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Aspen American Insurance Co. v. Interstate Warehousing, Inc.

Supreme Court of Illinois

September 21, 2017

ASPEN AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellee,
v.
INTERSTATE WAREHOUSING, INC., Appellant.

          JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Kilbride, Garman, and This concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          BURKE JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 The plaintiff, Aspen American Insurance Company, filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County in which it alleged that the roof of a Michigan warehouse owned by the defendant, Interstate Warehousing, Inc., had collapsed, causing the destruction of goods owned by plaintiff's insured, Eastern Fish Company. Defendant, an Indiana corporation, moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S.___, 134 S.Ct. 746 (2014). The circuit court denied the motion, and a divided appellate court affirmed. 2016 IL App (1st) 151876. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgments of the lower courts.

         ¶ 2 Background

         ¶ 3 Plaintiff's complaint alleges the following. Eastern Fish Company (Eastern) is a New Jersey-based corporation that sources and imports fish products. In 2013, Eastern contracted with defendant to store some of its fish products in a refrigerated warehouse near Grand Rapids, Michigan. On March 8, 2014, part of the warehouse's roof collapsed, causing ruptured gas lines and an ammonia leak. The leak contaminated the fish products that were stored in the warehouse, rendering them unfit for human consumption. Plaintiff, which insures Eastern, paid Eastern's claim for the loss and, in exchange, received subrogation rights.

         ¶ 4 On July 14, 2014, plaintiff filed this subrogation action against defendant in the circuit court of Cook County. Plaintiff's complaint sets forth various causes of action, including breach of contract and negligence, and asserts that defendant is responsible for the loss of Eastern's fish products. The complaint also alleges that defendant "maintain[s] a facility in or near Chicago."

         ¶ 5 Attached to plaintiff's complaint are several documents: a series of letters between defendant and Eastern's attorneys in which the roof collapse is discussed, a copy of the warehousing contract between defendant and Eastern, and a printout of the masthead from defendant's website. The letterhead of defendant's correspondence and the warehousing contract both state that defendant's corporate office is located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In addition, the letterhead, contract, and website masthead all contain a list of eight warehouses operated by defendant throughout the country. These include the Michigan warehouse that is at issue in this case; a warehouse in Joliet, Illinois; two warehouses in Indiana; and other warehouses in Colorado, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia.

         ¶ 6 Defendant filed a motion to quash service and dismiss plaintiff's complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to section 2-301 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-301 (West 2012)). In the motion, defendant did not dispute that it was doing business in Illinois through the warehouse located in Joliet. However, defendant asserted that this was insufficient to subject it to general personal jurisdiction in Illinois. Rather, according to defendant, under the United States Supreme Court's decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 746 (2014), plaintiff was required to show that defendant is domiciled or "at home" in Illinois in order to establish jurisdiction. Defendant maintained that plaintiff had not met this standard.

         ¶ 7 Attached to defendant's motion to dismiss were an affidavit from Jeff Hastings, defendant's chief financial officer, and Ryan Shaffer, the general manager of the Joliet warehouse. In his affidavit, Hastings states that defendant is an Indiana corporation with its principal place of business in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Hastings further states that defendant is "a 75% member of" Interstate Warehousing of Illinois, LLC, a limited liability company organized under Indiana law, which also maintains its principal place of business in Fort Wayne, Indiana. According to Hastings's affidavit, Interstate Warehousing of Illinois "operates" the Joliet warehouse, while Ryan Shaffer, an employee of defendant, is the general manager. In his affidavit, Ryan Shaffer confirms that he is the general manager of the Joliet warehouse, is responsible for its day-to-day operations, and is employed by defendant.

         ¶ 8 Plaintiff filed a response to defendant's motion to dismiss in which it argued that, because defendant was doing business in Illinois through the Joliet warehouse, it was subject to general personal jurisdiction in this state. According to plaintiff, defendant could, therefore, be sued on causes of action unrelated to its activities in Illinois. Included with plaintiff's response was a printout of a "corporation file detail report" from the Illinois Secretary of State's website. The report indicates that defendant is an Indiana corporation that has been registered to do business in Illinois since 1988. Plaintiff submitted no further filings in the circuit court and made no discovery requests.[1]

         ¶ 9 Following a hearing at which no testimony was taken, the circuit court denied defendant's motion to dismiss. The appellate court affirmed. 2016 IL App (1st) 151876. The appellate court concluded that plaintiff had made a prima facie showing of general personal jurisdiction and that defendant had failed to overcome this showing with contrary evidence. Justice Lampkin dissented, finding that, in light of Daimler, plaintiff had failed to make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction. Id. at ¶¶ 64-72 (Lampkin, J., dissenting).

         ¶ 10 We allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315(a) (eff. Mar. 5, 2016). In addition, we allowed the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and the American Association for Justice to file a joint amicus curiae brief in support of plaintiff, and we allowed Certainteed Corporation, Honeywell International, Inc., and Union Carbide Corporation to file a joint amicus curiae brief in support of defendant. Ill. S.Ct. R. 345 (eff. Sep. 20, 2010).

         ¶ 11 Analysis

         ¶ 12 The plaintiff has the burden of establishing a prima facie basis to exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant. Russell v. SNFA, 2013 IL 113909, ¶ 28 (citing Wiggen v. Wiggen, 2011 IL App (2d) 100982, ¶ 20). Where, as here, the circuit court has determined that the plaintiff has met its burden based solely on documentary evidence, our review is de novo. Id. On review, any conflicts in the pleadings and supporting affidavits ...


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