plaintiff Union Pacific, a Delaware corporation with its headquarters in Nebraska, operates rail lines throughout the United States. Third-Party Defendant Plano, an Illinois corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois, designs and manufactures storage systems and organizers such as fishing tackle boxes, tool boxes, and cosmetic organizers. Third-Party Defendant CMT, also an Illinois corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois, imports injection molds and exports electronic components such as integrated circuit chips. Third-Party Defendant Kunshan Yuanjin Plastic & Electronic Co., Ltd. ("Kunshan"), a business entity of unknown form and domicile, operates a manufacturing business in China.

Background and Procedural History

Plano allegedly contracted with CMT to purchase certain steel molds used in its manufacturing business. The molds were allegedly manufactured by Kunshan in China, shipped to California, and transferred to Union Pacific for delivery by train to Illinois. On or about April 21, 2005, the train allegedly derailed at or near Tyrone, Oklahoma due to improper packing and stowing of the steel molds.

On January 25, 2006 Plaintiff Indemnity Insurance Company of North America ("Indemnity"), as subrogee of its insureds Arvin Meritor/Arvin Sango Sales Corporation and XL Screw, filed a Complaint against Defendants KLA, Kawasaki, and Union Pacific, alleging various causes of action relating to cargo damaged in the train derailment, specifically, auto parts and screws. KLA, Kawasaki, and Union Pacific are allegedly common carriers responsible for delivery of the damaged cargo. On February 9, 2006, Defendants / Third-Party Plaintiffs KLA and Kawasaki (jointly, "K-Line") filed a Third-Party Complaint sounding in admiralty and maritime law seeking indemnification from, inter alia, Third-Party Defendants Plano Molding Co. ("Plano") and CMT International, Inc. ("CMT"). K-Line alleges that all its claims against Plano and CMT are subject to admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. On March 15, 2006, the Court referred this matter to Magistrate Judge Debra C. Freeman for general pretrial supervision.

On March 17, 2006, Defendant / Third-Party Plaintiff Union Pacific filed a Third-Party Complaint asserting negligence claims and claims sounding in admiralty and maritime law against, inter alia, Plano and CMT. Union Pacific alleges that the Court has diversity jurisdiction over its negligence claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and admiralty and maritime jurisdiction over its admiralty claims.

On March 24, 2006, Third-Party Defendant CMT moved to dismiss the Third-Party Complaint of K-Line pursuant to Rules 12(b)(2) and (12)(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On May 1, 2006, Third-Party Defendant Plano moved to dismiss the Third-Party Complaint of KLine pursuant to Rules 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. On May 31, 2006 Plano also moved to dismiss the Third-Party Complaint of Union Pacific pursuant to the same Rules and on the same grounds. Magistrate Judge Freeman granted limited jurisdictional discovery at a conference with all the parties on September 26, 2006. Post-discovery supplemental memoranda and affidavits were fully submitted as of March 15, 2007.

Discussion

I. Standard of Review

"In deciding a pretrial motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction a district court has considerable procedural leeway. It may determine the motion on the basis of affidavits alone; or it may permit discovery in aid of the motion; or it may conduct an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the motion." Marine Midland Bank, N.A. v. Miller, 664 F.2d 899, 904 (2d Cir. 1981); Credit Lyonnais Sec. (USA) Inc. v. Alcantara, 183 F.3d 151, 153 (2d Cir. 1999). The Court decides the instant Motions with the benefit of jurisdictional discovery but without an evidentiary hearing.

"When responding to a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the [Third-Party] plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the Court has jurisdiction over the [Third-Party] defendant" by a preponderance of the evidence. DiStefano v. Carozzi North America, Inc., 286 F.3d 81, 84 (2d Cir. 2001) (quotation omitted); Landoil Res. Corp. v. Alexander & Alexander Servs., Inc., 918 F.2d 1039, 1043 (2d Cir. 1990). Since the Court has not conducted an evidentiary hearing, the Court construes all pleadings and affidavits in the light most favorable to the Third-Party Plaintiffs and resolves all doubts in their favor. Id.; DiStefano, 286 F.3d at 84. However, the Third-Party Plaintiffs must assert facts sufficient to establish jurisdiction and cannot merely rely on their pleadings:

[T]he nature of the plaintiff's obligation varies depending on the procedural posture of the litigation. Prior to discovery, a plaintiff challenged by a jurisdiction testing motion may defeat the motion by pleading in good faith . . . legally sufficient allegations of jurisdiction. At that preliminary stage, the plaintiff's prima facie showing may be established solely by allegations. After discovery, the plaintiff's prima facie showing, necessary to defeat a jurisdiction testing motion, must include an averment of facts that, if credited by the trier, would suffice to establish jurisdiction over the defendant.

Ball v. Metallurgie Hoboken-Overpelt, S.A., 902 F.2d 194, 197 (2d Cir. 1990). Mere conclusory allegations are insufficient to support a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction. Jazini by Jazini v. Nissan Motor Co., 148 F.3d 181, 185 (2d Cir. 1998); Global View Ltd. Venture Capital v. Great Central Basin Exploration L.L.C., 288 F. Supp. 2d 482, 484 (S.D.N.Y. 2003).

II. Personal Jurisdiction over Plano

In both admiralty and diversity cases, the law of the forum state -- here, New York -- determines whether the Court has personal jurisdiction over a party. Klinghoffer v. S.N.C. Achille Lauro Ed Altri-Gestione Motonave Achille, 937 F.2d 44, 50 (2d Cir. 1991) (admiralty); Savin v. Ranier, 898 F.2d 304, 306 (2d Cir. 1990) (diversity). If the forum state's law supports jurisdiction, then the Court must determine whether jurisdiction comports with constitutional due process requirements, namely, that the defendant has "certain minimum contacts with [the forum] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (quotations omitted); see Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235 (1958). For the following reasons, New York Law does not support personal jurisdiction over Plano.

A. General Personal Jurisdiction Under CPLR § 301: "Doing Business"

K-Line argues that the Court has jurisdiction over Plano pursuant to Section 301 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules ("CPLR").*fn3 Section 301, as construed by New York courts, authorizes general personal jurisdiction over a foreign corporation if the corporation is "engaged in such a continuous and systematic course of doing business here as to warrant a finding of its presence in this jurisdiction." Landoil, 918 F.2d at 1043 (quoting McGowan v. Smith, 52 N.Y.2d 268, 272, 419 N.E.2d 321, 323 (1981))(citing cases). The foreign corporation must be present in New York "'not occasionally or casually, but with a fair measure of permanence and continuity.'" Id. (quoting Tauza v. Susquehanna Coal Corp., 220 N.Y. 259, 267, 115 N.E. 915, 917 (1917)).

New York courts have generally focused on the following indicia of jurisdiction: [1] the existence of an office in New York; [2] the solicitation of business in New York; [3] the presence of bank accounts or other property in New York; and [4] the presence of employees or agents in New York. However, the solicitation of business alone will not justify a finding of corporate presence in New York with respect to a foreign manufacturer or purveyor of services. Id. at 1043-44 (quotations omitted). Under the so-called "solicitation plus" test for jurisdiction, the Court first determines whether a foreign corporation's solicitation in New York is substantial and continuous, and if it is, then the corporation is properly subject to general personal jurisdiction under Section 301 so long as the corporation also "engages in other activities of substance in the state." Overseas Media, Inc. v. Skvortsov, 407 F. Supp. 2d 563, 569 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (citing Landoil, 918 F. 2d at 1044); see Beacon Enters., Inc. v. Menzies, 715 F.2d 757, 763 (2d Cir. 1983) ("To sustain personal jurisdiction, New York courts require substantial solicitation that is carried on with a considerable measure of continuity . . . .") (quotations omitted). The exercise of jurisdiction under CPLR 301 is "a fact-sensitive determination requiring a balancing of all relevant factual circumstances." Landoil, 918 F.2d at 1044.

B. Plano's Contacts with New York

Viewed in the light most favorable to K-Line, the pleadings, affidavits, and discovery materials establish the following facts: Plano is an Illinois corporation, and its headquarters are located in Plano, Illinois. Plano has no office or employees in New York. Plano does not sell its products directly to consumers in New York. Plano sells its products from its headquarters in Illinois to retail stores who have branches in New York, and those retail stores then re-sell its products to consumers. At least 22 retail stores in New York carry Plano's merchandise, including large national retailers like Wal-Mart and Lowe's. Plano sales employees in Illinois sometimes visit retailers in New York who purchase Plano products. (Hurt Dep. 37-39.)*fn4 Plano's sales in New York constitute between 2.2% and 2.7% of its total sales. (K-Line Mem. Opp. 7; Siroky Aff. ¶ 25.) Plano has made more than 2000 shipments to New York, and its total sales in New York exceed $9 million. Plano's website directs visitors to retail stores in New York and elsewhere that carry its products.

Plano uses a sales representative located in New York, the Thomas F. Gowen Company ("Gowen"), to service its retail accounts in New York. (Hurt Dep. 51.) Plano pays Gowen on a commission basis to find customers for Plano's products in New York. (Hurt Dep. 52.)

Plano uses an international exporter based in New York, the G. Hirschfeldt Company, L.L.C., ("Hirschfeldt"). (K-Line Mem. Opp. 8; Siroky Aff. ¶ 26.) Their arrangement proceeds as follows: Hirschfeldt places and pays for an order with Plano's headquarters, Plano ships the goods to Hirschfeldt in New York, and Hirschfeldt then ships the goods to international buyers it has solicited. (Hurt Dep. 46.) None of the goods Hirschfeldt purchases from Plano are sold in New York.

Plano also has a relationship with two local fishermen in New York. These fishermen -- called "pro staff" -- receive new Plano products and other promotional materials from Plano. The pro staff attend events such as store openings to promote Plano products. The pro staff receive no compensation from Plano apart from promotional materials.

Plano regularly advertises in 15-20 magazines, some of which circulate in New York. (Hurt Dep. 41.) The purpose of its print advertisements is to make its products known to customers who read those magazines, some of whom live in New York. (Id.) Plano also advertises in five or six weekly television shows which are seen by people who live in New York. (Hurt Dep. 43.)

There is a telephone listing for "Plano Molding" in New York, but it is maintained by DoubleClick, Inc., not Plano. Plano representatives attended a toy fair in New York in the early/mid 1990s. (Hurt Dep. 18-20) During the fair, Plano rented a ...


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