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Ester Soria v. Chrysler Canada

June 24, 2011

ESTER SORIA,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CHRYSLER CANADA, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT KEY SAFETY SYSTEMS, INC., AND HARVEY LEE SLEDGE,
DEFENDANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 09-L-174 Honorable J. Edward Prochaska, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Jorgensen

PRESIDING JUSTICE JORGENSEN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hudson and Birkett concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Following an automobile collision that resulted in plaintiff Ester Soria's loss of vision, plaintiff sued various defendants, alleging that their negligence caused her injuries. Defendant, Chrysler Canada, Inc. (Chrysler Canada), the assembler of the vehicle in which plaintiff was a passenger, moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction (735 ILCS 5/2-301 (West 2008)). The trial court denied Chrysler Canada's motion. Chrysler Canada appeals. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

This suit arose out of a January 1, 2009, vehicle collision in Rockford. Plaintiff, age 34, alleged that she was a passenger in a 1998 Plymouth Voyager minivan assembled by Chrysler Canada in Windsor, Canada,*fn1 and sold to a consumer in Crystal Lake, Illinois. As a result of the collision, plaintiff lost vision in both of her eyes after the door to a passenger airbag module fractured during airbag deployment, sending out plastic fragments.

In September 2009, plaintiff sued defendants Chrysler LLC*fn2 (hereinafter Chrysler United States), Chrysler Canada, Key Safety Systems, Inc., and Harvey Lee Sledge, alleging that defendants' negligence caused her injuries. In a second amended complaint, plaintiff alleged that: (1) Chrysler Canada was negligent in its manufacture, assembly, design, testing, inspection, and sale of the airbag module doors (count I); (2) Key Safety Systems was negligent in developing and testing the airbag module doors (count II); and (3) Sledge, the driver of the vehicle that collided with the vehicle in which plaintiff was a passenger, was negligent while making a left turn by failing to yield the right of way and failing to keep a careful lookout (count III).

As to Chrysler Canada, plaintiff alleged that the company submitted itself to jurisdiction within Illinois. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that: Chrysler Canada knew that thousands of minivans and vehicles it manufactured were sold in the United States, including thousands in Illinois; about 85% of its production was exported to the United States in 2008; it delivered its minivans and vehicles into the stream of commerce with the expectation that a certain percentage would be sold in Illinois; it did business in Illinois within the meaning of the Illinois long-arm statute (735 ILCS 5/2-209 (West 2008)); and it (along with Chrysler United States) designed, developed, assembled, manufactured, distributed, and transferred into the stream of commerce the Plymouth Voyager in which plaintiff was a passenger during the collision, and it was aware that the airbag module doors were dangerous and did not pass internal standards.

On July 9, 2010, Chrysler Canada moved to dismiss plaintiff's second amended complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that it lacked sufficient minimum contacts with Illinois. It argued that it did not design the subject minivan, select its components, or test any of the parts at issue. Chrysler Canada also denied that it designed, tested, manufactured, or assembled the passenger airbag modules or airbag module doors at issue or that it has any witnesses who could testify as to how the module or doors were designed. The Plymouth Voyager at issue, according to Chrysler Canada, was designed and sold by Chrysler United States, which was dismissed from the lawsuit. It further argued that it was merely the "final assembler of vehicle component parts that were designed and selected for integration into the subject minivan by other entities." (Emphasis added.) Chrysler Canada assembled the minivan based on Chrysler United States' specifications and, once it assembled and tested the vehicle, sold it to Chrysler United States. Title and possession transferred to Chrysler United States while the minivan was in Canada. Chrysler United States imported the vehicle to the United States and "had control over whether the subject minivan ultimately was delivered to the Illinois address that was indicated on the original vehicle order received by Chrysler Canada's Windsor Assembly Plant." In this respect, Chrysler Canada argued, it did not control or determine where the vehicle was to be marketed, sold, or distributed in the United States. Further, it did not decide upon warnings for the subject minivan or conduct compliance testing.

Chrysler Canada also argued that it is incorporated in Canada, has its principal place of business in Canada, and "has never transacted business, entered into contracts, owned real estate, maintained a corporate presence, telephone number, tax identification number, employees or agents in Illinois." Further, it contended that it did not ship, deliver, distribute, or sell the minivan in Illinois. Finally, Chrysler asserted that its "website is not directed to or interactive with Illinois residents."

Chrysler Canada attached to its motion to dismiss the deposition of Edward Masse, a former arbitration and litigation specialist for Chrysler Canada. There, Masse testified that Chrysler Canada knew that 82% of its production that it sells to Chrysler United States is distributed in the United States. Chrysler United States determines how many vehicles Chrysler Canada builds for Chrysler United States. Masse further testified that, on January 1, 2009, Chrysler Canada was aware that Chrysler United States had an independent dealership network in the United States and that there may be some dealerships in Illinois. Chrysler Canada did not implement recalls on the subject vehicle model in the United States market, but it did implement recalls in the Canadian market. Chrysler Canada has never performed compliance testing for American or Canadian motor vehicle safety standards; rather, Chrysler United States conducts all such compliance testing. Chrysler Canada "has no involvement" in the owner's manuals' contents for vehicles bound for the United States market. Chrysler United States dealerships do not order vehicles from Chrysler Canada or pay it for vehicles it assembles in Canada. Masse further testified that, in 2008 and 2009, Chrysler Canada employees had access to a Chrysler-United-States-owned warranty database that contained the dealer names and locations for Chrysler dealerships in the United States, including Illinois. Chrysler Canada does not provide warranty service or coverage on vehicles in the United States market. About 30% of Chrysler's North American vehicles are assembled in Canada, and several models were (in 2008 and 2009) exclusively built in Canada (including the Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, Chrysler 300, and Dodge Magnum). Further, there are indemnification clauses in Chrysler Canada's and Chrysler United States' vehicle-wholesaling agreement and their subcontracting-assembly agreement.

Also attached to Chrysler Canada's motion were its answers to various interrogatories. There, Chrysler Canada stated that it was aware of the number of vehicles it assembled that had Illinois addresses in the "Ship To" fields on their Monroney labels (i.e., window stickers) or shipping orders. In 2008, 85% of the vehicles that Chrysler Canada assembled were destined for the United States market. Chrysler Canada "expected that at least some of the vehicles it assembled would likely be sold in the state of Illinois." Chrysler Canada denied that it "participated" in the Chicago Auto Show in 2008 and 2009 but agreed that vehicles it "assembled" that were Chrysler United States products were displayed at the shows, "based on engineering specifications and drawings prepared and provided by Chrysler United States. All patents, trademarks and licensing are owned by Chrysler United States." Between 2008 and 2009, 29,393 vehicles built by Chrysler Canada were exported to Illinois.

On November 12, 2010, following a hearing, the trial court denied Chrysler Canada's motion to dismiss, finding that Chrysler Canada was not subject to general jurisdiction in Illinois but was subject to specific jurisdiction. As to specific jurisdiction, the court found that Chrysler Canada has sufficient minimum contacts with Illinois because it is aware that many of the vehicles it assembles and sells to Chrysler United States are distributed to Illinois and sold in Illinois. Further, the cause of action arose out of Chrysler Canada's commercial activities in Illinois. The court also found that the exercise of personal jurisdiction would not violate the standard of fair play and substantial justice, because Chrysler Canada admitted that it knew that many of its vehicles would be sold and driven in Illinois.

On December 10, 2010, Chrysler Canada petitioned for leave to appeal to this court (Ill. S. Ct. R. 306(a)(3) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010)), and, on ...


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