Products Liability Case Providing Analysis of Personal Jurisdiction

Sebring v. Air Equipment & Engineering, Inc. (April 4, 2013)

In this products liability case, the Court of Appeals gave a comprehensive analysis of personal jurisdiction. The Court ultimately found that Indiana lacked personal jurisdiction over one of the defendants, NCI, who manufactured a component part of a product that injured an Indiana resident. NCI is a Texas company, has its sole place of business in Cleburne, Texas, and had had no business activities in Indiana for at least six years at the time of the injury. Further, NCI had not made the decision to ship the final product to Indiana.

In concluding that the Indiana state court lacked personal jurisdiction, the Court of Appeals relied on Justice Breyer’s concurring opinion in Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro, 131 S. Ct. 2780 (2011). The Court focused on Justice Breyer’s opinion because five justices did not sign on to an opinion. As the Court of Appeals explained, when a fragmented court decides a case and no single rationale explaining the result enjoys the assent of five Justices, “the holding of the court may be viewed as that position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds.” Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188, 193 (1977)

Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S.153, 169 n.15 (1976). The Court agreed with the parties that Justice Breyer’s concurring opinion represented the narrowest ground.

In a nutshell, Justice Breyer wrote that when a manufacturer in one state places a product into the stream of commerce that causes injury in a second state, a plaintiff must show “‘something more,’ such as special state-related design, advertising, advice, marketing, or anything else” for the second state to acquire personal jurisdiction.

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