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State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. v. Interline Brands, Inc.

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

July 3, 2013



WARREN K. URBOM, Senior District Judge.

On January 22, 2013, State Farm Fire and Casualty Company a/s/o James Langtry (State Farm) filed a two-count complaint against Interline Brands, Inc. (Interline); Watts Water Technologies, Inc. (Watts Water Technologies); and Linx Ltd. (Linx) (collectively, "the defendants"). (See Notice of Removal, Ex. A, Compl., ECF No. 1-1.) Now before me is Watts Water Technologies' Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction. (ECF No. 11.) For the following reasons, Watts Water Technologies' motion will be denied.


State Farm issued an insurance policy that, at relevant times, covered the residence and personal property of James Langtry, who was a resident of Lincoln, Nebraska. (Notice of Removal, Ex. A, Compl. ¶¶ 1, 3, ECF No. 1-1.) Langtry used "a 12" DuraPro® stainless steel braided supply line equipped with a 3/8" nickelplated brass compression nut and crimp sleeve fitting" (the Product) to connect a toilet to a water supply line at his residence. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) The Product allegedly failed on January 17, 2011, "due to material fatigue and subsequent fracture of the polymeric coupling unit." (Id. ¶ 9.) The Product's failure caused Langtry's residence to be flooded with water, and he incurred $188, 016.36 in damages. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 15, 20.)

State Farm alleges that the defendants are all "foreign corporation[s] doing business in Nebraska." (Id. ¶¶ 4-6.) It alleges further that the defendants "were in the business of selling, designing, distributing, and manufacturing plumbing parts and products, " including the Product at issue in this case. (Id. ¶ 7.) It seeks to hold the defendants liable for Langtry's damages on theories of negligence and strict liability. (See id. ¶¶ 11-21.)


To survive a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, "the plaintiff must state sufficient facts in the complaint to support a reasonable inference that [the] defendant[] may be subjected to jurisdiction in the forum state." Steinbuch v. Cutler , 518 F.3d 580, 585 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing Dever v. Hentzen Coatings, Inc. , 380 F.3d 1070, 1072 (8th Cir. 2004)). Moreover, after jurisdiction has been controverted by the opposing party, "the plaintiff bears the burden of proving facts supporting personal jurisdiction." Miller v. Nippon Carbon Co., Ltd. , 528 F.3d 1087, 1090 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing Dever , 380 F.3d at 1072). The plaintiff "need[] only make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction" to satisfy this burden. Id . (citing Dakota Indus., Inc. v. Dakota Sportswear, Inc. , 946 F.2d 1384, 1387 (8th Cir. 1991)). "The plaintiff's prima facie showing' must be tested, not by the pleadings alone, but by the affidavits and exhibits presented with the motions and opposition thereto." Id . (quoting Dever , 380 F.3d at 1072). When considering these affidavits and exhibits, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and resolve all factual conflicts in its favor. E.g., Epps v. Stewart Information Services Corp. , 327 F.3d 642, 647 (8th Cir. 2003); Dakota Indus., Inc. , 946 F.2d at 1387.


Watts Water Technologies argues that State Farm's complaint must be dismissed because State Farm has failed to show that Watts Water Technologies has the requisite "minimum contacts" with the State of Nebraska to support personal jurisdiction. (See Def.'s Br. at 4-5, ECF No. 12.)

"A federal court may exercise jurisdiction over a foreign defendant only to the extent permitted by the forum state's long-arm statue and by the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.'" Miller v. Nippon Carbon Co., Ltd. , 528 F.3d 1087, 1090 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting Dakota Indus., Inc. v. Ever Best Ltd. , 28 F.3d 910, 915 (8th Cir. 1994)). Nebraska's long-arm statute confers jurisdiction "to the fullest extent permitted by the United States Constitution"; therefore, my analysis need only address whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Watts Water Technologies would violate the Due Process Clause. Stanton v. St. Jude Medical, Inc. , 340 F.3d 690, 693 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing Barone v. Rich Bros. Interstate Display Fireworks Co. , 25 F.3d 610, 612 (8th Cir. 1994)). See also Wagner v. Unicord Corp. , 526 N.W.2d 74, 77-78 (Neb. 1995); Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-536(2).

Due process requires that a non-resident defendant have sufficient "minimum contacts" with the forum state "such that the maintenance of the suit [in that state] does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" International Shoe Co. v. Washington , 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer , 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1940)). See also Miller , 528 F.3d at 1090; Dever v. Hentzen Coatings, Inc. , 380 F.3d 1070, 1073 (8th Cir. 2004). "The Supreme Court has set forth two theories for evaluating minimum contacts, general jurisdiction and specific jurisdiction." Dever , 380 F.3d at 1073. "Under the theory of general jurisdiction, a court may hear a lawsuit against a defendant who has continuous and systematic' contacts with the forum state, even if the injuries at issue in the lawsuit did not arise out of the defendant's activities directed at the forum." Id . (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Columbia, S.A. v. Hall , 466 U.S. 408, 415-16 (1984)). "In contrast, specific jurisdiction is viable only if the injury giving rise to the lawsuit occurred within or had some connection to the forum state." Id . (citing Hall , 466 U.S. at 414). Under either of these two theories, the defendant must have committed "some act by which the defendant purposely avail[ed] itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum [s]tate, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws." Id . (quoting Hanson v. Denckla , 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958)). See also Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz , 471 U.S. 462, 474-76 (1985). "This purposeful availment must be sufficient to provide the defendant with fair warning that his activities might result in his being haled into court in that jurisdiction." Johnson v. Woodcock , 444 F.3d 953, 955 (8th Cir. 2006). "Once it has been decided that a defendant purposefully established minimum contacts within the forum [s]tate, these contacts may be considered in light of other factors to determine whether the assertion of personal jurisdiction would comport with fair play and substantial justice.'" Burger King Corp. , 471 U.S. at 476 (quoting International Shoe Co. , 326 U.S. at 320). See also Dever , 380 F.3d at 1073.

In light of the foregoing principles, the Eighth Circuit "instruct[s] courts to consider the following factors when resolving a personal jurisdiction inquiry: (1) the nature and quality of a defendant's contacts with the forum state; (2) the quantity of such contacts; (3) the relation of the cause of action to the contacts; (4) the interest of the forum state in providing a forum for its residents; and (5) the convenience of the parties." Dever , 380 F.3d at 1073-74 (internal quotation marks, brackets, and citation omitted). See also Sybaritic, Inc. v. Interport Intern., Inc. , 957 F.2d 522, 524 (8th Cir. 1992) (explaining that this five-factor framework "incorporates the notions of both minimum contacts' and fair play and substantial justice'"). The first three factors are given more weight than the remaining factors, but factor three may be inapplicable if jurisdiction is predicated on the theory of general jurisdiction. Dever , 380 F.3d at 1074.

In support of its motion to dismiss, Watts Water Technologies submitted evidence showing that it is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Massachusetts. (Def.'s Index, Ex. 1 Hoffman Aff. ¶¶ 3, ECF No. 13-1.) It has never been a Nebraska corporation, has never been registered to do business in Nebraska, has no registered agent in Nebraska, has never paid taxes in Nebraska, owns no property in Nebraska, has no branches or offices in Nebraska, and has never had phone listings or bank accounts in Nebraska. (Id. ¶ 4.) In addition, Watts Water Technologies claims that it "did not manufacture, process, service, distribute, or sell" the Product that allegedly caused damage to Langtry's property; it "does not manufacture, process, service, distribute, or sell any coupling nuts or water supply lines"; and it "does not manufacture, process, service, distribute, or sell any products in Nebraska." (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.) Watts Water Technologies asserts that in light of these facts, "no basis exists for the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Watts Water in Nebraska." (Def.'s Br. at 5, ECF No. 12.)

In response, State Farm argues that because Watts Water Technologies has used "a robust distribution network to deliver its products into the stream of commerce with the expectation that the products would be purchased by consumers in the forum state, " it is subject to this court's jurisdiction. (Pl.'s Response Br. at 1-2, ECF No. 17 (citing Barone v. Rich Bros. Interstate Display Fireworks Co. , 25 F.3d 610 (8th Cir. 1994); Vandelune v. 4B Elevator Components Unlimited , 148 F.3d 943 (8th Cir. 1998)).) State Farm also argues that Watts Water Technologies did, in fact, manufacture the Product. (See generally id.) In support of its arguments, State Farm refers me to a fourteen page set of documents that appear to show that "Watts, " which is described as "A Watts Water Technologies Company, " has produced ten different series of "connectors, " including four series of water supply connectors for toilets. (Pl.'s Br., Ex. A, ECF No. 17.) State Farm also refers me to exhibits purporting to show that "Watts" maintains a list of 37 sales representatives, three of which list Nebraska as their "territories." (See id. Exs. B-C.) Finally, State Farm has submitted a document that appears to be a four-page excerpt from Watts Water Technologies' 2011 Securities and Exchange Commission Form 10-K. (See id. Ex. D.) This document states, "Our Water by Watts' strategy is to be the leading provider of water quality, water conservation, water safety and water flow control products for the residential and commercial markets in North America and Europe with a presence in Asia." (Id. at 2.) It adds that one of Watts Water Technologies' product lines includes "[r]esidential and commercial flow control products, " which "includes products typically sold into plumbing and hot water applications." (Id. at 3.) It continues, "Our products are sold to wholesale distributors and dealers, major DIY chains and original equipment manufacturers." (Id.) "For product sales, we rely primarily on commissioned manufacturers' representatives, some of which maintain a consigned inventory of our products. These ...

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