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Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court

Supreme Court of Montana

May 21, 2019

FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Petitioner,
v.
MONTANA EIGHTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, ELIZABETH BEST, Respondent.

          Petition for Writ of Supervisory Control In and For the County of Cascade, Cause No. ADV-18-0247(b) Honorable Elizabeth Best, Presiding Judge

          For Petitioner: Ian McIntosh, Marcia Davenport, Crowley Fleck, PLLP, Bozeman, Montana Vaughn A. Crawford, Snell & Wilmer, Phoenix, Arizona

          For Plaintiff Charles S. Lucero: Dennis P, Conner, Keith D. Marr, James R. Conner, Conner & Marr, PLLP, Great Falls, Montana Daniel P. Buckley, Buckley Law Office, PC, Bozeman, Montana

          OPINION

          Laurie McKinnon Justice

         ¶1 Ford Motor Company (Ford) petitions this Court for a writ of supervisory control following an order of the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County, in Charles Lucero v. Ford Motor Company, ADV-18-247(b), denying its motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. We accept supervisory control, conclude Montana has specific personal jurisdiction over Ford in this case, and accordingly affirm the District Court's order. This Opinion and Order addresses the following issue:

Does Montana have specific personal jurisdiction over Ford regarding Lucero's design defect, failure to warn, and negligence claims when the vehicle accident occurred in Montana but the vehicle was not designed, manufactured, or first sold by Ford in Montana?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Markkaya Jean Gullett, a Montana resident, drove a 1996 Ford Explorer. Ford did not design or manufacture the Explorer in Montana. Ford assembled the Explorer in Kentucky and sold it for the first time to a dealer in Washington. Over ten years later, the Explorer was resold and registered in Montana. In 2015, as Gullett drove the Explorer on the interstate in Montana, one of the Explorer's tires suffered a tread/belt separation. The vehicle lost stability, rolled into a ditch, and came to rest upside down. Gullett died at the scene. Gullett's personal representative, Charles Lucero (Lucero), filed this suit against Ford in Montana state district court on behalf of Gullett and her heirs. The complaint . alleges three claims against Ford: strict liability for design defect, strict liability for failure to warn, and negligence. Lucero seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         ¶3 Defendant Ford moved to dismiss, arguing Montana does not have specific personal jurisdiction over Ford regarding Lucero's claims and specifically reasoning that there is no link between Ford's Montana contacts and Lucero's claims. The District Court disagreed and ultimately concluded it had specific personal jurisdiction over Ford.

         ¶4 Ford now asks this Court to exercise supervisory control over the District Court, conclude no specific personal jurisdiction exists, and dismiss the case against Ford. Ford faults the District Court for resting its analysis on Ford's in-state contacts and the fact that Gullett was injured in Montana, arguing the court erred when it failed to identify a link between Ford's contacts with Montana and Lucero's claims. Lucero asserts the court's exercise of specific personal jurisdiction is appropriate in this case.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶5 This Court has supervisory control over Montana courts. Mont. Const, art. VII, § 2(2); see also Great Falls Clinic LLP v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, 2016 MT 245, ¶ 6, 385 Mont. 95, 381 P.3d 550. Supervisory control is an extraordinary remedy and we determine whether to use it on a case-by-case basis. M. R. App. P. 14(3). We may exercise supervisory control when "urgency. . . mak[es] the normal appeal process inadequate," "the case involves purely legal questions," and "[c]onstitutional issues of state-wide importance are involved." M. R. App. P. 14(3)(b).

         ¶6 This Court reviews a personal jurisdiction ruling de novo. Tackett v. Duncan,2014 MT 253, ΒΆ ...


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