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Sutton v. Motor Wheel Corp., LLC

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

May 14, 2018

JACKIE R. SUTTON, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Jhimeric Sutton, Plaintiff,
v.
MOTOR WHEEL CORPORATION, LLC; HAYES LEMMERZ INTERNATIONAL, INC.; CHEETAH CHASSIS CORPORATION; SOUTH ATLANTIC CONSOLIDATED CHASSIS POOL, LLC; CONSOLIDATED CHASSIS MANAGEMENT, INC.; WEIFANG LUYI RUBBER PRODUCTS CO., LTD.; LEOPARD, INC.; HUANGZHOU GENERAL RUBBER FACTORY; and HUANGZHOU ZHONGCE RUBBER CO., LTD., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          MARY GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is an action for negligence, strict liability, and breach of implied warranty. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants Huangzhou General Rubber Factory and Huangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co., Ltd.'s (collectively HZR) motion to dismiss. ECF No. 40. Having carefully considered HZR's motion, the response, the reply, the record, and the applicable law, it is the judgment of the Court HZR's motion to dismiss will be granted.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This case stems out of a death which occurred in June, 2014. ECF No. 1-1 at 6. According to Plaintiff's Complaint, on June 14, 2014, Jhimeric Sutton (Mr. Sutton) was repairing a tire allegedly manufactured by HZR when the pieces of the rim on which the tire was mounted separated with “explosive force.” Id. The pieces of the rim struck Mr. Sutton in the head killing him. Id.

         On March 9, 2017, Plaintiff filed suit in the Court of Common Pleas for Lexington County, South Carolina. Id. at 14-19. On March 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint in that court. Id. at 4-9. Plaintiff's amended complaint brought claims for negligence, strict liability, and breach of implied warranty. Id. Defendants removed the action to this Court on May 4, 2017. ECF No. 1.

         HZR filed its motion to dismiss on September 1, 2017. ECF No. 40. HZR argued Plaintiff's claims against HZR should be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to properly serve HZR and because this Court may not exercise personal jurisdiction over HZR. Id. The Court granted two extensions of time for Plaintiff to respond to HZR's motion to dismiss. ECF Nos. 42, 46. On November 20, 2017, the Court issued an Order granting Plaintiff's motion to stay the deadline to respond to HZR's motion to dismiss to allow Plaintiff to conduct jurisdictional discovery. ECF No. 52. The Order directed Plaintiff to conduct jurisdictional discovery and respond to HZR's motion to dismiss on or before February 12, 2018. Id. Plaintiff failed to meet that deadline. On February 16, 2018, the Court issued an Order directing Plaintiff to file her response by February 20, 2018. ECF No. 57.

         On February 20, 2018, Plaintiff and HZR stipulated HZR's claim of improper service is moot and personal jurisdiction is the sole issue remaining for the Court to decide in HZR's motion to dismiss. ECF No. 59. Plaintiff responded to HZR's motion to dismiss on February 20, 2018, ECF No. 61, and HZR replied on March 6, 2018, ECF No. 68. On April 16, the Court noticed an evidentiary hearing on HZR's motion to dismiss, ECF No. 72; the hearing was held April 25, 2018, ECF No. 76. Following the hearing, at Plaintiff's request, Defendant Leopard, Inc. (Leopard) filed an affidavit relevant to the issue of the Court's jurisdiction over HZR. ECF No. 78. The Court, having been fully briefed on the relevant issues, is now prepared to discuss the merits of HZR's motion to dismiss.

         III. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A defendant may bring a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). Once a defendant makes such a motion, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing personal jurisdiction, but the plaintiff's burden varies depending upon the posture of the case and the evidence before the court. Grayson v. Anderson, 816 F.3d 262, 267-68 (4th Cir. 2016). When the court evaluates personal jurisdiction based solely upon the motion papers, affidavits, memoranda, and complaint, the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction to defeat the motion to dismiss. Id. at 268 (citing Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989)). The court, in such an analysis, must take the relevant allegations and evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. at 268.

         Ultimately, however, the plaintiff must show the court's personal jurisdiction over a defendant by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. (citing Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d at 676). Where the court holds the plaintiff to the preponderance of the evidence standard prior to trial, it must hold an evidentiary hearing, but such a hearing need not involve live testimony. Id. at 268-69. Instead, the court need only “afford the parties a fair opportunity to present both the relevant jurisdictional evidence and their legal arguments.” Id. at 268. Once the court has given such an opportunity, it must hold the plaintiff to the preponderance of the evidence standard. Id. At the hearing, the court can receive evidence in the form of “live testimony . . . depositions, interrogatory answers, admissions, or other appropriate forms.” Id. at 269.

         For a federal court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant such as HZR: 1) the long-arm statute of the forum State must allow such jurisdiction, and 2) the exercise of jurisdiction must be in keeping with the requirements of Fourteenth Amendment due process. See Christian Sci. Bd. of Dirs. of First Church of Christ, Scientist v. Nolan, 259 F.3d 209, 215 (4th Cir. 2001). South Carolina's long-arm statute reaches to the limits of due process. Triplett v. R.M. Wade & Co., 200 S.E.2d 375, 378-79 (S.C. 1973). Thus, the two-part inquiry becomes a single inquiry: whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction satisfies constitutional due process. See Nolan, 259 F.3d at 215.

         Due process is met when the defendant has “minimum contacts with [the forum] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Int'l Shoe Co. v. State of Wash., Office of Unemployment Compensation and Placement, 326 U.S. 310 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1940)). For due process to be satisfied such that exercising personal jurisdiction is appropriate, “defendant's conduct and connection with the forum State [must be] such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.” World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980). A defendant's ...


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