9th Cir.: No ‘Tag Jurisdiction' Over Corp. in Defect Lawsuit

By Lisa Helem

Aug. 22 — French aircraft maker Avions de Transport Regional isn't subject to personal jurisdiction in a product liability lawsuit in California because the U.S. Supreme Court's precedent in a 1990 jurisdiction case doesn't authorize “tag jurisdiction” over corporations, the Ninth Circuit ruled.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit considered whether, under Burnham v. Superior Court, 495 U.S. 604 (1990), service of process on a corporation's officer in a forum state creates general personal jurisdiction over the corporation.

“We hold that Burnham does not apply to corporations. A court may exercise general personal jurisdiction over a corporation only when its contacts ‘render it essentially at home' in the state,” the Ninth Circuit held.

It referenced and quoted the Supreme Court's plurality opinion in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 2014 BL 9151, U.S. (Jan. 14, 2014).

Defective Design Claims

The French aircraft manufacturer Avions de Transport Regional (ATR) was sued in federal court in California by heirs of Lorenzo C. M. Cervantes, a passenger on an ATR-72-212 airplane that crashed in Cuba. Everyone aboard Aero Caribbean flight 883 was killed.

Lorenzo Martinez and other heirs alleged that ATR's defective design and construction of the airplane caused the crash.

The district court granted ATR's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit found that “because ATR is not otherwise ‘essentially at home' in California, and service on its corporate officer did not render it so, we affirm the district court.”

The Ninth Circuit reasoned that neither the plurality opinion nor any other opinions in Burnham discussed tag jurisdiction with respect to artificial persons.

The opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/LORENZO_MENDOZA_MARTINEZ_ELIEZER_MENDOZA_MARTINEZ_ELIU_MENDOZA_GL.