GUNTY & McCARTHY convinces USDC Southern District of IL

Posted: 4/20/2017

Gunty & McCarthy has just obtained a dismissal pursuant to the court granting its motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in the Muenstermann v. U.S. of A., Versar Inc., et al., case no. 16-CV-932-SMY-SCW icon 2017.04.20_Muenstermann_Order.pdf (206 KB). Defendant Versar is a foreign corporation with its state of incorporation and principal place of business located in Springfield, Virginia. Plaintiff had filed his wrongful death action on behalf of his deceased 23-year old son alleging that defendant caused a live mortar shell to be transferred from the U.S. Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, CA to Granite City, IL. On August 25, 2014, the mortar shell exploded in Granite City, Illinois, killing plaintiff's decedent. Defendant Versar argued that plaintiff failed to plead facts suggesting that Versar had any duty to render mortars inert as part of its range clearing activities at Fort Irwin. We argued all the points under Rule 12(b)(6) as well as Rule 12(b)(2) and the Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 759, 187 L.Ed.2d 624 (2014) decision and why plaintiff's arguments were without merit in light of same. The court agreed, dismissing the plaintiff's action at the conclusion of oral arguments. The court held that plaintiff's claim, while the facts pled were admittedly thin, were enough to put Versar on notice under U.S. Sup. Ct. Rule 12(b)(6).

However, the court then held that plaintiff's client could not satisfy the requirements set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Rule 12(b)(2) for personal jurisdiction. The court cited as the "paradigm bases for general jurisdiction", the holding in Daimler, 134 S.Ct. at 761, i.e. "that the defendant must have "purposefully directed its activities at the forum state" and the cause of action must have arose out of or relate to the defendant's contacts with the forum state." Russell v. SNFA, 2013 IL 113909 Para.40, 987 N.E.2d 778, 787. Significantly, the court also held that the unilateral activity of a third party cannot subject a nonresident defendant to specific jurisdiction, even if the third party claims some relationship with that defendant. There must be some act by which "the "defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws." Citing Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253, 78 S.Ct. 1228, 2 L.Ed.2d 1283 (1958). In other words, a defendant is not subject to jurisdiction based merely on random, fortuitous or attenuated contacts - there must be a real relationship with the state with respect to the activities at issue. Citing N. Grain Mktg. LLC v. Greving, 743 F.3d at 487, 493 (7th Cir. 2014). The court held that these criteria were not satisfied notwithstanding plaintiff's arguments that Versar engaged in "continuous and substantial business" in Illinois or that Versar had registered with the Secretary of State and maintained an agent for service of process in the state. The court relied on Daimler as changing Illinois' prior reliance on those arguments to find jurisdiction and ultimately held that Versar was not "at home" in Illinois for purposes of general jurisdiction.

The plaintiff had also argued that there was specific jurisdiction in Illinois because the explosion constituted a tort committed by Versar creating the necessary minimum contacts. The court held that that fact in and of itself was not enough to subject this defendant to jurisdiction but rather "the proper question is whether the defendant's conduct connects him to the forum in a meaningful way." Citing Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 1125, 188 L.Ed.2d 23 (2014). Because Versar never contracted with the co-defendants nor were they involved in transporting the munitions to Illinois or the disposal of the materials here, their contacts were not seen as meaningful and consequently did not subject Versar to specific jurisdiction in Illinois.