Madison County Circuit Court Issues Important Personal Jurisdiction Ruling

Recently, in the matter of Tate v. Pecora Corp., Case No. 16-L-1399, the Madison County Circuit Court has dismissed a Plaintiff’s asbestos complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to M.M. ex rel. Meyers v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, 61 N.E. 3d 1026 (Ill. App. 2016). In GlaxoSmithKline, the Chicago-based Illinois First Appellate District ruled that plaintiffs had made a prima facie showing that their claims arose directly from, or were related to, GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) “purposeful activities” in Illinois, that GSK failed to rebut this prima facie showing, and that it was reasonable to require GSK to litigate the case in Illinois.

At oral argument Plaintiff claimed that her decedent was exposed to defendant’s allegedly asbestos-containing products in Illinois, although that was subject to dispute. Plaintiff further argued that her decedent worked out of an Illinois-based union hall, on Illinois projects for Illinois employers. Plaintiff asserted that the Court’s inquiry should begin and end at the complaint allegations that the decedent was exposed to defendant’s allegedly asbestos-containing products in Illinois, regardless of what the evidence in the case currently demonstrated. Plaintiff went on to argue that her only requirement was to make a prima facie case demonstrating personal jurisdiction, at which point the burden shifted to defendant to disprove the existence of personal jurisdiction.

Defendant argued that it was both incorporated and had its principal place of business in Pennsylvania, with no offices, property, employees or bank accounts in Illinois. Defendant further argued that even if Plaintiff’s disputed allegation of exposure to defendant’s product in Illinois were factually accurate, defendant’s placement of a product in the stream of commerce, that ended up in Illinois, was insufficient to confer specific jurisdiction over defendant. Defendant contended that Supreme Court jurisprudence demanded that the focus of the Court’s “minimum contacts” analysis be on whether the actions of the defendant manifested an intention to submit to the Illinois courts’ jurisdiction.

Although the Court did not issue a detailed opinion in the Tate case, in extemporaneous comments the Court appeared to emphasize that pursuant to GlaxoSmithKline, a plaintiff must demonstrate more than the mere fact that a defendant transacted business in Illinois. According to the Court’s comments, a plaintiff must demonstrate what a defendant did in Illinois, how that conduct is directly related to plaintiff’s claim, and how much business the defendant transacted in Illinois related to the plaintiff’s claim. Once the plaintiff has successfully plead these requirements, the Court indicated that it would permit limited discovery on these issues. The Court then dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint without prejudice, allowing leave to refile meeting the requirements the Court set forth.

While emphasizing that decisions such as Tate will necessarily be made on a case-by-case bases, the Court’s ruling may indicate that it will begin requiring the myriad of oft seen “bare bones” asbestos complaints to allege much more specificity when plaintiffs seek to hold out-of-state defendants in Illinois asbestos litigation based on specific jurisdiction.

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Kerri Forsythe

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