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CARR v. POUILLOUX

November 5, 1996

JOSEPH H. CARR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
POUILLOUX, S.A., A FOREIGN CORPORATION, JEAN VUARNET, ALLEGRA, INC., A NEVADA CORPORATION, AND ORLUX DISTRIBUTION, INC., A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mihm, Chief Judge.

ORDER

This matter is now before the Court on Defendant Sporoptic Pouilloux's ("Pouilloux") Motion for Relief from Final Judgment and Order Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 60 ("Motion for Relief") and Plaintiff's Response. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Relief [# 31] is DENIED.

Factual Background

Plaintiff purchased a pair of Vuarnet sunglasses in the fall of 1990. On May 30, 1992, Plaintiff was injured when the sunglasses shattered. He brought suit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 on May 31, 1994, alleging personal injury from an unreasonably dangerous product. On June 21, 1994, the Complaint was amended to allege that: (1) Pouilloux manufactures Vuarnet sunglasses; (2) Jean Vuarnet is involved in the design and manufacturing of the sunglasses; and (3) Allegra and Orlux are distributors of Vuarnet sunglasses in the United States. Pouilloux and Vuarnet are domiciled in France and Switzerland respectively. Allegra was a Nevada corporation that ceased operations more than two years prior to the filing of this suit. Orlux is incorporated in the state of California and is the current United States distributor of the Vuarnet line. All Defendants were served prior to October 24, 1994 and were required to answer or otherwise plead by December 1, 1994.

Plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55 on August 25, 1995, and default was entered against Defendants Pouilloux and Jean Vuarnet on September 21, 1995. On November 1, 1995, Defendants Orlux Distribution, Inc., and Allegra, Inc., were voluntarily dismissed without prejudice. An evidentiary hearing was held on December 14, 1995 to determine damages. The Court entered a default judgment in the amount of $283,000.00 against Pouilloux and Jean Vuarnet on December 15, 1995. Pouilloux filed this Motion for Relief on August 30, 1996, asking that the judgment be vacated for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4).

Discussion

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) gives the court discretion to relieve a party from a final judgment or order where the judgment is void. Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(4). Pouilloux moves to vacate the judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4) for lack of personal jurisdiction. Relief from judgment under Rule 60(b) is an "extraordinary remedy and is granted only in exceptional circumstances." United States v. Zima, 766 F.2d 1153, 1157 (7th Cir. 1985). Nevertheless, if the court lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendant, the judgment is void and must be set aside. Rodd v. Region Const. Co., 783 F.2d 89, 91 (7th Cir. 1986).

However, in this context the Seventh Circuit has held:

  If the defendant, after receiving notice, chooses
  to let the case go to a default judgment, the
  defendant must then shoulder the burden of proof
  when the defendant decides to contest jurisdiction
  in a post-judgment rule 60(b)(4) motion.

Bally Export Corp. v. Balicar, Ltd., 804 F.2d 398, 401 (7th Cir. 1986). Thus, the burden of proof shifts to Pouilloux in attempting to contest personal jurisdiction in its Rule 60(b)(4) motion; any conflicts between the affidavits submitted by Plaintiff and Pouilloux must be resolved in favor of the Plaintiff. Turnock v. Cope, 816 F.2d 332, 333 (7th Cir. 1987).

The court has jurisdiction over a defendant "who could be subjected to the jurisdiction of a court of general jurisdiction in the state in which the district court is located." Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A). Thus, in the present diversity case, this Court can exercise jurisdiction over Pouilloux only if an Illinois court could exercise jurisdiction. FMC Corp. v. Continental Illinois National Bank, 892 F.2d 1308, 1310 (7th Cir. 1990). The statutory basis for jurisdiction is clear, since the reach of Illinois' long-arm statute, 735 ILCS 5/2-209, was amended to equate with the minimum contact requirements of federal due process in 1989. Id. at 1310-11, n. 5. Thus, the inquiry is really whether the exercise of jurisdiction is within constitutional parameters. Dehmlow v. Austin Fireworks, 963 F.2d 941, 945 (7th Cir. 1992).

  The Due Process Clause protects an individual's
  liberty interest in not being subject to the
  binding judgments of a forum with which he has
  established no meaningful contacts, ties or
  relations. By requiring that individuals have fair
  warning that a particular activity may subject
  [them] to the jurisdiction of a foreign sovereign,
  the Due Process Clause gives a degree of
  predictability to the legal system that allows
  potential defendants to structure their primary
  conduct with some minimum assurance as to where
  that conduct will and will not render them liable
  to suit.

Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 105 S.Ct. 2174, 2181-82, 85 L.Ed.2d 528 (1985) (internal citations and punctuation omitted). A court must consider whether the assertion of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant would comport with "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 158, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945). Factors that may be considered include the burden on the defendant, the forum's interest in adjudicating the dispute, plaintiff's interest in obtaining convenient relief, the interstate system's interest in efficient resolution of controversy, and the interest of the states in furthering substantive social policies. Burger King, 471 U.S. at 475-76, 105 S.Ct. at 2184.

Pouilloux is a foreign corporation, which would necessitate the exercise of jurisdiction outside the national boundaries of the United States and require Pouilloux to defend itself in the judicial system of a foreign nation. See Dehmlow, 963 F.2d at 945. While the Court recognizes that Pouilloux's burden of litigating in the United States is significant, the remaining factors to be balanced weigh heavily in favor of the proper exercise of jurisdiction under the facts of this case. Plaintiff is a resident of Illinois who suffered serious and permanent injury in the state of Illinois when the alleged defects in the Vuarnet sunglasses he was wearing surfaced. Thus, Plaintiff's interest in obtaining convenient relief for his injury is substantial. Furthermore, the state of Illinois has a strong interest "in assuring adequate remedial relief for its citizens who have been injured" and applying its products liability laws. Id. at 946; Crowe v. Public Bldg. Com'n of Chicago, 74 Ill.2d 10, 23 Ill.Dec. 80, 81, 383 N.E.2d 951, 952 (1978) (finding that the public policy behind imposing strict liability on the manufacturers, distributors and sellers of a defective product who "reaped a profit ...


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