On October 10, 2017, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania handed down a decision affirming the dismissal of a case in Lawrence v. Robland International B.V. et al. The case arises from a workplace injury on May 3, 2013 when plaintiff, Henry Lawrence, injured his hand while using a Robland table saw. On October 28, 2015, Lawrence and his wife filed a complaint naming fifteen defendants, alleging strict liability, negligence, and breaches of warranty. Several of the defendants are located in Belgium and the Netherlands.
These foreign defendants filed preliminary objections arguing that the suit should be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court granted their objections the Lawrence’s appealed, raising the issue of whether Pennsylvania courts could exercise jurisdiction over the foreign saw manufacturers.
When looking at personal jurisdiction, one must do so under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and see whether a defendant has maintained meaningful contacts with the forum. This jurisdiction comes in the form of either specific or general. Specific jurisdiction arises when a certain activity, action, or event gives rise to the exact cause of action. For example, purposefully selling an item in a state which then causes an injury is an event that gives rise to specific jurisdiction. General jurisdiction arises when either a corporation has its headquarters and/or principal place of business in a forum state or maintains connections with the state that are “so continuous and systematic as to render them essentially at home”. An example would be that a company sells so many products in a single state that it is essentially at home there, even if none of those products caused an injury.
Upon review, the Superior Court found that the appellants had waived any argument as to general jurisdiction as they conceded that certain defendants did not have “constant and pervasive contacts with Pennsylvania” in their appeal brief. The court then looked at whether there was specific jurisdiction. In Pennsylvania, to prove specific jurisdiction one must show that a company’s specifically identified activities are covered under Pennsylvania’s Long-Arm Statute, which grants specific jurisdiction in certain situations. Once this is shown, once must then prove that jurisdiction is proper under the Constitution’s due process clause by showing it does not offend “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice”.
Once again, the court found that the appellants had waived their argument because they had skipped the step of showing that specific jurisdiction was proper under Pennsylvania’s Long-Arm Statute and had skipped ahead to the due process analysis. Because of this, the court stated the record and appellate brief submitted were insufficient and failed to meet the burden of showing jurisdiction. Plaintiff failed to set up his chess pieces properly, and ended up facing “checkmate.” Thanks to Peter Cardwell for his contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.