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Arnold v. Miller

July 9, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David R Herndon Chief Judge United States District Court


HERNDON, Chief Judge

I. Introduction

On July 31, 2007, Plaintiff Arthur Arnold, as Special Administrator of the Estate of Daniel Arnold, deceased, brought suit against Defendants Miller d/b/a Miller Safety & First Aid Products, Haun Drop Forge Co., Ltd., Pensafe, Inc., and Elk River, Inc. for claims of strict liability and wrongful death arising from a defective safety harness which allegedly failed and caused Daniel Arnold to fall to his death. Plaintiff filed the lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Madison County, Illinois. On March 28, 2008, Defendant Elk River, Inc. removed the action to this Court (Doc. 3). This Court has subject matter over the action because the parties are diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Subsequently, Defendants Pensafe and Haun Drop Forge Co., Ltd., n/k/a/ Pensafe, Inc., ["Pensafe"] filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint and Defendant Elk River's Counterclaim for lack of personal jurisdiction (Doc. 26). In response, both Plaintiff Arthur Arnold (Doc. 83) and Defendant Elk River filed a response to Pensafe's motion to dismiss (Doc. 85). Plaintiff Arnold and Defendant Elk River also filed motions to file an amended Complaint and amended Counterclaim to further plead personal jurisdiction (Docs. 89 & 84) which the Court granted (Docs. 102 & 101). On December 11, 2008, Plaintiff Arnold filed his Amended Complaint (Doc. 103) and on December 15, 2008, Defendant Elk River filed its Amended Counterclaim (Doc. 104). Defendant Pensafe filed a motion to allow its motion to dismiss to stand as its responsive pleading to Plaintiff's Complaint and Defendant Elk River's Counterclaim (Doc. 105) which the Court granted (Doc. 110).

II. Background

According to Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Doc. 103), Daniel Arnold was employed as a tower erector for Tower Maintenance & Erection Co. of Illinois. On August 3, 2005, Daniel Arnold was climbing a tower in Butler County, Missouri near the intersection of Highway 158 and County Road 323. Daniel Arnold was wearing full fall protection but the gatekeeper on his lanyard snap hook failed and he fell to his death.

This suit is brought by Arthur Arnold, special administrator of the estate of Daniel Arnold. Plaintiff brings this five count complaint pursuant to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, 740 ILCS 180 et. seq., alleging that the lanyard and snap hook was in a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition in that it was defectively designed and manufactured, and did not have adequate instructions as to its use. Plaintiff alleges that, as a result of the defective lanyard and snap hook, Daniel Arnold fell because the gate keeper of the lanyard snap hook remained open while he used the lanyard to assist in his climb. In Count II, Plaintiff alleges that when Defendants Haun Drop Forge and/or Pensafe manufactured, designed, or sold the lanyard snap hook, it was in a defective condition.

Defendant Elk River has filed a Counterclaim against Defendant Pensafe seeking contribution and indemnification (Doc. 104). Defendant Elk River alleges that any alleged defects in the lanyard snap hook were caused by the acts or omissions of Defendant Haun and Pensafe in that they manufactured, designed, tested, and/or sold the snap hook.

III. Discussion

Defendant Pensafe seeks a dismissal of Plaintiff's suit and Defendant Elk-River's Cross-claim upon the basis that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendant Pensafe. Once a defendant moves to dismiss pursuant to FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12(b)(2), a plaintiff has the burden of establishing the existence of personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant. Purdue Research Foundation v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, S.A., 338 F.3d 773, 782 (7th Cir. 2003) (internal citations omitted). A plaintiff must provide sufficient evidence to establish at least a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction. Turnock v. Cope, 816 F.2d 332, 333 (7th Cir. 1987); see also Michael J. Newman & Assoc., Ltd. v. Florabelle Flowers, Inc., 15 F.3d 721, 724-25 (7th Cir. 1994).

A federal court sitting in diversity must rely on the law of personal jurisdiction that governs the courts of general jurisdiction in the state where the court is sitting. Hyatt Int'l Corp. v. Coco, 302 F.3d 707, 713 (7th Cir. 2002). Because this Court sits in Illinois and further, because this action is a diversity case, the Court will have personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants only if an Illinois court would have personal jurisdiction. FMC Corp. v. Varonos, 892 F.2d 1308, 1310 (7th Cir. 1990) (citing FED.R.CIV.P.4(e)). Therefore, Plaintiff must demonstrate that personal jurisdiction over Defendant Pensafe complies with (1) the Illinois long-arm statute, (2) Illinois constitutional law, and (3) federal constitutional law. RAR, Inc. v. Turner Diesel, Ltd., 107 F.3d 1272, 1276 (7th Cir. 1997). Moreover, because the Illinois long-arm statute "'permits its courts to exercise jurisdiction on any basis permitted by the Illinois and United States Constitutions,'" the analysis then becomes a two-prong examination: (1) determining whether the applicable state long-arm statute is satisfied and (2) whether exercise of jurisdiction is consistent with the constitutional requirements of due process. Hyatt Int'l Corp., 302 F.3d at 714 (quoting Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Penson Fund v. Reimer Express World Corp., 230 F.3d 934, 940 (7th Cir. 2000)); see also FMC Corp., 892 F.2d at 1311 n.5.

The Illinois long-arm statute, 735 ILL.COMP.STAT. 5/2-209, lists the statutory grounds for which personal jurisdiction over a defendant may be exercised by an Illinois court. Personal jurisdiction can be either "general," as stated in 735 ILL.COMP.STAT. 5/2-209(b), "specific," as enumerated under 735 ILL.COMP.STAT. 5/2-209(a), or for "any other basis...permitted by the Illinois Constitution and the Constitution of the United States," as stated in 735 ILL.COMP.STAT.5/2-209(c).

General jurisdiction over an out of state defendant is not dependent upon whether the underlying issues in plaintiff's suit arose out of or related to defendant's contacts with the forum state." RAR, Inc.,107 F.3d at 1277. Instead, an out of state defendant is subject to general jurisdiction of the forum state when the defendant has "continuous and systematic general business contacts" with the forum state. Id. (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Columbia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 416, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 1873 (1984)). On the other hand, an out of state defendant may be subject to specific jurisdiction of the forum state when the issues in plaintiff's suit arise out of or relate to the defendant's minimum contacts with the forum. Id. (citing Helicopoteros, 466 U.S. at 414 n.8, 104 S.Ct. at 1872 n.8). These minimum contacts, if "purposely availed" by defendant towards the forum state, should give the out of state defendant "fair warning" that its ...

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