January 11, 2013
LINDA D. DODD AND JOHN T. DODD, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
UNI-MART, INC. AND EXXON UNI-MART, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS, AND EXXONMOBIL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Warren County, Docket No. L-460-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 29, 2012
Before Judges Espinosa and Guadagno.
Plaintiffs Linda*fn1 and John Dodd appeal the September 16, 2011 order dismissing their complaint filed against defendants Uni-Mart, Inc. and Exxon Uni-Mart (collectively Uni-Mart) for lack of jurisdiction.*fn2 After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
On September 14, 2008, the Dodds, who were married residents of New Jersey, stopped at the Exxon Uni-Mart service station in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, for gas. While using the restroom, Linda Dodd fell and was injured.
On September 13, 2010, plaintiffs filed suit in New Jersey. Linda alleged negligence and nuisance while John sought per quod damages. Before filing an answer, defendants moved to dismiss. The motion judge heard oral argument and ordered additional jurisdictional discovery.
On September 16, 2011, the judge dismissed the complaint finding that New Jersey courts lacked jurisdiction as there was no "intentional act on the part of the defendants to target the forum state, at least to show the existence of minimum contacts."
Plaintiffs appeal, claiming Uni-Mart's commercial activities as a gas station serving numerous New Jersey customers convey jurisdiction to New Jersey courts. Uni-Mart maintains that it is incorporated in Pennsylvania and had no contacts or business operations in New Jersey.
Because the motion judge dismissed the complaint at the summary judgment stage, we review the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995). Our review of a trial court ruling on jurisdictional issues is de novo because the issue of jurisdiction is a question of law. Mastondrea v. Occidental Hotels Mgmt. S.A., 391 N.J. Super. 261, 268 (App. Div. 2007) (citing Vetrotex CertainTeed Corp. v. Consol. Fiber Glass Prods. Co., 75 F.3d 147, 150 (3d Cir. 1996)).
Under Rule 4:4-4(b)(1), the so-called long-arm provision, New Jersey can exercise jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant found outside the State when done so in accordance with the provisions of that rule and consistent with due process. YA Global Invs., L.P. v. Cliff, 419 N.J. Super. 1, 8 (App. Div. 2011). In order to satisfy due process, an out-of-state party who is not physically present in the forum state must 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.'" Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S. Ct. 154, 158, 90 L. Ed. 95, 102 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463, 61 S. Ct. 339, 343, 85 L. Ed. 278, 283 (1940)). "Minimum contacts" requires that the out-of-state entity has "purposefully avail[ed] itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws." Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253, 78 S. Ct. 1228, 1240, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1283, 1298 (1958).
This requirement protects out-of-state parties from being required to litigate disputes in an inconvenient forum and it prohibits states from exceeding their jurisdictional limits. World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 291-92, 100 S. Ct. 559, 564, 62 L. Ed. 2d 490, 498 (1980). Analysis under this doctrine requires consideration of whether the outof-state party should reasonably anticipate being haled into court in the forum state, and requires more than random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474-75, 105 S. Ct. 2174, 2183, 85 L. Ed. 2d 528, 542 (1985).
The due process test involves first, evaluating whether the party seeking to assert jurisdiction has established sufficient minimum contacts, and, if so, whether entertaining jurisdiction would be consistent with considerations of "fair play and substantial justice." Id. at 476, 105 S. Ct. at 2184, 85 L. Ed. 2d at 543. Once it is demonstrated that the out-of-state party has been found to have the requisite minimum contacts with the forum, the burden shifts to the non-resident party, who must then "present a compelling case that the presence of some other considerations would render jurisdiction unreasonable." Id. at 477, 105 S. Ct. at 2184-85, 85 L. Ed. 2d at 544.
In determining the degree of minimum contacts required, "courts distinguish between 'specific' and 'general' jurisdiction." Wilson v. Paradise Vill. Beach Resort & Spa, 395 N.J. Super. 520, 527 (App. Div. 2007). "If a cause of action arises directly out of a defendant's contacts with the forum state, the court's jurisdiction is 'specific.'" Waste Mgmt., Inc. v. Admiral Ins. Co., 138 N.J. 106, 119 (1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1183, 115 S. Ct. 1175, 130 L. Ed. 2d 1128 (1995). Jurisdiction is deemed "general" if the cause of action is unrelated to the contacts between the out-of-state party and the forum state, in which case the contacts must be continuous and substantial. Charles Gendler & Co. v. Telecom Equip. Corp., 102 N.J. 460, 471-72 (1986). Jurisdiction is more likely to be found when the cause of action arises directly out of the contacts between the out-of-state party and the forum state. Id. at 471.
In dismissing this complaint, the trial court relied on J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro, ____ U.S. ____, 131 S.Ct. 2780, 180 L. Ed. 2d 765 (2011). McIntyre reversed a New Jersey Supreme Court decision and expressly rejected the "stream of commerce" test articulated in Asahi Metal Industry Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., Solano Cty., 480 U.S. 102, 107 S. Ct. 1026, 94 L. Ed. 2d 92 (1987), under which a defendant who foresaw and expected that its goods can be sold as part of a final product to the consumers of some forum, could be haled into that forum.
Although McIntyre was a plurality decision that did not clearly or conclusively define the stream of commerce theory, the Court did hold that the question "is whether a defendant has followed a course of conduct directed at the society or economy existing within the jurisdiction of a given sovereign, so that the sovereign has the power to subject the defendant to judgment concerning that conduct." McIntyre, supra, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S. Ct. at 2789, 180 L. Ed. 2d 776.
Plaintiffs argue that the motion judge erred in relying on McIntyre as McIntyre was a product liability case and this is "a negligence case involving contiguous states in which one state's residents are the raison d'etre for its existence." Even if such a showing had been made here, which it has not, plaintiffs conceded at oral argument that they were not alleging general jurisdiction but relying on specific jurisdiction.
"In the context of specific jurisdiction, the minimum contacts inquiry must focus on 'the relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation.'" Lebel v. Everglades Marina, Inc., 115 N.J. 317, 323 (1989) (quoting Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186, 204, 97 S. Ct. 2569, 2579, 53 L. Ed. 2d 683, 698 (1977)). "The 'minimum contacts' requirement is satisfied" in this regard only if "the contacts resulted from the defendant's purposeful conduct and not the unilateral activities of the plaintiff." Ibid. (citing World-Wide Volkswagen, supra, 444 U.S. at 297-98, 100 S. Ct. at 567-68, 62 L. Ed. 2d at 501-02).
Uni-Mart is a Pennsylvania corporation and discovery failed to produce any proof that Uni-Mart owns property, maintains any offices or has any physical presence in New Jersey. It has no employees in New Jersey, is not licensed to conduct business in New Jersey, has no agent for the service of process in New Jersey and has no New Jersey telephone number, facsimile number, or mailing address. It has no bank accounts in New Jersey, has never paid any New Jersey taxes and never directed any advertising to New Jersey.
Ignoring these compelling facts, plaintiffs rely on a stream of commerce theory in support of their claim that New Jersey has jurisdiction. They argue Uni-Mart is only sixteen miles from New Jersey ("right over the bridge") and "most likely . . . half of their clients are probably New Jersey based."
It is clear that Uni-Mart's contacts with New Jersey were limited to transient New Jersey travelers stopping for gas or other services. These very limited contacts were insufficient to qualify as continuous and substantial contacts, such that they approximated a physical presence in New Jersey. Uni-Mart, by selling gas to New Jersey drivers, did not purposefully avail itself of the protection and benefits of New Jersey's laws and implicitly agree to submit to those laws. These limited contacts were not of the type or quantity that would cause a party to expect to be haled into court in New Jersey.
The remaining claims raised by plaintiffs, that it would be a "preposterous waste of time" to force plaintiffs to re-file in Pennsylvania, and the case should be litigated in New Jersey in the interests of "judicial economy," are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written decision. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).