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Rodoni v. Royal Outdoor Products, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

May 30, 2019



          Dana L. Christen Chief Judge

         Before the Court is Defendants' (Royal Outdoors, Royal Group, Westlake Chemical, and Axiall Corporation) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 5) for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). Plaintiff Daniel Rodoni contests only the dismissal of Royal Outdoors and Royal Group (collectively "Royal Defendants"). The Court will therefore grant the motion as to Defendants Westlake Chemical and Axiall Corporation without prejudice. For the reasons explained, the Court denies the motion as to Royal Defendants subject to renewal after jurisdictional discovery.


         On April 4, 2015 Rodoni was socializing on his cousin's balcony when the railing gave way, causing him to fall from the second-story deck onto the pavement below. (Doc. 1-1 at 4-5.) Rodoni alleges that Royal Defendants designed the polyvinyl chloride railing using an incompatible adhesive which caused it to break. (Id. at 5.) The railing was designed outside of Montana but purchased within the State.[1]

         Standard of Review

         "Where a defendant moves to dismiss a complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction is appropriate." Schwarzenegger, 374 F.3d at 800 (citing Sher v. Johnson, 911 F.2d 1357, 1361 (9th Cir. 1990)). The plaintiff s pleading and affidavits "need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdictional facts." Id. In circumstances where the jurisdictional question is complex or factually contested, a court may defer a final ruling until the parties complete discovery on the issue. E.g., Holland America Line Inc. v. Wartsila N. Am., Inc., 485 F.3d 450, 454 (9th Cir. 2007); El- Fadl v. Cent. Bank of Jordan, 75 F.3d 668, 670 (D.C. Cir. 1996), abrogated on other grounds by Samantar v. Yousuf, 560 U.S. 305 (2010); 4 Procedural Aspects of Personal Jurisdiction, 4 Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 1067.6 (4th ed. 2011).


         Personal jurisdiction is an individual liberty protected by the due process clause. Ins. Corp. of Ir. v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982). For a federal court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, two requirements must be met: jurisdiction must be proper under the state's long arm statute, and jurisdiction must satisfy the constitutional standard. Schwarzenegger, 374 F.3d at 800. Royal Defendants move to dismiss on both accounts. Only specific jurisdiction is at issue in this motion. (Doc. 7 at 7.)

         I. Montana's Long Arm Statute

         Montana's long arm statute permits jurisdiction over any defendant who commits seven enumerated acts, including one who commits "any act resulting in accrual within Montana of a tort action." Mont. R. Civ. P. 4(b)(1)(B).

         Royal Defendants argue that the alleged design defect did not "accrue" in Montana where the only "event [that occurred] in Montana was the injury to" Rodoni. (Doc. 6 at 9.) Royal Defendants cite Tackett v. Duncan, 334 P.3d 920 (Mont. 2014), as well as this Court's decision in Ascencio v. Phillips Agency, Inc., No. CV 16-64-M-DLC, 2016 WL 9461796 (D. Mont. Aug. 16, 2016), for the proposition that Montana law requires more than mere injury within the State to "establish accrual of a tort action" in satisfaction of its long arm statute. (Id. at 10.)

         Rodoni, on the other hand, cites to Bendure v. Star Targets, No. CV-14-89-BLG-APW-CSO, 2016 WL 829912 (D. Mont. Mar. 1, 2016), and Joss v. Bridgestone Corp,, No. CV-08-68-BLG-RFC, 2009 WL 1323040 (D. Mont. May 11, 2009), to support his assertion that jurisdiction is proper under Montana's long arm statute when a design or manufacturing defect causes injury to a plaintiff within the State. (Doc. 7 at 7-8.) In response, Royal Defendants argue that Bendure and Joss are incompatible and therefore superseded by Tackett and Acencio, (Doc. 12 at 3, 5-7.) The Court disagrees.

         First and foremost, a federal court interpreting Montana's long arm statute looks to the Montana Supreme Court's interpretation of it. In Tackett, the Montana plaintiff alleged that the defendant fraudulently induced him to wire money to Florida for an inspection of his Florida home. Tackett, 334 P.3d at 923-24. Reviewing the case under the same "accrual" provision, the Court determined that the allegedly fraudulent communication did not give rise to jurisdiction where the contract was intended to be performed entirely out of state, and where the only conduct that occurred within Montana was that the plaintiff learned of his injury there. Id. at 928. Similarly in Ascencio, the Montana plaintiff brought a defamation claim against an out-of-state company that conducted background checks, arguing that she was harmed when the company informed a future-potential employer of her criminal record. 2016 WL 9461796, at *1. This Court determined that personal jurisdiction was not proper under Montana's long arm statute because the tort accrued in the location where the service was performed, not where the plaintiff felt her injury. Id. at *5. It stated, "to determine the place of accrual, Montana looks not to the location of the injury but to the location of the injury-causing event." Id. at *4.

         Royal Defendants assume that, in the context of a design defect, the location of relevance (or the "injury causing event") occurs in the place where the product was designed. Not so. For not all defectively designed products will fail and cause injury to consumers. A plaintiff has ...

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