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2nd Circuit Ruling Is a Boon for Defendants in Mass Tort Cases

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on February 24, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Second Circuit gave a real treat in the decision Brown v. Lockheed Martin Corp.; the court really tossed a bone to potential defendants in mass tort cases. In this case, the circuit court found that despite "systematic and continuous" presence in Connecticut, applicable law dictated that Lockheed was not "essentially at home" for general jurisdiction purposes.

The Principles of Forum Shopping

The plaintiff in this case brought a suit against Lockheed and other companies for asbestos-related injuries her father suffered during his stint as an Air Force mechanic. He had been exposed in locations in Europe and in the United States, but, crucially, not in Connecticut where the suit was originally brought.

The plaintiff brought suit in federal district court in Connecticut because of the state's rather convenient statute that holds -- allegedly -- that firms consent to personal jurisdiction based on a mere registration to do business. This is the so-called "jurisdiction by consent" statute.

The District Court dismissed the suit against Lockheed because it could not find proper jurisdictional grounds to hear the suit there. On appeal, the circuit agreed.

Essentially at Home

The analysis of personal jurisdiction governing corporations differs from individuals. Lockheed is both incorporated in Maryland and holds that state to be its principal place of business. However, despite the fact that it had a "continuous and systematic" presence in Connecticut, the court felt that Lockheed was not "essentially at home" (the requisite standard) in that State, and thus, general jurisdiction was improper.

Another theory floated by Brown was that Connecticut's statute (mentioned above) essentially created a corporation waiver whereby companies "consent-by registering (to do business)" simply by naming an agent for service of process. Applying the SCOTUS decision of Bauman v. Daimler, the court rejected this analysis and declared that such a reading had been "roundly rejected in [Bauman]" leading to incongruous conclusions and rendering defendant company's rulings nugatory by means of a "back-door-thief."

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