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Wallace v. Yamaha Motors Corp., USA

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

November 20, 2019

NIYA S. WALLACE, Plaintiff,



         The following matter is before the court on defendant Yamaha Motors Corp., U.S.A.'s (“Yamaha”) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, ECF No. 4. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This products liability action arose from a car accident in Daytona Beach, Florida. On March 26, 2016, plaintiff Niya S. Wallace (“Wallace”) was driving a Yamaha YZF R6 motorcycle[1] when she was allegedly struck from the rear by a Nissan sedan driven by Debra J. Clark, who is not a party to this action. Wallace was ejected from the motorcycle, and she alleges that the fuel tank also separated from the motorcycle upon impact. Wallace further alleges that the Nissan sedan continued forward, dragging her and the motorcycle a short distance when the motorcycle “burst into flames and continued to burn until after the vehicles came to rest” a short time later. ECF No. 1-1 at ¶ 12. Wallace suffered severe burns as a result of exposure to the flames.

         On February 1, 2019, Wallace filed this action in the Hampton County Court of Common Pleas, asserting claims for negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability on a defective design theory based on the motorcycle's alleged uncrashworthiness. ECF No. 1-1. On March 11, 2019, Yamaha removed the case to the district court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. ECF No. 1. The next day, Yamaha filed the instant motion to dismiss based on a lack of personal jurisdiction. ECF No. 4. On June 4, 2019, the court granted Wallace's motion to conduct jurisdictional discovery and stayed the deadline for Wallace to respond to Yamaha's motion to dismiss. ECF No. 21. On September 10, 2019, Wallace responded to the motion to dismiss, ECF No. 26, to which Yamaha replied on September 17, 2019, ECF No. 27. On September 29, Wallace filed a motion for leave to file sur-reply, ECF No. 29, which this court granted, ECF No. 32. Yamaha responded to Wallace's sur-reply, ECF No. 33. On November 1, 2019, the court held a hearing on the motion. As such, this matter is ripe for the court's review.

         II. STANDARD

         When the defendant challenges personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff has the burden of showing that jurisdiction exists. See In re Celotex Corp., 124 F.3d 619, 628 (4th Cir. 1997). When the court decides a personal jurisdiction challenge without an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff must prove a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction. See Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Akzo, N.V., 2 F.3d 56, 60 (4th Cir. 1993). “In considering the challenge on such a record, the court must construe all relevant pleading allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, assume credibility, and draw the most favorable inferences for the existence of jurisdiction.” In re Celotex Corp., 124 F.3d at 628 (quoting Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989)). However, the court need not “credit conclusory allegations or draw farfetched inferences.” Masselli & Lane, PC v. Miller & Schuh, PA, 2000 WL 691100, at *1 (4th Cir. May 30, 2000) (quoting Ticketmaster-New York, Inc. v. Alioto, 26 F.3d 201, 203 (1st Cir. 1994)).


         Yamaha contends that the court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over it. The parties agree that Yamaha's contacts with South Carolina, while extensive, are insufficient to subject Yamaha to general personal jurisdiction in the state.[2] Instead, Wallace contends that the court can exercise specific jurisdiction over Yamaha based on Yamaha's suit-related contacts with the forum state. Consequently, resolution of the instant motion requires an analysis of the court's ability to exercise specific jurisdiction over Yamaha under South Carolina's long-arm statute and in consideration of Yamaha's protections under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. For the reasons discussed below, the court does not have specific jurisdiction over Yamaha.

         In evaluating a challenge to personal jurisdiction under a state's long-arm statute, the court engages in a two-step analysis. Ellicott Mach. Corp. v. John Holland Party Ltd., 995 F.2d 474, 477 (4th Cir. 1993). First, the long-arm statute must authorize the exercise of jurisdiction under the facts presented. Id. Second, if the statute does authorize jurisdiction, then the court must determine if the statutory assertion of personal jurisdiction is consistent with due process. Id. South Carolina's long-arm statute extends its reach to the outer limits allowed by the Due Process Clause. Foster v. Arletty 3 Sarl, 278 F.3d 409, 414 (4th Cir. 2002). Consequently, the only question before the court is whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction would violate due process. ESAB Grp., Inc. v. Centricut, LLC, 34 F.Supp.2d 323, 328 (D.S.C. 1999).

         The due process test for personal jurisdiction involves two components: minimum contacts and fairness. See World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286 (1980). Under the minimum contacts test, a nonresident defendant must have certain minimum contacts such that 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, 316 (1945). Due process is satisfied if the court asserts personal jurisdiction over a defendant who “purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, ” Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958), such that it “should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there, ” World-Wide Volkswagen, 444 U.S. at 297. After a showing of the defendant's purposeful availment, the reasonableness inquiry balances any burden on the defendant against countervailing concerns such as the plaintiff's interest in obtaining relief and the forum state's interest in the controversy. See id. at 292.

         Specific jurisdiction arises when a cause of action is related to the defendant's activities within the forum state. See S.C. Code Ann. § 36-2-803; Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 (1984). The Fourth Circuit applies a three-part test when evaluating the propriety of exercising specific jurisdiction:

(1) whether and to what extent the defendant purposely availed itself of the privileges of conducting activities in the forum state, and thus invoked the benefits and protections of its laws; (2) whether the plaintiff's claims arise out of those forum-related activities; and (3) whether the exercise of jurisdiction is constitutionally “reasonable.” Christian Sci. Bd. of Dirs. of the First Church of Christ v. Nolan, 259 F.3d 209, 215-16 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 414-16; Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472, 476-77 (1985)). To show that an exercise of specific jurisdiction over a defendant comports with due process, a plaintiff “must prevail on each prong.” Perdue Foods LLC v. BRF S.A., 814 F.3d 185, 189 (4th Cir. 2016).

         The Supreme Court has made clear that the second prong of the test for specific jurisdiction-the “arises out of” requirement-is a necessary element, not a factor that leaves room for discretion: “In order for a state court to exercise specific jurisdiction, the suit must aris[e] out of or relat[e] to the defendant's contacts with the forum.” Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco Cty., 137 S.Ct. 1773, 1780 (2017) (quoting and citing Daimler, 571 U.S. at 117; Burger King, 471 U.S. at 472- 473; Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 414) (internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added). “When there is no such connection [between the plaintiffs' claims and the defendant's contacts with the forum], specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of a defendant's unconnected activities in the State.” Bristol-Myers, 137 S.Ct. at 1781. Further, claims to which specific jurisdiction will attach “must arise out of contacts that the ‘defendant himself' ...

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