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Holliday v. Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

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

June 26, 2019

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 renewed motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction (Dkt. No. 52). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the motion to dismiss.

         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.) On November 11, 2018, CKNA initially moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. (Dkt. No. 25.) On December 26, 2018, the Court denied the motion as moot and ordered jurisdictional discovery to resolve the personal jurisdiction issues raised by the Parties. (Dkt. No. 37.) Jurisdictional discovery ended March 24, 2019, and CKNA has now renewed their motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. (Dkt. No. 52.) CKNA reiterates that it is a Tennessee corporation without any property, agents, subsidiaries, employees or agents in South Carolina, and states that it has never specifically designed or distributed its products in South Carolina. (Dkt. No. 52-2.) Plaintiffs oppose the motion, pointing to numerous documents produced during jurisdictional discovery indicating that CKNA has previously sold automotive components to a company in South Carolina, Honda, and has recently solicited business in South Carolina from Volvo. (Dkt. No. 61 at 4 - 5.) CKNA filed a Reply. (Dkt. No. 55.)

         II. Legal Standard

         The burden is on the plaintiff to establish personal jurisdiction. Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). After jurisdictional discovery, a Plaintiff must prove personal jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Gourdine v. Karl Storz Endoscopy-Am., Inc., 223 F.Supp.3d 475, 482 (D.S.C. 2016). See also Brown v. Geha-Werke GmbH, 69 F.Supp.2d 770, 774 (D.S.C. 1999) ("Although this court decided the issue of personal jurisdiction without an evidentiary hearing...the parties have engaged in jurisdictional discovery and offered evidence beyond the pleadings and affidavits... [therefore] Plaintiff must establish personal jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.").

         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'l 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

         As the Court previously held (Dkt. No. 37), the Court does not have general jurisdiction over CKNA. Therefore, the Court focuses solely on whether specific personal jurisdiction exists.

         The nature and facts of CKNA's contacts with South Carolina are undisputed. CKNA is a supplier of automotive parts to automobile manufacturers. (Dkt. No. 52-1 at 2.) Of note, CKNA produces and sell electronic controller integration to automobile manufacturers, which includes safety systems such as the airbags at issue here. (Dkt. No. 61-1 at 3.) Until April 1, 2016, Nissan held, at least, an approximately 40% share of CKNA's parent company, Calsonic Cansei Corporation. (Id.; Dkt. No. 55 at 3 n.2.) CKNA conducts the overwhelming majority of their sales to Nissan, and delivers parts to two Nissan assembly plants outside of South Carolina. (Id.; Dkt. No. 52-3.) Nissan, notably, sells its cars nationwide, has car dealerships in South Carolina, and sells tens of thousands of Nissan Sentras in the United States every year. (Id.)

         CKNA, however, has other contacts with companies in South Carolina as well. First, from at least the early 2000s until 2016, CKNA sold meter assembles to Honda of South Carolina. (Dkt. Nos. 55 at 4; 61 at 3.) The sale agreements acknowledged that CKNA sold parts to a South Carolina company and CKNA agreed for the agreements to be governed, at least in part, by South Carolina law. (Dkt. No. 61-2.) CKNA has also continued to solicit business in South Carolina after the relationship with Honda ended, and CKNA made a marketing trip to ...


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