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Cruz v. Robinson Engineering Corp.

Decided: January 10, 1992.


On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Passaic County.

Pressler, Shebell and Skillman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, P.J.A.D.



This is a long-arm jurisdiction case. Plaintiff Erasmo Cruz, whose wife Josefa Cruz sues per quod, sustained a serious injury of his left hand while operating a heavy-duty urn filter press on the New Jersey industrial premises of his employer, Altra Filters, Inc. (Altra). Claiming that the press was defective by reason of its lack of safety features, he brought this products liability action against its designer and manufacturer, defendant Robinson Engineering Corporation (Robinson), a corporation of the State of California. Plaintiff effected service pursuant to R. 4:4-4(c). The trial court granted Robinson's motion for dismissal under R. 4:6-2(b), concluding that Robinson's contacts with the State of New Jersey were insufficient to justify a long-arm assertion of jurisdiction over it. Plaintiff appeals. We reverse.

Our review of the record satisfies us that there are adequate undisputed facts to warrant New Jersey's exercise of long-arm jurisdiction here. Altra, a corporation of the State of California, is in the business of manufacturing coffee filters, including filters for large commercial-size urns. The urn filter press fabricated by Robinson, a machine of great bulk weighing between two and a half and three tons and sold to Altra for $75,000, is the basic equipment of Altra's urn filter manufacturing process. It appears from the record that prior to 1985 Altra, to Robinson's knowledge, operated an urn filter manufacturing plant in California. Sometime in 1985, Altra decided to engage in that industrial activity in New Jersey. It ordered the design and fabrication of the urn filter press from Robinson in California in November 1985, assuming that the scheduled twenty-week fabrication time would enable it to implement its commitment to undertake a lease of New Jersey premises in

the spring of 1986 and to open the New Jersey manufacturing facility on or about May 1, 1986.

The press was not completed within the originally agreed upon time frame or, indeed, within the next several months thereafter. On July 22, 1986, Altra wrote to Robinson detailing the history of the transaction between them and proposing a detailed set of terms and conditions upon which Altra conditioned its willingness to continue with the contractual undertaking despite Robinson's breach. The letter was countersigned by Robinson, which did not apparently dispute Altra's statement that:

On various occasions during the past eight months we periodically checked with you with reference to the status of the overall progress of the design and fabrication. Your reply was consistently positive and you repeatedly indicated to us that you were "on schedule." Further, prior to executing our building lease in New Jersey, Ron and myself met with you and stressed the importance of verifying a firm delivery commitment from you, because of the amount of lease money that was to be involved. The point being, as we conveyed to you, that there was no purpose in committing to the building, without a very positive and accurate delivery date for the machine. You will recall that you once again indicated that everything was "on schedule." We subsequently occupied the space, based on your continued commitment and optimism.

Based on the terms of the original agreement, as referred above, the machine was to have been completed on approximately the third week of April, 1986. Allowing for some contingency, we scheduled our activities to receive the unit on May 1, 1986.

The urn filter press, only one of two ever manufactured by Robinson, was ultimately completed and delivered to Altra, f.o.b. Robinson's California plant, and then shipped by Altra's common carrier to its New Jersey plant. Altra had made most of the payments by checks drawn on its New Jersey bank account which bore on their face both Altra's California and New Jersey addresses, and the January 1987 invoice submitted by Robinson noted that the machine had been shipped to New Jersey on January 6, 1987.

The record also demonstrates that this transaction and Robinson's fabrication for Altra's New Jersey plant of a smaller filter press, simultaneously invoiced, constituted Robinson's sole contacts with New Jersey. It owns no property here, maintains no

assets here, maintains no business premises here, and is not ...

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