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Law School Case Brief

Murphy v. Cuomo - 913 F. Supp. 671 (N.D.N.Y. 1996)


N.Y.C.P.L.R. § 301 authorizes general jurisdiction over a foreign corporation if the defendant was "doing business" in New York. Section 301 jurisdiction may be present even if the cause of action is unrelated to the party's activities in New York. However, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant is doing business not occasionally or casually, but with a fair measure of permanence and continuity. In a § 301 analysis, New York courts focus upon several factors, including the existence of a New York Office, the solicitation of business in New York, the presence of bank accounts and other property in the state, and the presence of employees in the state. 


Plaintiff Frederick Murphy brought suit to recover damages from defendants State, state officials, and Zarc International pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 and for violations under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C.S. §§ 301 et seq. The basis of Murphy's complaint was an incident in which he was subjected to a pepper spray by a New York state police officer. The spray was produced by defendant Zarc. Zarc moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was not subject to personal jurisdiction in New York and that Murphy failed to state a claim. Zarc also sought sanctions pursuant to 28 U.S.C.S. § 1927 and Fed. R. Civ. P. 11


(a) Did the court have personal jurisdiction over defendant company? (b) Was there merit to plaintiff’s claim?


(a) Yes (b) No


(a) Even if defendant's contacts with New York are not so continuous and systematic that they establish jurisdiction under Section 301, jurisdiction may be established under Section 302 when a defendant has transacted business in New York and the cause of action arises out of the subject matter of the business transaction. The court held that there were sufficient contacts within the state to hold personal jurisdiction over defendant company; (b) the Court concludes that no reasonable jury could find that defendant Zarc was a state actor involved in the alleged deprivation of plaintiff's rights. In sum, plaintiff has offered absolutely no evidence that Zarc conspired with the New York State Police to conduct an illegal experiment where officers would subject innocent and unwitting citizens to CAP-STUN in order to study the spray's effects. The only conclusion that can be drawn from all of the evidence proffered by plaintiff is that ISI, and possibly Zarc, sold some CAP-STUN to the State Police and trained several officers in its use. Plaintiff agrees with defendant that a private corporation does not become a state actor by selling its products to the government.

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