Illinois 5th District Appellate Court overturns Madison Co. Court's Denial

Posted: 7/23/2018

On July 12, 2018, the Illinois 5th District Appellate Court overturned a ruling of Judge Stephen Stobbs denying Ford Motor Company’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in Irene Jeffs, Individually and as Special Adminstrator for the Estate of Dale E. Jeffs, Deceased v. Ford Motor Company, 2018 IL App (5th), No. 5-15-0529(Jeffs_v_Ford_Motor_Company_Order.pdf).  The plaintiff sued Ford in the Madison County Circuit Court for asbestos-related injuries that took place as the alleged result of exposures he sustained as a union insulator in Michigan.  The plaintiff argued that general jurisdiction could be exercised over Ford in Illinois.  The Madison County Circuit Court denied Ford’s motion to dismiss based on the court’s finding that Ford was at home in Illinois based on what the court viewed as substantial business conducted within the state.  Ford moved for leave to appeal to the 5th District Appellate Court which was denied.  Ford then moved to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court which in turn entered a supervisory order that denied the petition and directed the 5th District Appellate Court to allow Ford’s petition for leave to appeal. 

The 5th District Appellate Court then took the appeal and ultimately overturned the trial court holding that Ford was NOT at home in Illinois.  The 5th District relied on the Illinois Supreme Court’s opinion in Aspen American Insurance Co. v. Interstate Warehousing Inc., 2017 IL 121281, which it found to be controlling and informative as to the narrow definition of general personal jurisdiction in the state of Illinois.  The court concluded that Ford should not be subject to general personal jurisdiction in the state of Illinois.  The court first acknowledged that because any argument that registering under the Act and maintaining an agent amounts to consent or waiver of jurisdiction fails under the Aspen case, they were left to decide whether exercising general jurisdiction would violate due process.  The court then determined that the only relevant inquiry is whether under the U.S. Constitution due process is satisfied.  The court reiterated that in Daimler, the U.S. Supreme Court held that for a state to assert general jurisdiction over a foreign defendant, that defendant’s affiliations with the forum must be so systematic and continuous that they are rendered to be at home in the forum state.  The court then held that it is undisputed that Ford is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in Michigan and that the Illinois court may only exercise general personal jurisdiction over Ford if its affiliations with Illinois rise to the level of an exceptional circumstance.  The court found that the trial court’s determination that Ford conducts substantial business in Illinois is not the proper standard.  The court then explained that Ford is a large corporation that conducts major business in many states; but that does not make Ford essentially at home in all of those forums.  Consequently, the trial court’s ruling has been reversed and remanded.