By Dominque Savinelli on June 15, 2018
If you are a non-resident corporate defendant in Cook County, Illinois, you should become familiar with Campbell v. Acme Insulations, Inc., as it will undoubtedly serve as a useful blueprint for future challenges to the exercise of personal jurisdiction in that state.
In Campbell v. Acme Insulations, Inc., 2018 IL App. (1st) 173051, the Illinois Appellate Court (First District) reversed a Cook County circuit court decision and remanded with instructions to dismiss General Electric (GE) from a multi-defendant asbestos case. Rejecting several theories of personal jurisdiction, the court specifically determined that GE was not subject to personal jurisdiction under (1) general jurisdiction, (2) a theory of consent, (3) specific jurisdiction, or (4) the so-called “doctrine of jurisdiction by necessity.
Republic Steel was Plaintiff’s only employer in Illinois. Id. at *1. But the complaint failed to allege contact with GE asbestos-containing products at Republic Steel. Id. During his discovery deposition, Plaintiff “expressed his belief that the electric furnaces used for melting steel were manufactured by GE because his brother ‘worked on furnaces,’ although the plaintiff acknowledged that no ‘tags’ or ‘writing’ on the furnaces ‘suggested’ they were GE products.” Id. at *4.
No general personal jurisdiction
Neither GE’s place of incorporation nor its principal place of business is in Illinois. Id. at *3. The court rejected arguments that GE’s long-standing license to conduct business in Illinois, its employment of thousands of Illinois residents, GE’s operation of over two dozen facilities in Illinois, or its “sizable” sales in the state justified exercising general jurisdiction over GE. Id. Rather, the court emphasized that this analysis requires “an appraisal of [its] activities in their entirety, nationwide and worldwide.” Id. (quoting Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 139 n.20 (2014)).
Applying this broader analysis, the court determined that the record – which showed that roughly 2% of GE’s income from U.S. operations is generated in Illinois and about 2.4% of its U.S. workforce is employed in Illinois – was not sufficient to find that GE is “at home” in Illinois under the applicable Daimler standard. Id. at *3-4.
No consent to personal jurisdiction
First, the court rejected the notion that the same corporate activities which have been deemed insufficient to subject GE to general jurisdiction could be used to show consent. Id. at *4. The court also rejected arguments that GE’s having a registered agent in Illinois or participating in prior litigation in the state somehow conferred consent to the court’s jurisdiction over GE for this lawsuit. Id.
No specific personal jurisdiction
The court expressly rejected Plaintiff’s urging that a “sliding scale” approach was appropriate, such that GE’s “continuous” activity in the state would be sufficient for the purposes of specific personal jurisdiction. Id. at *6. Instead, the court reasoned that specific jurisdiction requires a connection between the forum (Illinois) and the current controversy “regardless of the extent of a defendant’s unconnected activities in the State.” Id. at *4 (quoting Bristol–Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., 137 S.Ct. 1773, 1781, 198 L.Ed.2d 395 (2017)).
Plaintiffs’ prima facie evidence of a connection between Illinois and his claims against GE rested on his deposition testimony. As the standard to evaluate this testimony, the court applied the Illinois’ Supreme Court Rule 191(a) for affidavits. Specifically, “an affidavit will be deemed insufficient if it ‘shows on its face that [the affiant] could not competently testify at the trial to [the] matters’ asserted therein.” Id. at *5 (citing Rule 191(a)). The court reasoned:
In his evidence deposition, the plaintiff admitted that he had no way of knowing who made the furnaces in use at Republic Steel. The plaintiff’s deposition testimony, taken in its entirety, shows that he could not competently testify that the furnaces used at Republic Steel were manufactured by GE. His discovery deposition, in fact, suggests that his testimony in that regard is inadmissible hearsay.
Id. After a cursory analysis of additional, more generalized evidence regarding GE’s manufacture of relevant products in that time period, the Court determined that Plaintiff had failed to establish prima facie evidence to permit a court to exercise specific jurisdiction over GE. Id.
No jurisdiction by necessity
The court declined to adopt this doctrine known as jurisdiction by necessity, which would subject a non-resident defendant to personal jurisdiction merely because the plaintiff does not otherwise have a single forum available within which to bring an action against all defendants. Id. at *6. The court noted that absence of any authority exercising jurisdiction based on this doctrine, which, if adopted, would result in far-reaching changes to existing law. Id.
This recent case provides non-resident defendants in Cook County with a new tool to challenge a court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction in Illinois. During the discovery phase, careful consideration and planning for such a challenge may strengthen a defendants’ chance of an early dismissal.