Thursday, October 24, 2019

Indiana Court Addresses Personal Jurisdiction

Indiana Court Addresses Personal Jurisdiction

A recent decision from the Indiana Court of Appeals considered and rejected the suggestion that certain business organizations had sufficient contacts with Indiana to be sued in connection with the fatal crash of a helicopter. Cadorath Aerospace Lafayette, LLC v. Hicks, Court of Appeals Case No. 18 A-CT-2953, 2019 WL 5250829 (Ind. Ct. App. Oct. 17, 2019).

This case arose out of a helicopter crash, it being alleged that the various business entities were negligent in repairing its engine. Several of the defendants moved to have the complaint against them dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that they did not have “sufficient minimum contacts” with Indiana such that they may be sued in Indiana. The court would ultimately agree with these assertions and dismiss them from the lawsuit.

One of the defendants, Cadorath Aerospace Lafayette, LLC is organized and functions in Louisiana. It in turn is owned by Cadorath Aerospace, Inc. a company organized in Canada with its principal place of business in Winnipeg. Neither performed services, had employees or agents, or had a facility in Indiana. Another defendant, H-S Tool & Parts, Inc. is a Canadian company with its principal place of business in British Columbia. Again, it did not have an office, employees or agents in Indiana.

It may be inferred that the lawsuit was initially filed in Indiana because that is the location of the operations of Rolls-Royce, the manufacturer of the engine that allegedly failed.

The defendants seeking dismissal from this action would highlight the various facts outlined above, which added up, ultimately, to a de minimis relationship with Indiana. The plaintiffs would rely upon the fact that those defendants had entered into certain agreements with Rolls-Royce for certain repairs involving certain engines. As those agreements with Rolls-Royce provided that disputes would be resolved in Indiana, the plaintiffs alleged that each of the defendants had agreed to be subject to the jurisdiction of the Indiana courts. Specifically:

H-S Tool and Cadorath took purposeful action to establish a decades-long contractual relationship with Rolls-Royce in Indiana, and in doing so they consented to Indiana jurisdiction for suits arising from that relationship. These personal-injury claims arise from that relationship. H-S Tool and Cadorath should have reasonably anticipated being haled into Indiana courts to answer claims related to work performed under those contracts. 2019 WL 5250829, *5.

The Court of Appeals would reject those claims. Initially, it found that the representatives of the persons killed or injured in the helicopter crash were not parties to those agreements with Rolls-Royce and could not claim any rights thereunder. The second basis, in reliance upon guidance from the United States Supreme Court, is that general activities in the state are insufficient to give rise to the minimum contacts necessary for specific jurisdiction. Rather, it would be necessary for the plaintiffs to show specific conduct in the state relating to the claims, and that was absent. The court would ultimately hold:

In sum, Indiana does not have personal jurisdiction over this matter. We recognize the financial and pragmatic strain that this decision places on all parties involved. However, we will not find personal jurisdiction when it is plainly not present. Additionally, we have neither the necessary information nor the judicial authority to decree exactly where the parties should litigate this matter. We only find that the evidence of legal arguments proffered by all parties lead us to one similar conclusion: the trial court erred [in finding that personal jurisdiction existed]. Id, *6.

There was a dissenting opinion pursuant to which one judge would find that the contractual relationship between Rolls-Royce and the various dismissed defendants would have been sufficient to constitute sufficient contacts to exercise personal jurisdiction.

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