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Matson v. Steve's Truck & Trailer Repairs, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

October 6, 2017

NATHAN MATSON, as the Administrator of the Estate of JORDAN ALEXA MAYS Plaintiff,
v.
STEVE'S TRUCK & TRAILER REPAIRS, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          L. Scott Coogler United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Nathan Matson (“Plaintiff”), the legally appointed Administrator of the Estate of Jordan Alexa Mays, brought this action against Steve's Truck & Trailer Repairs, Inc. (“Steve's Truck”), Billy Joe Carney, Jr. (“Carney”), and BIR Truck & Trailer Repair, LLC (“BIR”) (collectively “Defendants”). Before the Court is BIR's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction. (Doc. 9.) For the reasons stated below, BIR's Motion to Dismiss is due to be granted.

         I. Background

         On October 20, 2015, Jordan Alexa Mays was riding in a vehicle when it was struck at the intersection of U.S. Highway 280 and County Road 280 in Shelby County, Alabama by a tractor trailer driven by Chassidy Renae Garner-James (“Garner-James”), a Mississippi Resident. (Doc. 1 ¶ 7; Doc. 9 ¶¶ 1-2.) Plaintiff alleges that at the time of the collision, the braking system of the tractor did not work and Garner-James' inability to stop caused the crash. Ms. Mays subsequently died from the accident, and Plaintiff, as administrator of her estate, filed suit against the Defendants.

         Defendants had been hired to repair the tractor's braking system prior to Mays' death. Plaintiff alleges Carney and Steve's Truck worked on the tractor's brakes in York, Alabama on July 31, 2015. (Doc. 9 ¶ 4.) The tractor subsequently failed a Department of Transportation (“DOT”) inspection because it did not comply with DOT braking regulations. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 8.) Miller & Son Trucking, Inc. (“Miller”), a Mississippi resident and the owner of the tractor, then hired BIR to inspect the tractor and to ensure that it complied with all braking regulations. (Id.) BIR has its principal office in Tennessee, but also has a repair shop in Franklin, Kentucky. (Id. at ¶ 4.) BIR performed the requested inspection and repairs to the tractor on a “road call” in Franklin, Kentucky on August 3, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Plaintiff alleges that these repairs were negligently performed and insufficient to fix the underlying braking issue, which persisted until October 20, 2015, where the faulty brakes caused the collision that led to Ms. May's death.

         II. Personal Jurisdiction

         A. Standard of Review

         In a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff generally “bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of jurisdiction over the movant, non-resident defendant.” Morris v. SSE, Inc., 843 F.2d 489, 492 (11th Cir. 1988) (citing Delong Equip. Co. v. Washington Mills Abrasive Co., 840 F.2d 843, 845 (11th Cir. 1988)). “A prima facie case is established if the plaintiff presents enough evidence to withstand a motion for directed verdict.” Madara v. Hall, 916 F.2d 1510, 1514 (11th Cir. 1990). The Court must treat facts alleged in the complaint as true if they are not controverted by affidavits submitted from the defendant. Id. However, if the defendant submits affidavits, the plaintiff must produce additional evidence supporting jurisdiction unless the defendants' affidavits are only conclusory. Stubbs v. Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino, 447 F.3d 1357, 1360 (11th Cir. 2006). When the plaintiff's evidence conflicts with the defendant's evidence, the Court must “construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Id.

         B. Discussion

         “A federal district court sitting in diversity may exercise personal jurisdiction to the extent authorized by the law of the state in which it sits and to the extent allowed under the Constitution.” Meier ex rel. Meier v. Sun Int'l Hotels, Ltd., 288 F.3d 1264, 1269 (11th Cir. 2002); see also Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 753 (2014) (“Federal courts ordinarily follow state law in determining the bounds of their jurisdiction over persons.”). Personal jurisdiction is generally a two-step inquiry, as the Court must consider whether personal jurisdiction is consistent with the forum state's long-arm statute and whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction is consistent with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Mut. Serv. Ins. Co. v. Frit Indus., Inc., 358 F.3d 1312, 1319 (11th Cir. 2004). However, for federal courts in Alabama “the two inquiries merge, because Alabama's long-arm statute permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction to the fullest extent constitutionally permissible.” Sloss Indus. Corp. v. Eurisol, 488 F.3d 922, 925 (11th Cir. 2007); see also Ex Parte Edgetech I.G., Inc., 159 So.3d 629, 633 (Ala. 2014). Thus, the Court need only consider the limits of the Due Process Clause. Mut. Serv. Ins. Co., 358 F.3d at 1319.

         “[D]ue process requires only that in order to subject a defendant to a judgment in personam, if he be not present within the territory of the forum, he have certain minimum contacts with it such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1940)). There are two types of personal jurisdiction-general jurisdiction and specific jurisdiction-but both are based on the defendant's contacts with the forum state.

         i. General Jurisdiction

         General jurisdiction exists over defendants “when their affiliations with the State are so continuous and systematic as to render them essentially at home in the forum State.” Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 131 S.Ct. 2846, 2851 (2011). The general jurisdiction inquiry “is not whether a foreign corporation's in-forum contacts can be said to be in some sense ‘continuous and systematic, ' it is whether that corporation's ‘affiliations with the State are so “continuous and systematic” as to render [it] essentially at home in the forum State.'” Daimler AG, 134 S.Ct. at 761 (alteration in original) (quoting Goodyear, 131 S.Ct. at 2851). The contacts must be sufficient that a suit in the subject state, even on unrelated dealings, is justified. See Int'l Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 318. For example, a foreign mining corporation whose mining activities ceased entirely, but whose general manager and president maintained an office in Ohio to conduct activities on behalf of the company by keeping files, holding meetings, and distributing paychecks, was subject to general personal jurisdiction in Ohio because the corporation, through its president was “carrying on in Ohio a continuous and systematic, but limited, part of its general business.” Perkins v. Benguet Consol. Min. Co., 342 U.S. 437, 438 (1952). However, a defendant with no place of business, employees, bank accounts, advertisements, or manufacturing facilities in North Carolina, but which had other companies distribute its products in North Carolina was not subject to general personal jurisdiction there. See Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A., 131 S.Ct. at 2857 (“[The defendant's] attenuated connections to the State fall far short of the ‘continuous and systematic general business contacts' necessary to empower North Carolina to entertain suit against [the defendant] on claims unrelated to anything that connects [it] to the State.” (citations omitted)).

         BIR's contacts with Alabama are not sufficient to provide general jurisdiction over it, a point that Plaintiff does not seriously contest. BIR is a limited liability company organized under Tennessee law and has its principal place of business in Parsons, Tennessee, but operates a repair shop in Franklin, Kentucky. Plaintiff has shown no “continuous and systematic” contacts between BIR and Alabama. BIR has no offices, employees, real estate, or bank accounts in Alabama. (Kumar Aff. ¶ 5-6.) Nor has BIR ever serviced or inspected vehicles in Alabama, or affirmatively sued any party there. (Id. at ΒΆΒΆ 6-8.) BIR does not have any affiliation with Steve's Truck or Carney outside of being ...


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