On November 26, 2019, in Eileen Riebel, et al. v. 3M Company, et al. (Case No. 2015-L-002124), Cook County Judge Clare E. McWilliams granted a premises defendant’s personal jurisdiction motion in an asbestos matter finding that a contractual relationship between an out-of-state premises defendant and a decedent’s Illinois-based employer, by itself, was not sufficient to establish specific personal jurisdiction over the out-of-state defendant and did not meet the requisite minimum contacts with the state.
Plaintiff, Eileen Reibel, filed her initial complaint on behalf of her late husband, Fred Reibel (“Decedent”). The complaint alleged that the Decedent’s malignant mesothelioma, which led to his death, was caused by exposure to asbestos-containing materials manufactured by several defendants in Illinois and Indiana over the course of his 29-year career. One of the named defendants was United States Steel Corporation (“U.S. Steel”). Plaintiff specifically alleged, among other things, “negligence against U.S. Steel as a result of [the Decedent’s] exposure to [asbestos-containing] materials at U.S. Steel’s premises.” Plaintiff’s initial complaint only alleged exposure at U.S. Steel’s Gary, Indiana facility. Following subsequent amendments, Plaintiff later alleged exposure at U.S. Steel’s South Works facility in Chicago, Illinois as well. It was not until discovery that the Plaintiff admitted that the Decedent never worked at U.S. Steel’s Chicago facility, nor had he worked at any U.S. Steel premises in Illinois. Equipped with Plaintiff’s concession and the fact that U.S. Steel was not incorporated in Illinois, nor did it have a principal place of business in the state, U.S. steel sought dismissal on the grounds that Illinois lacked specific personal jurisdiction.
Plaintiff argued that U.S. Steel had in fact established minimum contacts with Illinois when it purposefully contracted with the Decedent’s employer, an Illinois contractor by the name of M&O Insulation Company (“M&O”), in order to “to employ Illinois workers to perform maintenance and construction work at its Gary Works facility in Indiana.” Additionally, Plaintiff presented a new allegation not asserted in her amended complaint – claiming that any asbestos-containing dust that the Decedent got on his clothes would have travelled with him back to his residence in Illinois. Thus, establishing that his exposure from the Gary facility would have continued within the State of Illinois. U.S. Steel refuted both arguments by first explaining that the location of the Decedent’s employer was not a purposeful factor in U.S. Steel’s selection of a contractor. Secondly, that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the dust or dirt that the Plaintiff allegedly brought home on his clothes was actually asbestos.
The Court stated that it could not make the speculative leap of connecting U.S. Steel’s allegedly tortious conduct in its Indiana facility with its affiliations within the State of Illinois, and as such, found that it would be unreasonable to litigate the case in Illinois as it would offend “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” (Citing International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). The Court further held that U.S. Steel’s contract with M&O failed to meet the requisite minimum contact with Illinois, citing that notions of due process require “that a defendant be haled into court in a forum State based on [their] own affiliation with the State, not based on the ‘random, fortuitous, or attenuated’ contacts he makes by interacting with other persons affiliated with the State.” Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 1123 (2014) (emphasis added). Additionally, despite Plaintiff’s imaginative claim that the Decedent’s asbestos exposure continued in Illinois when he wore his dirty work clothes home, the Court found that this assertion lacked supporting evidence that the dust or dirt on the Decedent’s clothes actually contained asbestos.
With how frequent many asbestos plaintiffs work for Illinois contractors that have entered into contractual agreements with facilities in bordering states, this case provides Illinois defendants with a useful example of what activity, alone, fails to meet the requisite minimum contacts with the State of Illinois.