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Avendano-Bautista v. Kimbell Gin Machinery Company

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

March 28, 2017




         Before the Court is Defendant Lubbock Electric Co., Inc.'s ("Lubbock") Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 13.) Plaintiff filed a response in opposition (doc. 23), and Lubbock filed a reply in support (doc. 26).[1] Accordingly, Lubbock's motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for the Court's review. For the reasons stated herein, Lubbock's motion is GRANTED due to lack of personal jurisdiction over Lubbock.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that Defendants Lubbock[2]and Kimbell Gin Machinery Company ("Kimbell")[3] designed, manufactured, inspected, tested, marketed, sold, and distributed a 2015 Kimbell Gin (the "Gin") and its component parts.[4](Compl., Doc. 1, ¶ 10.) Plaintiff's employer, Collins Gin, Inc. ("Collins"), purchased the Gin from Kimbell in early June 2015. (Id. ¶ 19.) A Kimbell representative was sent to Collins' job site to direct and oversee the assembly of the Gin, but departed prior to it being fully assembled and operational. (Id. ¶ 20.)

         On June 11, 2015, the Gin was started by Collins' employees but was quickly halted when a "very loud noise" was heard from the Gin. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) On June 12, 2015, Collins' employees restarted the Gin "in an effort to locate the source of the noise." (Id. ¶ 23.) While standing on the operator platforms, Collins' employees noticed that not all of the Gin's conveyor beds rollers were operational. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) Plaintiff then climbed onto the Gin's beds "in an attempt to determine specifically which beds were not rolling and for the purpose of 'interrupting' the light beams to trigger each bed." (Id. ¶ 25.) "Within seconds of climbing onto the bed, Plaintiff's foot became caught between two rollers that were rolling in opposite direction[s], which created a 'pinch point'" that pulled Plaintiff's legs between the adjoining rollers and "shatter[ed] every bone in his body below the knee."[5] (Id. ¶¶ 26-30.)

         On July 6, 2016, Plaintiff initiated the present lawsuit in this Court. In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges three claims: (a) "strict liability and products liability" pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11; (b) "product liability - willfulness, wantonness, recklessness;" and (c) "negligence." (See id., ¶¶ 47-53.) On September 19, 2016, Lubbock entered a special appearance and filed its present motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and, in the alternative, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 13.)


         "In the context of a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in which no evidentiary hearing is held, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of jurisdiction over the movant, nonresident defendant." Morris v. SSE, Inc., 843 F.2d 489, 492 (11th Cir. 1988). The plaintiff establishes a prima facie case by presenting "enough evidence to withstand a motion for directed verdict." Madera v. Hall, 916 F.2d 1510, 1514 (11th Cir. 1990). A party presents enough evidence to withstand a motion or directed verdict by putting forth "substantial evidence ... of such quality and weight that reasonable and fair-minded persons in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach different conclusions." Walker v. Nations Bank of Florida, 53 F.3d 1548, 1554 (11th Cir. 1995).

         In assessing a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the facts presented in the plaintiff's complaint are taken as true to the extent they are uncontroverted. Cable/Home Commc'n Corp. v. Network Prods., Inc., 902 F.2d 829, 855 (11th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). If the defendant submits affidavits challenging the allegations in the complaint, however, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to produce evidence supporting jurisdiction. Diamond Crystal Brands, Inc. v. Food Movers Intern., Inc., 593 F.3d 1249, 1257 (11th Cir. 2010). If the plaintiff's complaint and supporting evidence conflict with the defendant's affidavits, the court must construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id. (citing Meier v. Sun Int'l Hotels, Ltd., 288 F.3d 1264, 1269 (11th Cir. 2002)).


         In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Lubbock is subject to personal jurisdiction in Georgia because Lubbock "regularly transacts and solicits business in Georgia, and engages in a persistent course of purposeful conduct in Georgia directed towards Georgia citizens . . . by installing, configuring, or assembling the electrical components of Kimbell Cotton Gins." (Compl. ¶ 8; see also id. ¶¶ 10, 12, 35.) While conceding that Georgia's long-arm statute is arguably satisfied, (doc. 16, at 3-4), Lubbock contends that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it because Plaintiff cannot satisfy the "minimum contacts" requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.

         To determine whether a nonresident defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction, the Court must perform a two-part analysis. United Techs. Corp. v. Mazer, 556 F.3d 1260, 1274 (11th Cir. 2009) . First, the Court must determine whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction is proper under the forum state's long-arm statute as that statute would be interpreted by the state's Supreme Court.[6] Id. Next, the Court must determine whether there are sufficient "minimum contacts'' with the forum state to satisfy the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id.; Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington Office of Unemployment Comp. & Placement, 326 U.S. 310 (1945). Because Lubbock concedes - and the Court concludes - that subsection (1) of Georgia's long-arm statute[7] is satisfied by Lubbock's delivery of the Gin's electrical components to Collins in Waynesboro, Georgia, [8] the propriety of the Court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over Lubbock effectively hinges on the resolution of the due process analysis.

         In the context of personal jurisdiction, "the Due Process Clause requires that the defendant's conduct and connection with the forum State be such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." Diamond Crystal Brands, Inc., 593 F.3d at 1267 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Due process therefore requires that a nonresident defendant have "certain minimum contacts with the forum such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted) . This requires a plaintiff to show that the nonresident defendant "purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities - that is, purposefully establishing contacts - in the forum state and there must be a sufficient nexus between those contacts and the litigation." Id. "The focus must always be on the nonresident defendant's conduct, that is, whether the defendant deliberately engaged in significant activities within a state or created continuing obligations with residents of the forum . . . [to] ensure[] that a defendant will not be subject to jurisdiction based solely on random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts." Id. at 1268 (emphasis original) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         In support of its motion to dismiss, Lubbock has submitted the amended affidavit of its general manager, ...

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