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Harry v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 16, 2017

HARRY AND/OR TAMMY TARVER, Individually and as personal representatives Of the ESTATE OF TRAVIS SCOTT TARVER, deceased, Plaintiffs,
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, a Delaware corporation, Defendant.



         Defendant Ford Motor Company (Ford) moves the Court to reconsider its December 5, 2016 Order denying Ford's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction [Doc. No. 62]. Relying on the recent Supreme Court decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., San Francisco Cnty., 137 S.Ct. 1773 (2017), Ford contends there has been an intervening change in controlling law that requires the Court to vacate the denial of its Motion. Plaintiffs have filed their response in opposition [Doc. No. 63], and Ford has replied [Doc. No. 64]. The matter is fully briefed and at issue.


         Plaintiffs' son, Travis, owned a 2002 Ford F-150 pickup truck. On November 10, 2014, while driving on Oklahoma State Highway 270, he came upon an 18-wheeler truck stopped in the highway. Travis attempted to go around the truck and lost control of his vehicle. Travis' truck began to roll over, during which the seat broke from the floor and the seatbelt was torn, causing Travis to be ejected from the vehicle; Travis died from his injuries. Plaintiffs filed suit against Ford[2] alleging the truck was defective at the time it was manufactured by Ford and unreasonably dangerous to any person who might have been affected by it, including Travis.

         Ford moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' suit on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that it was not “at home” in Oklahoma and the suit did not arise from Ford's contacts with the state. Plaintiffs contended Ford's business activities leading up to the accident and placing the truck in the “stream of commerce” rendered it subject to personal jurisdiction. In denying Ford's Motion, the Court found that it did not have general jurisdiction since Ford did not have “continuous and systematic contacts” in Oklahoma, and outside of their allegations that Ford did significant business in the state, Plaintiffs failed to allege any facts that would suggest that Ford had such continuous contact to render it “at home” in this forum. See Order, Dec. 5, 2016 at 7-8 [Doc. No. 51].

         However, the Court found it could exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Ford because (1) Ford had sufficient “minimum contacts” with Oklahoma such that it should have reasonably anticipated being haled into court there for Travis' death, and (2) the exercise of personal jurisdiction would not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. In sum, the Court found that Ford purposefully availed itself of the privilege of doing business in Oklahoma in that it designed, manufactured, marketed, and sold products specifically built for interstate travel, which included Oklahoma. Since Ford placed the product at issue in the “stream of commerce, ” and Plaintiffs' claim arose out of the vehicle's use in Oklahoma, the Court found the exercise of personal jurisdiction was reasonable. See id. at 9-15.


         In Bristol-Myers, out-of-state plaintiffs joined California plaintiffs in state court litigation based on injuries purportedly caused by the Bristol-Myers prescription drug Plavix. Over 600 plaintiffs brought suit in California; however, only eighty-six of those plaintiffs were actually California residents. Bristol-Myers was not a citizen of California. The nonresidents did not allege that they purchased the harmful product in question in California, nor did they allege that they suffered any injury in California. The California Supreme Court ultimately concluded that general jurisdiction was lacking. However, it determined that California courts had specific jurisdiction over the claims of the nonresident plaintiffs. The California Supreme Court reasoned that Bristol-Myers' extensive contacts with the state and the similarity to the claims of the California residents supported its decision.

         The Supreme Court reversed. It held that the exercise of specific jurisdiction over the non-California plaintiffs' claims violated the Due Process Clause. 137 S.Ct. at 1783-84. The Court, relying on Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915 (2011), stated “there must be an affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State and is therefore subject to the State's regulation.” Id. at 1780 (quoting Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 919) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court elaborated that when no such connection exists, “specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of a defendant's unconnected activities in the state.” Id. at 1781. The existence of forum activities unrelated to the cause of action - including the operation of research laboratories not connected to Plavix, employment of sales representatives, and the maintenance of a state-government advocacy office-did not affect the analysis. Id. Moreover, Bristol-Myers did not develop, manufacture, label, package, or work on the regulatory approval or marketing strategy for Plavix in California. Id. at 1778. The Court then explained that “[t]he mere fact that other plaintiffs were prescribed, obtained, and ingested Plavix in California does not allow the State to assert specific jurisdiction over the nonresidents' claims ... [w]hat is needed is a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue.” Id. at 1778, 1781. The Court specifically noted, however, that “the plaintiffs who are residents of a particular State-for example, the 92 plaintiffs from Texas and the 71 from Ohio-could probably sue together in their home States.” Id. at 1783.


         Technically, “[a] motion for reconsideration [is] not recognized by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Computerized Thermal Imaging, Inc. v. Bloomberg, L.P., 312 F.3d 1292, 1296 n. 3 (10th Cir. 2002). The Court construes such motions as filed pursuant to Rule 59(e)(motions to alter or amend a judgment) or Rule 60(b)(relief from a final judgment, order, or proceeding), depending on the asserted justification for, and timing of, the motion. Id.; compare Servants of Paraclete v. John Does I-XVI, 204 F.3d 1005, 1012 (10th Cir. 2000) (“Grounds warranting a motion to reconsider [under Rule 59(e)] include (1) an intervening change in the controlling law, (2) new evidence previously unavailable, and (3) the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice.”), with Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) (justifying relief for reasons such as “mistake, inadvertence, surprise . . . excusable neglect . . . newly discovered evidence . . . [or] fraud”). A motion to reconsider is thus appropriate where the court has misapprehended the facts, a party's position, or the controlling law. Servants of Paraclete, 204 F.3d at 1012. It should not be used to revisit issues already addressed or advance arguments that could have been raised earlier. Id.


         Ford's Motion relies on Rule 59(e), which allows for reconsideration upon an intervening change in controlling law. It contends that the Court's Order must be rescinded because the Bristol-Myers decision reinforces its stated objections to personal jurisdiction in this case. Although the Court of course recognizes the Bristol-Myers decision as controlling precedent, it finds Ford's Motion should nonetheless be denied for two reasons.

         First, Ford's Motion was denied in substantial part pursuant to the “stream of commerce” theory articulated in Asahi Metal Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Superior Ct. of Cal., Solano County, 480 U.S. 102 (1987). The Court's decision in Bristol-Meyers makes no mention of the “stream of commerce” doctrine. Rather, the Court made its decision through a “straightforward application” of “settled principles of personal jurisdiction.” Bristol-Myers, 137 S.Ct. at ¶ 1783.[3] To this end, Ford's Motion revisits issues already addressed by the Court, which is a prohibited use of a motion for reconsideration. Under the same “settled principles of personal jurisdiction, ” the ...

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