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Tomas v. Werke

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

November 27, 2018

ALEJANDRO TOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
BAYERISCHE MOTOREN WERKE AG, ET AL Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ABDUL K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the court is Bayerische Motoren Werke AG's (“BMW AG”) motion to reconsider the court's August 24, 2018 order denying its motion to dismiss. Doc. 30. Upon further review of the record and the Eleventh Circuit's recent ruling in Waite v. All Acquisition Corp., 901 F.3d 1307 (11th Cir. 2018), the court finds that it erred in ruling that specific personal jurisdiction exists over BMW AG in Alabama. Doc. 29. Therefore, BMW AG's motion, doc. 30, is due to be granted.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “In the interests of finality and conservation of scarce judicial resources, reconsideration of an order is an extraordinary remedy and is employed sparingly.” Gougler v. Sirius Products, Inc., 370 F.Supp.2d 1185, 1189 (S.D. Ala. 2005) (citations omitted). “[A] party may move for reconsideration only when one of the following has occurred: an intervening change in controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Longcrier v. HL-A Co., Inc., 595 F.Supp.2d 1218, 1247 (S.D. Ala. 2008) (citations omitted). Accordingly, motions to reconsider cannot be used “to relitigate old matters, raise argument or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Michael Linet, Inc. v. Village of Wellington, Fla., 408 F.3d 757, 763 (11th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). Nevertheless, district courts have discretion to reconsider their orders, Harper v. Lawrence County, Ala., 592 F.3d 1227, 1232 (11th Cir. 2010), and “reconsideration is appropriate to correct manifest errors of law or fact.” Gougler, 370 F.Supp.2d at 1189 (citations omitted).

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), the “plaintiff bears the initial burden of alleging sufficient facts in the complaint to make a prime facie case for personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant.” See Meier ex rel. Meier v. Sun Intern. Hotels, Inc., 288 F.3d 1264, 1268-69 (11th Cir.2002). “If the defendant submits affidavits or other evidence to contest jurisdiction, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to produce evidence supporting jurisdiction.” Smith v. Poly Expert, Inc., 186 F.Supp.3d 1297, 1298 (N.D. Fla. 2016). When the supporting evidence provided by the parties conflict, the court must construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Alejandro Tomas filed this suit against BMW NA and its indirect parent company BMW AG seeking actual and punitive damages for an injury he sustained from an unexpected airbag deployment. Doc. 1. BMW AG sought to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, doc. 16, which the court denied, doc. 29. In its motion for reconsideration, BMW AG argues that the court failed to apply (1) the “but-for” analysis to determine if Tomas's claims arise out of or relate to contacts between BMW AG and Alabama and (2) the “stream of commerce plus” test to determine if BMW AG purposefully availed itself to the privilege of conducting business in Alabama. Doc. 31 at 4-5, 9-11.

         Basically, pursuant to its long-arm statute, “Alabama permits its courts to exercise jurisdiction over nonresidents to the fullest extent allowed under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.” Ruiz de Molina v. Merritt & Furman Ins. Agency, Inc., 207 F.3d 1351, 1355 (11th Cir. 2000) (citing Martin v. Robbins, 628 So.2d 614, 617 (Ala. 1993)). To determine whether the exercise of specific jurisdiction offends due process, the court must apply a three-part test examining whether: (1) Tomas has established that his claims “arise out of or relate to” at least one of the BMW AG's contacts with the forum; (2) Tomas has demonstrated that BMW AG has “purposefully availed” itself of the privilege of conducting activities within Alabama; and (3) BMW AG has made a “compelling case that the exercise of jurisdiction would violate traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Louis Vuitton Malletier, S.A. v. Mosseri, 736 F.3d 1339, 1355 (11th Cir. 2013). If Tomas is able to satisfy the first two prongs, the court then applies a “due process analysis” examining the “burden on [BMW AG], the interests of the forum state, and the [Tomas's] interest in obtaining relief.” World-Wide Volkswagen v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 292 (1980).

         A. Whether Tomas's injury arises out of or relates to a contact between BMW AG and Alabama [1]

         With respect to the first prong, the Eleventh Circuit recently noted that although the Supreme Court has “imposed no explicit but-for causation requirement in either Walden or Bristol-Myers Squibb, ”[2] the Court has also not “reject[ed] such a requirement.” Waite, 901 F.3d at 1315. Consequently, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that it cannot disregard binding case law that is “closely on point and has been only weakened, rather than directly overruled, by the Supreme Court.” Id. (emphasis in original). The Circuit held that the proper “jurisdictional analysis” must focus on the contacts the “defendant [itself] creates with the forum State” and “not the plaintiffs' contacts with the forum or even the defendant's contacts with the plaintiffs.” Id. at 1316 (citing Walden, 571 U.S. at 284). In other words, “our inquiry must focus on the direct causal relationship among ‘the defendant, the forum, and the litigation.'” Fraser v. Smith, 594 F.3d 842, 850 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S. A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 (1984)). And, in this Circuit, a tort “arise[s] out of or relate[s] to” the defendant's activity in a state only if the activity is a “but-for” cause of the tort. Id. (citing Oldfield v. Pueblo De Bahia Lora, S.A., 558 F.3d 1210, 1222-23 (11th Cir. 2009)).

         Although he concedes that BMW AG has no direct contacts with Alabama, docs. 1 at 2; 27 at 8, Tomas contends that Waites, in which the plaintiff was injured in Massachusetts and the court found no jurisdiction in Florida, is inapplicable here because his “cause of action occurred and arose out of an accident he had in Alabama.” Doc. 32 at 3. In support of his contention, Tomas submitted a picture of a vehicle plate indicating that BMW AG is the manufacturer of his vehicle and BMW AG's 2017 Annual Report which states that “17.2 million units of BMW passenger cars” are registered in the U.S. market. Docs. 27-3; 27-4. Moreover, Tomas maintains that he purchased his vehicle as a used car in Alabama and that BMW AG purportedly knew of his ownership in Alabama because he received several notices of an airbag recall. Docs. 27 at 1-2, 4; 27-2; 32 at 3-7. Thus, according to Tomas, the accident in Alabama, the purported targeting of the overall United States market, and the airbag notice recall provides the necessary link between BMW AG, the forum state, and the tortious conduct for personal jurisdiction. Doc. 32 at 3. The court disagrees.

         As an initial matter, even if Tomas is correct that BMW AG knew its car could end up in Alabama, [3] “‘foreseeability' alone has never been a sufficient benchmark for personal jurisdiction under the Due Process Clause, ” Woodson, 444 U.S. at 295, and the “mere injury to a forum resident is not sufficient connection to the forum.” Walden, 571 U.S. at 278; see also Hinrichs, 222 So.3d at 1136 (finding that plaintiff's “unilateral activity of [bringing the Sierra to Alabama, in which GM Canada did not participate] is not an appropriate consideration when determining whether a defendant has sufficient contacts with a forum State to justify an assertion of jurisdiction”). Moreover, a “duty to warn” cannot be a basis for specific jurisdiction because “such a result would impermissibly allow the plaintiffs' choices-rather than defendant's contacts to drive the jurisdictional analysis.” Waite, 901 F.3d at 1316. In other words, BMW AG's target of the broader United States market, the notices of recall it sent to Tomas, and Tomas's unilateral decision to purchase the vehicle in Alabama fail to demonstrate BMW AG's connection to Alabama in a “meaningful way.” Walden, 571 U.S. at 278.

         Therefore, in the absence of evidence “that any cause of action arose as a consequence” of BMW AG's acts of “operating, conducting, engaging in, or carrying on a business” in Alabama, Kozial v. Bombardier-Rotax GmbH, 129 Fed.Appx. 543, 546 (11th Cir. 2005), Tomas's claim does not arise out of BMW AG's contacts with the Alabama. Consequently, Tomas fails to satisfy the first prong of the constitutional inquiry for specific jurisdiction, which is enough for the court to dismiss Tomas's claims against BMW AG for lack of personal jurisdiction. See Brown v. Ford Motor Co., No. 3:18-CV-127-TCB, 2018 WL 5858123, at *2 (N.D.Ga. Nov. 9, 2018) (holding that the plaintiff failed to satisfy the first prong and the court had no specific jurisdiction over Ford Motor Company who designed and developed the car in Michigan but the subject vehicle was manufactured in Canada, initially sold to a resident at a New York dealership, then sold as a used vehicle to a Tennessee owner, and finally resold to a Georgia resident).

         B. Whether BMW AG purposefully availed itself to the privilege of ...


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