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Thomas-fish v. Aetna Steel Products Corp.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

June 4, 2019

HELEN THOMAS-FISH, Individually and as Executrix of the Estate of Robert C. Fish, Plaintiff,
v.
AETNA STEEL PRODUCTS CORP., et al., Defendants.

          LEVY KONIGSBERG, LLP By: Amber Rose Long, Esq. Joseph J. Mandia, Esq. Counsel for Plaintiff

          McGIVNEY, KLUGER & COOK, P.C. By: William D. Sanders, Esq. Counsel for Defendant Sonic Industries, Inc.

          OPINION [DKT. NO. 58, 60]

          RENÉE MARIE BUMB UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         DISTRICT JUDGE RENÉE MARIE BUMB:

         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendant Sonic Industries, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) [Docket No. 60]. The issue raised by the motion is whether Plaintiff Helen Thomas-Fish has pled sufficient facts supporting this Court's exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over Defendant Sonic Industries on a successor liability theory. The Court holds that Plaintiff has not. Accordingly, the Motion to Dismiss will be granted.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Complaint sparsely alleges “Plaintiff's Decedent [Robert Fish] was exposed to asbestos while working in 1960 as a civilian at New York Shipbuilding and Drydock located in Camden, New Jersey[.]” (Compl. ¶ 4) Robert Fish died in 2016, allegedly from complications of mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos. (Id. ¶ 2)

         The Complaint identifies a laundry list of Defendants, “[o]ne, some or all” of whom are alleged to be “manufacturers, suppliers, installers or distributors of asbestos fibers, dust, minerals, particles and other finished and unfinished asbestos-containing products to which Mr. Fish was exposed and/or are otherwise liable for injuries resulting from work performed and/or products supplied by the joiner contractor that installed asbestos-containing paneling during the construction of the NS Savannah at NY Ship [sic] in Camden, New Jersey.” (Compl. ¶ 6) One such Defendant is “RBC Sonic, ” which Defendant Sonic Industries asserts is not a legal entity but a name “occasionally used informally by Sonic Industries, Inc. employees.” (Feeney Decl. ¶ 20)

         It is undisputed for purposes of the instant motion that Sonic Industries is not subject to general jurisdiction in the State of New Jersey. Sonic Industries is incorporated in California and maintains its principal place of business in Connecticut. (Feeney Decl. ¶¶ 6-7) Plaintiff served the Summons and Complaint in this case upon Sonic Industries at its manufacturing facility located in Torrance, California. (Id. ¶ 8)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         On a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the court's jurisdiction over the defendant. Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 97 (3d Cir. 2004). Although the plaintiff must ultimately prove personal jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence, such a showing is unnecessary at the early stages of litigation. Mellon Bank (E.) PSFS, Nat. Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir. 1992). Instead, the plaintiff must “present[ ] a prima facie case for the exercise of personal jurisdiction by establishing with reasonable particularity sufficient contacts between the defendant and the forum state.” Id. at 1223 (citations omitted). Once the plaintiff meets his or her burden, the burden shifts to the defendant to establish the presence of other considerations that would render the exercise of personal jurisdiction unreasonable. Carteret Sav. Bank, FA v. Shushan, 954 F.2d 141, 150 (3d Cir. 1992) (citation omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         It is undisputed that Sonic Industries, Inc. was not incorporated until 1966, therefore it “did not exist in 1960.” (Feeney Decl. ¶¶ 5-6). Thus, it must be that Plaintiff does not assert that Sonic Industries, itself, “manufacture[d], supplie[d], installe[d] or distribut[ed]” any asbestos-containing product to which Mr. Fish was exposed, but rather, that Sonic Industries is “otherwise liable for injuries resulting from work performed and/or products supplied by the joiner contractor that installed asbestos-containing paneling.” (Compl. ¶ 6)

         How Sonic Industries is alleged to be “otherwise liable” is not set forth in the Complaint, nor does the Complaint contain any allegations as to personal jurisdiction. In opposition to the instant motion however, Plaintiff asserts that Sonic Industries is subject to personal jurisdiction in New Jersey “as successor to the joiner contractor that performed the work that injured Mr. Fish.” (Opposition Brief, p. 8) It is not clear ...


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