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Holliday v. Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.

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

December 26, 2018

Gary Holliday and Soinya Holliday, Plaintiffs,
v.
Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., Nissan North America, Inc., Calsonic Kansei North America, Inc., and Calsonic Kansei Corporation, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Calsonic Kansei North America, Inc.'s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction (Dkt. No. 25) and Plaintiffs' opposition and request for jurisdictional discovery (Dkt. No. 28). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the motion to dismiss as moot, with leave to refile, and grants the request for jurisdictional discovery.

         I. Background

         On September 5, 2015, Plaintiff Gary Holliday was involved in an accident on 1-95 in Wilson County, North Carolina while driving his 2011 Nissan Sentra. (Dkt. No. 10 at ¶ 30.) His vehicle was hit by a tractor trailer, ran off the highway, and crashed into a tree. (Id.) During the crash, the vehicle's side airbag allegedly failed to deploy. (Id. at ¶ 32.) As a result of the accident, Mr. Holliday was treated at Wake Medical Center in North Carolina for approximately six weeks, two of which he spent in a coma. (Id. at ¶ 35.) Mr. Holliday has required additional rehabilitation since the accident. (Id. at ¶ 36.) Mr. Holliday lives in Berkeley County, South Carolina with his wife, Plaintiff Soinya Holliday. (Id. at ¶¶ 7 - 8.) Together, they bring claims against Defendants Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., Nissan North America, Inc., Calsonic Kansei North America, Inc., and Calsonic Kansei Corporation, the developers, manufacturers and sellers of the occupant restraint system that allegedly failed to deploy during the accident. (Id. at ¶¶ 37 - 42.)

         Defendant Calsonic Kansei North America ("CKNA") is a foreign company registered in Tennessee with its principal place of business in Shelbyville, Tennessee. (Dkt. No. 10 at ¶ 15.) CKNA allegedly sells vehicle parts to multiple car companies who do business in South Carolina. (Dkt. No. 10 at ¶ 21.) CKNA, however, alleges that it (1) does not own property or have any facility in South Carolina, (2) does not pay taxes in South Carolina, (3) has no registered agent in South Carolina, (4) has no employees in South Carolina, (5) does not advertise or solicit business in South Carolina, and (6) is not authorized to do business in South Carolina. (Dkt. Nos. 25-1 at 2; 25-2.) CKNA, however, does acknowledge that it purchases parts from four suppliers based in South Carolina that comprise 3.11% of its annual purchases. (Dkt. No. 25-1 at 7; 25-2.)

         Defendant CKNA filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. (Dkt. No. 25.) Plaintiffs oppose the motion and seek jurisdictional discovery. (Dkt. No. 28.)

         II. Legal Standard

         When personal jurisdiction is challenged, the burden is on the plaintiff to establish jurisdiction. Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). When resolved on written submissions, the plaintiff must make a "prima facie showing of a sufficient jurisdictional basis." Id. The plaintiffs showing must be based on facts set forth in the record, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Magic Toyota, Inc. v. Se. Toyota Distribs., Inc., 784 F.Supp. 306, 310 (D.S.C. 1992); Sonoco Prods. Co. v. ACE INA Ins., 877 F.Supp.2d 398, 404-05 (D.S.C. 2012) (internal quotation and alteration marks omitted). However, a court "need not credit conclusory allegations or draw farfetched inferences." Sonoco, 877 F.Supp.2d at 405 (citations omitted).

         To meet their burden, a plaintiff must show (1) that South Carolina's long-arm statute authorizes jurisdiction, and (2) that the exercise of personal jurisdiction complies with constitutional due process requirements. See, e.g. Christian Sci. Bd. of Dirs. of First Church of Christ, Scientist v. Nolan, 259 F.3d 209, 215 (4th Cir. 2001). Since South Carolina's long-arm statute extends to the constitutional limits of due process, the only inquiry is whether due process requirements are met. ESAB Group, Inc. v. Centricut, LLC, 34 F.Supp.2d 323, 328 (D.S.C. 1999); S Plastics Co. v. S Commerce Bank, 423 S.E.2d 128 (S.C. 1992).

         Due process requires that a defendant have sufficient "minimum contacts with [the forum] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" Int 7 Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (citations omitted). This can be met by showing either general or specific personal jurisdiction. ALS Scan, Inc. v. Digital Serv. Consultants, Inc., 293 F.3d 707, 711-12 (4th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). To assert general jurisdiction, a defendant's contacts must be "so 'continuous and systematic' as to render them essentially at home in the forum State." Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 127, 134 S.Ct. 746, 754 (2014) (citations omitted). For a corporation, that traditionally renders them subject to general jurisdiction in its state of incorporation or principal place of business. Id. at 137.

         To determine whether specific jurisdiction exists, the Court considers "(1) the extent to which the defendant has purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the state; (2) whether the plaintiffs' claims arise out of those activities directed at the state; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be constitutionally 'reasonable.'" Carefirst of Maryland, Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Centers, Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 397 (4th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). In other words, the defendant must have "minimum contacts" with the forum, the cause of action must arise from those contacts, and the exercise of personal jurisdiction must be reasonable. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 - 476 (1985). Courts evaluate the reasonableness of personal jurisdiction by considering "(a) the burden on the defendant, (b) the interests of the forum state, (c) the plaintiffs interest in obtaining relief, (d) the efficient resolution of controversies as between states, and (e) the shared interests of the several states in furthering substantive social policies." Lesnick v. Hollingsworth & Vose Co., 35 F.3d 939, 946 (4th Cir. 1994). "Minimum contacts" and "reasonableness" are not independent requirements; rather, they are both aspects of due process, and thus "considerations sometimes serve to establish the reasonableness of jurisdiction upon a lesser showing of minimum contacts than would otherwise be required." Burger King, 471 U.S. at 477.

         III. Discussion

         The Court does not have general jurisdiction over CKNA. CKNA is not incorporated in South Carolina, nor does it have its principal place of business (or any place of business) in South Carolina. Furthermore, while CKNA sells to car companies and purchases from four parts suppliers in South Carolina, these minimal financial transactions cannot support general jurisdiction. See Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 418, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 1874 (1984) ("mere purchases, even if occurring at regular intervals, are not enough to warrant a State's assertion of in personam jurisdiction over a nonresident corporation in a cause of action not related to those purchase transactions."); ESAB Grp., Inc. v. Centricut, Inc., 126 F.3d 617, 621 (4th Cir. 1997) (finding no general jurisdiction over company that had 26 customers in South Carolina constituting 1% of all customers). Therefore, CKNA is not effectively "at home" in the State, and the Court does not have general jurisdiction over CKNA.

         As to specific personal jurisdiction, Defendant argues that Plaintiff cannot show that CKNA has purposefully availed itself of the privilege of doing business in South Carolina. CKNA argues that the Plaintiffs only showed that CKNA placed its parts in the stream of commerce by selling its parts to car companies who do business in South Carolina, and that this alone cannot confer specific personal jurisdiction on this Court. The Supreme Court is split over what a plaintiff must show to support specific personal jurisdiction on a stream of commerce theory. In Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Superior Court of California, Solano Cty.,480 U.S. 102 (1987), Justice O'Connor, in a plurality opinion, stated that "[t]he placement of a product into the stream of commerce, without more, is not an act of the defendant purposefully directed toward the forum State[, ]" and instead held that "[a]dditional conduct of the defendant may indicate an intent or purpose to serve the market in the forum State."[1]Id. at 111 - 113. See also World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson,444 U.S. 286, 295 (1980) ("'foreseeability' alone has never been a sufficient benchmark for personal jurisdiction under the Due Process Clause."). Though that position did not command a majority of the Court, the "stream of commerce plus" test was again determinative in the plurality opinion of J. Mclntyre Mack, Ltd. v. Nicastro, 564 U.S. 873, 131 S.Ct. 2780 (2011). In the absence of a clear Supreme Court majority, the Fourth Circuit endorsed the "stream of commerce plus" test, and it ...


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