On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. L-713-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 29, 2010
Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Ashrafi.
Plaintiffs Tyler and Harriet Stein appeal from an order of the Law Division dismissing their complaint against defendant True Seating Concepts, LLC, for lack of personal jurisdiction, and an order dismissing their claims against defendant Sam's East, Inc. (Sam's Club) by summary judgment. We reverse.
In April 2003, on his last day at work before retirement, plaintiff Tyler Stein was injured when the base of an office chair "snapped in two" and he fell to the floor. After obtaining an expert engineering report concluding that the chair was defective, plaintiff and his wife*fn2 brought a products liability lawsuit in March 2005 against Sam's Club as the alleged seller, CTS Products, Inc. as the alleged distributor, and a fictitiously-named defendant as the alleged manufacturer of the chair. Plaintiff eventually learned that CTS Products, Inc. had been dissolved, and the claims against that defendant were dismissed under Rule 1:13-7 for lack of prosecution.
After service of process upon Sam's Club, the case was delayed for about two years because of entry and later vacating of default. Sam's Club eventually filed an answer in April 2007. Discovery ensued. More than a year later, in July 2008, the attorney for Sam's Club wrote to plaintiff's attorney stating that the manufacturer of the chair was True Seating Concepts c/o True North America, a company with an address in California.
Plaintiff immediately moved for and obtained leave of the court to amend the complaint to substitute True Seating Concepts, Inc. for the fictitiously-named manufacturer of the chair. An amended complaint was filed in September 2008. In January 2009, it was served upon the registered agent of True North America, Inc. in Delaware.
Further delays occurred because of default and later vacating of default of the newly-named defendant. Eventually, True Seating Concepts, LLC (True Seating) filed an answer in May 2009. Subsequently, the attorney for Sam's Club wrote another letter recanting the prior identification of True Seating as the manufacturer. In July 2009, True Seating filed a motion to dismiss the complaint against it for lack of personal jurisdiction, both because it had no contacts with the State of New Jersey and because service of process was allegedly defective. The trial court granted the motion on August 28, 2009.
Sam's Club then filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that plaintiff lacked evidence that it was the seller of the chair that collapsed. The trial court heard argument and granted summary judgment to Sam's Club on October 9, 2009.
On appeal from the two dismissal orders, plaintiff argues that the Law Division improperly made findings of fact that are in dispute and that it erred legally in concluding that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over True Seating.
Viewed most favorably to plaintiff, see R. 4:46-2(c); Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995), the evidence presented in the summary judgment motion of Sam's Club showed the following ...