United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division
STEPHANIE CATARAHA, as the personal representative of the Estate of STEPHEN HAMILTON, Plaintiff,
ELEMENTAL PRISM, LLC, Herb Stomp, Defendants.
ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS
Morris United States District Court Judge.
Elemental Prism, LLC, d/b/a Herb Stomp, (“Elemental
Prism”), moves this Court to dismiss the Complaint
(Doc. 1) of Plaintiff Estate of Stephen Hamilton
(“Estate”) for lack of personal jurisdiction over
them. (Doc. 3 at 1-2.)
Estate alleges in the Complaint that Elemental Prism, an
Oregon limited liability company that sells herbal
botanicals, spices, and other natural products, violated
M.C.A. § 27-1-719 (2) and (3) by selling “a
dangerous and defective product unreasonably dangerous to its
users and consumers.” (Doc. 1 at 2.) The Estate alleges
that Elemental Prism sells Kratom, an herb that can be fatal
if ingested. Id. The Estate alleges that Elemental
Prism extensively marketed Kratom for external use only.
Id. The Estate alleges that Elemental Prism knew or
should have known, however, that users and consumers like
Stephen Hamilton ingested Kratom for pain relief.
Estate alleges that Hamilton purchased quantities of Kratom
from Elemental Prism in March of 2017. Id. Hamilton
died on March 25, 2017. Id. The Estate alleges that
an overdose of mitragynine, a substance found in Kratom,
caused Hamilton's death. Id. The Estate further
alleges that Elemental Prism failed to warn consumers of
these dangers. Id. The Estate alleges that Elemental
Prism's violation of M.C.A. § 27-1-719 constituted
the legal cause of the death of Hamilton. Id.
courts generally look to state law to determine the bounds of
their jurisdiction over parties. Picot v. Weston,
780 F.3d 1206, 1211 (9th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation and
citation omitted). Montana follows a two-step test for
determining whether a Montana court may exercise personal
jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant. Milky Whey,
Inc. v. Dairy Partners, LLC, 342 P.3d 13, 17 (Mont.
2015). The Court first must determine whether personal
jurisdiction exists under M.R. Civ. P. 4(b)(1). Id.
A party may be “found within the state of
Montana” and subject to general jurisdiction, or
specific jurisdiction may exist if the claim for relief
arises from any of the acts listed in Rule 4(b)(1)(A-G).
Id. The second step requires the court to determine
whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction conforms with
“the traditional notions of fair play and substantial
justice embodied in the due process clause.”
Cimmaron Corp. v. Smith, 67 P.3d 258, 260 (Mont.
2003) (citing Threlkeld v. Colorado, 16 P.3d 359,
361 (Mont. 2000)).
opposing a defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of
personal jurisdiction, “the plaintiff bears the burden
of establishing that jurisdiction is proper.” Ranza
v. Nike, Inc., 793 F.3d 1059, 1068 (9th Cir. 2015)
(citation omitted); Schwarzenegger v. Fred Martin Motor
Co., 374 F.3d 797, 800 (9th Cir. 2004). Plaintiffs
cannot “rest” on the bare allegations of the
Complaint. Amba Mktg. Sys., Inc. v. Jobar Int'l,
Inc., 551 F.2d 784, 787 (9th Cir. 1977). They must
“come forward with facts, by affidavit or otherwise,
supporting personal jurisdiction.” Id.
“found” within Montana for the purpose of general
jurisdiction, “it is necessary that the defendants'
activities are ‘substantial' or ‘systematic
and continuous.'” Milky Whey, Inc., 342
P.3d at 17 (citation omitted). The Supreme Court has
clarified this to mean that a state court may exercise
general jurisdiction over out-of-state corporations when
their “affiliations with the state are so
‘continuous and systematic' as to render them
essentially at home in the forum state.” BNSF Ry.
Co. v. Tyrrell, __U.S.__, 137 S.Ct. 1549, 1558 (2017)
Prism is registered as an Oregon limited liability company
and maintains its principal place of business in Portland,
Oregon. (Doc. 4 at 8.) Elemental Prism conducts business in
Montana through online sales. Elemental Prism cannot be said
to be “at home” in Montana, for purposes of
establishing general personal jurisdiction within the
parameters established in Tyrrell. Further, the
Estate does not allege or argue that general jurisdiction
exists over Elemental Prism. (Doc. 10 at 4.) The Estate
argues instead that this Court possesses “long-arm
jurisdiction” because Elemental Prism transacted
business and committed torts in Montana. M.R. Civ. P.
4(b)(1)(A) and (B). (Docs. 16, 21.) The Court will focus its
analysis on the former provision.
Estate primarily relies on 4(b)(1)(B) to establish personal
jurisdiction, but the more pertinent section would be
4(b)(1)(A). A defendant may be subject to specific
jurisdiction under Rule 4(b)(1)(A) if the claim arises from
its “transaction of any business within Montana.”
M.R. Civ. P. 4(b)(1)(A). The “transacting
business” provision requires “far fewer contacts
with the forum state than are necessary to support general
jurisdiction on the theory that the defendant is ‘doing
business' in the forum state.” Milky Whey,
Inc., 342 P.3d at 18 (citing 4A Wright & Miller,
§ 1069.3 at 156-61). Factors to be considered when
analyzing this provision include “the defendant
company's local negotiations for various types of
commercial transactions, the solicitation of business within
the state, prior litigations in the forum, the presence of
agents in the state, and the existence of ongoing contractual
relationships with residents of the forum state.”
Montana Supreme Court determined in Milky Whey, Inc.
that the court lacked specific jurisdiction because the
defendant never sold any product or engaged in the
performance of any service in Montana. Id. at 19.
The defendant also did not engage in e-commerce. Id.
The defendant operated a website, but the plaintiff did not
allege that it had interacted with the website in any way.
Montana Supreme Court determined in Nelson, by
contrast, that the defendant had transacted business in
Montana. The court cited the defendant's lengthy
contractual relationship with another Montana business, its
negotiation of a contract with the Montana plaintiff, and its
arrangement of a contractual relationship between two Montana
businesses. Id. at 20 (citing Nelson v. San
Joaquin Helicopters, 742 P.2d 447, 450 (Mont. 1987)).
These factors established a relationship that proved more
extensive than “a few phone calls back and forth
between the parties.” Id. These factors proved
sufficient to find “purposeful interjection into
Montana” by the defendant and the transaction of
business in Montana. Id.
Estate cites Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc.,
952 F.Supp. 1119 (W.D. Pa. 1997), to support personal
jurisdiction. (Doc. 21 at 2.) There the district court
addressed whether the defendant's conducting of
electronic commerce with Pennsylvania residents constituted
the purposeful availment of doing business in Pennsylvania.
Id. at 1126. The district court concluded that it
did. The contact had not been random or fortuitous. The
defendant chose to process Pennsylvania residents'
applications despite being under no obligation to ...