Law School Case Brief
Pitts v. Ford Motor Co. - 127 F. Supp. 3d 676 (S.D. Miss. 2015)
A party seeking to invoke the power of a court bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction but is required to present only prima facie evidence. In determining whether a prima facie case exists, the court must accept as true the plaintiff's uncontroverted allegations, and resolve in its favor all conflicts between the jurisdictional facts contained in the parties' affidavits and other documentation. In cases arising under diversity of citizenship jurisdiction, the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant is limited by the forum state's long-arm statute and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, U.S. Const. amend. XIV. If state law does not support the exercise of personal jurisdiction, the court need not consider the due process issue.
Plaintiffs Nellie R. Pitts and James H. Pitts were citizens of the State of Texas. Some time prior to Oct. 30, 2012, James purchased a 2011 Ford Fusion automobile from a dealership in Silsbee, Texas, which sold automobiles manufactured by defendant Ford Motor Company. ("Ford"). James was provided an express warranty that the automobile would be free from defects in workmanship and materials for a period of three years or 36,000 miles, bumper-to-bumper. The express warranty extended for five years or 50,000 miles, bumper-to-bumper, with regard to the passenger restraint systems. According to Elizabeth Dwyer, who was employed by Ford as a Dealer Shared Services Manager, Ford was "in the business of designing and manufacturing new cars and trucks." Ford was incorporated in the State of Delaware and had its principal place of business in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford sold its vehicles to "independently-owned dealerships" and did not sell new vehicles directly to the public. Ford did not have a manufacturing plant in the State of Mississippi. On Oct. 30, 2012, while plaintiffs' vehicle was still within the express warranty period, plaintiffs were involved in an automobile collision in Biloxi, Mississippi. At the time of the collision, James was driving and Nellie was seated in the right front passenger seat with her lap and shoulder belt fastened. Nellie suffered several injuries as a result of the accident. Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Ford in federal district court alleging that the vehicle was defective in design, engineering, and manufacturing, particularly with regard to the passenger seat's lap and shoulder belt and the airbag system. Plaintiffs contend that the defects were the proximate caused Nellie's injuries. Ford filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Did general or specific jurisdiction lie with Mississippi over the Pitts' products liability action against Ford?
The court granted Ford's motion to dismiss. Th Pitts failed to establish that general jurisdiction over Ford in the State of Mississippi was proper because Ford was neither incorporated nor had its principal place of business in Mississippi; the contacts that the Pitts identified Ford as having with Mississippi demonstrated that it was at most doing business in Mississippi, and those contacts did not reveal activities that were so continuous and systematic as to render it at home in Mississippi. The mere fact that the Pitts were injured in Mississippi did not, by itself, create specific jurisdiction over Ford in Mississippi; the nexus between Ford's Mississippi contacts and the Pitts' vehicle was too attenuated to support personal jurisdiction based on an "arose-out-of" theory.
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