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Knepfle v. J-Tech Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

December 11, 2019

SHEILA KNEPFLE, Plaintiff,
v.
J-TECH CORPORATION, a foreign corporation, J&P CYCLES, LLC, a foreign corporation, LEMANS CORPORATION, a foreign corporation, and HJC CORP., a foreign corporation, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING HJC CORP.'S MOTION TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF PERSONAL JURISDICTION

          TOM BARBER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant, HJC Corp.'s, motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, filed on May 3, 2019. (Doc. # 66). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on October 2, 2019. (Doc. # 111). The Court held a hearing on the motion on October 2, 2019. (Doc. # 113).[1] After reviewing the motion, response, court file, and record, the Court finds as follows:

         Introduction

         In the modern global marketplace, Americans routinely purchase and use goods manufactured outside of the United States. Indeed, one news report found that over sixty percent of everything Americans buy is made overseas.[2] The legal implications of this routine aspect of modern American life have challenged our courts for decades. In particular, we have struggled with the issue of personal jurisdiction - determining the circumstances under which a foreign manufacturer of goods that end up in our country should be subject to suit in an American court. The case presented here concerns the issue of whether an American court has personal jurisdiction over a South Korean company that manufactures motorcycle helmets sold and used in Florida.

         Addressing this seemingly simple legal issue requires the difficult application of a long - and somewhat complex - line of cases: Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 317 (1945); World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 291 (1980); Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., 480 U.S. 102, 121 (1987); and more recently, J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro, 564 U.S. 873, 879 (2011). This case law illustrates that the legal analysis trial courts are required to use to determine personal jurisdiction in these regularly occurring factual scenarios remains unclear. As elaborated upon below, the Eleventh Circuit has yet to decide on the proper test for trial courts to apply in cases of this nature, and the United States Supreme Court - despite multiple efforts - has been unable to establish a clear, workable rule commanding the support of a majority of its Justices.

         After carefully analyzing the law and facts presented here, this Court finds that personal jurisdiction over the foreign manufacturer has been established under both the “stream of commerce test” and the “stream of commerce plus test.”

         Background

         The facts necessary to decide the instant motion are essentially undisputed. In 2013, Plaintiff purchased a 2009 model Z1R Nomad Sinister half-shell motorcycle helmet in Florida from a retail store operated by Defendant J&P Cycles, LLC (“J&P”). (Docs. ## 46, 65). The helmet was manufactured in South Korea by Defendant HJC Corp. (“HJC”), the largest manufacturer of motorcycle helmets in the world.[3] (Doc. # 111). HJC then sold the helmet to Defendant Lemans Corp. (“Lemans”), who took title to the helmet in Korea. (Doc. # 66-1). Lemans then sold the helmet to J&P. (Doc. # 46).

         On February 18, 2014, Plaintiff was involved in a serious accident that sent her flying off her motorcycle. (Id.). As a result of an alleged design defect, the helmet flew off her head, and her skull landed - unprotected - on the pavement. (Id.). Plaintiff filed her initial complaint in state court on February 1, 2018, and the case was removed to this Court on March 7, 2018. (Docs. ## 1, 2). Upon discovering that HJC was the manufacturer of the helmet, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint listing HJC as a party on November 20, 2018. (Doc. # 46). HJC filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on May 3, 2019. (Doc. # 66). HJC states that it:

(1) is a citizen of Korea with its principal place of business in Korea;
(2) designs motorcycle helmets in Korea;
(3) manufactures its helmets in Korea, China, and Vietnam;
(4) sells helmets to distributors that take title to the product in Korea;
(5) has no further involvement with the helmets after title is transferred;
(6) does not sell to any distributors based in Florida;
(7) sells no helmets direct-to-consumer in the United States;
(8) does not solicit business from Florida residents;
(9) has a website, but products cannot be purchased off the website;
(10) has no business interests, assets, or personnel in Florida; and
(11) has not had a representative travel to Florida for this lawsuit.

See (Doc. #66-1).

         Plaintiff received three extensions of time to respond to HJC's motion, including one expressly to conduct jurisdiction discovery that extended Plaintiff's deadline to September 3, 2019. (Docs. ## 69, 71, 89). Seeing no response from Plaintiff, the Court noticed a hearing on this matter. (Doc. # 96). Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff filed a motion to compel better responses to jurisdictional interrogatories (Doc. # 97), a motion to take the deposition of a corporate representative (Doc. # 98), and a motion to continue the October 2, 2019, hearing. (Doc. # 99). The Court denied Plaintiff's motion to continue. (Doc. # 101). The morning of the hearing, Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to HJC's motion arguing, among other things, that:

(1) HJC's helmets are sold in 167 retail locations ...

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