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Griffin v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

August 31, 2017

MARIAH GRIFFIN, Plaintiff,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SAM SPARKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         BE IT REMEMBERED on this day the Court reviewed the file in the above-styled cause, and specifically Defendant Ford Motor Company (Ford)'s Motion to Dismiss, and in the Alternative, Motion to Transfer Venue [#4], Plaintiff Mariah Griffin's Response [#5] in opposition, and Ford's Reply [#6] in support. Having reviewed the documents, the governing law, the arguments of the parties at the hearing, and the file as a whole, the Court now enters the following opinion and order.

         Background

         This case involves claims for negligence and products liability arising from a vehicle accident involving a 2010 Ford Focus (the Vehicle). Plaintiff Mariah Griffin alleges that on October 24, 2015, Jake Whitmore was driving the Vehicle in the eastbound lane on RM 1826 in Hays County, Texas, when he drifted into oncoming traffic and struck another vehicle. Compl. [#1] ¶ 3.01. Griffin, who owned the Vehicle, was riding in the front passenger seat. Id. According to Griffin, she suffered "serious injuries to her face and body as a result of the passenger side air bags failing to deploy." Id. ¶ 3.03. On May 11, 2017, Griffin filed this suit against Ford, asserting claims for negligence and strict liability based on the allegedly defective design, manufacture, and warnings of the Vehicle and its side air bags. Id. ¶ 4.01.

         Griffin resides in Travis County, Texas. Id. ¶ 1.01. Griffin generally alleges Ford manufactures, promotes, and distributes its vehicles in Texas. Id. ¶ 1.02. Ford is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Michigan. Mot. Dismiss [#4-2] Ex. A (Krishnaswami Decl.) ¶ 6. According to Ford, Ford made the primary decisions regarding the Vehicle's design and development in Michigan, and the Vehicle was assembled at Ford's assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan. Id. ¶ 4. On August 31, 2009, Ford sold the Vehicle to Elder Ford, an independently-owned dealership located in Troy, Michigan. Id. ¶¶ 5-6. Elder Ford then sold or leased the Vehicle to a Michigan resident on September 25, 2009. Id. [#4-4] Ex. C (Certified Vehicle Title History) at 15. Sometime in 2012, the Vehicle was sold to a used car dealer located in Austin, Texas. Id.

         Ford acknowledges the presence of Ford dealerships in Texas, but contends it "does not directly engage in servicing Ford vehicles in Texas." Id. [#4-3] Ex. B (Michael DeYoung Decl.) ¶ 3. Rather, Ford maintains these dealerships are "independent entities" which must agree to expressly disavow "the relationship of principal and agent between the Company [Ford] and the Dealer" and agree that "under no circumstances shall the Dealer be considered to be an agent of the company." Mot. Dismiss [#4] at 4; Michael De Young Decl. ¶ 4.

         On June 5, 2017, Ford moved to dismiss Griffin's suit for lack of personal jurisdiction. The parties fully briefed the motion and it is now ripe for the Court's consideration.

         Analysis

         I. Personal Jurisdiction

         Ford moves to dismiss Griffin's complaint based on lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). To determine whether a federal district court has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, the court considers first whether exercising jurisdiction over the defendant comports with due process. Religious Tech. Ctr. v. Liebreich, 339 F.3d 369, 373 (5th Cir. 2003). If the requirements of due process are satisfied, the court then determines whether the exercise of jurisdiction is authorized by the jurisdictional "long-arm" statute of the state in which the court sits. Id. Because the Texas long-arm statute has been interpreted as extending to the limit of due process, the two inquiries are the same for district courts in Texas. Id; see also Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 17.001-093.

         The Due Process Clause requires a nonresident defendant be properly subject to the personal jurisdiction of the court in which the defendant is sued. World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 291 (1980). The Supreme Court has articulated a two-pronged test to determine whether a federal court may properly exercise jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant: (1) the nonresident must have minimum contacts with the forum state, and (2) subjecting the nonresident to jurisdiction must be consistent with "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945); Freudensprung v. Offshore Tech. Servs., Inc., 379 F.3d 327, 343 (5th Cir. 2004).

         A defendant's "minimum contacts" may give rise to either general personal jurisdiction or specific personal jurisdiction, depending on the nature of the suit and the defendant's relationship to the forum state. Freudensprung, 379 F.3d at 343. A court exercises general jurisdiction over the defendant if the defendant has "continuous and systematic contacts" with the forum, regardless of whether those contacts are related to the cause of action asserted in the case. Id. Specific jurisdiction, by contrast, is based on the proposition "that 'the commission of some single or occasional acts of the [defendant] in a state' may sometimes be enough to subject the [defendant] to jurisdiction in that State's tribunals with respect to suits relating to that in-state activity." Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 754 (2014) (quoting Int'l Shoe, 326 U.S. at 318).

         The plaintiff has the burden of making a prima facie case showing that a defendant has sufficient "minimum contacts" with the forum state to justify the state's exercise of either specific or general jurisdiction. Freudensprung, 379 F.3d at 343. If the plaintiff does so, the burden shifts to the defendant to show such an exercise offends due process because it is not consistent with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Id. On a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss, the Court may consider the "contents of the record before the court at the time of the motion, including 'affidavits, interrogatories, depositions, oral testimony, or any combination of the recognized methods of discovery.'" Quick Techs., Inc. v. Sage Grp. PLC, 313 F.3d 338, 344 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting Thompson v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 755 F.2d 1162, 1165 (5th Cir. 1985)). The Court "must accept the plaintiffs uncontroverted allegations, and resolve in [her] favor all conflicts between the facts contained in the parties' affidavits and other documentation.'" Monkton Ins. Servs., Ltd. v. Ritter, 768 F.3d 429, 431 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Revell v. Lidov, 317 F.3d 467, 469 (5th Cir. 2002)). However, the Court is not required to accept as true conclusory allegations, even if they are uncontroverted. Panda Brandywine Corp. v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 253 F.3d 865, 869 (5th Cir. 2001).

         II. ...


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