Where the administrator for a man killed when his tire failed sued multiple companies for negligence and products liability, the court lacked jurisdiction over one company with no meaningful contacts with Virginia. The company’s contacts were so lacking, moreover, that jurisdictional discovery was denied.
On June 4, 2020, Craig Arthurs, a Maryland citizen and truck driver for Divaz Towing LLC, was towing a loaded trailer through Spotsylvania when the front left tire suddenly failed. Mr. Arthurs’ vehicle lost stability and control, struck another vehicle and ultimately collided with a guardrail. Mr. Arthurs lost his life.
Benjamin Andrews, as administrator, brings this action against multiple defendants, including Linglong Americas Inc., alleging wrongful death under the theories of negligence and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. Linglong has filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and plaintiff has filed a motion for jurisdictional discovery.
With respect to specific personal jurisdiction, the Fourth Circuit requires courts to consider: “(1) the extent to which the defendant purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the State; (2) whether the plaintiffs’ claims arise out of those activities directed at the State; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be constitutionally reasonable.”
Plaintiff alleges that “[Linglong] was authorized to do business in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and doing business throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, including Spotsylvania County” and “[t]his Court has personal jurisdiction, pursuant to Virginia Code § 8.01-328.1(3)(4)(5), with respect to LINGLONG because CRAIG ARTHURS suffered injuries in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, while using a product in the ordinary course of commerce, trade or use that was designed, serviced, marketed, imported, distributed and/or manufactured by Defendant LINGLONG for use in the Commonwealth of Virginia, including Spotsylvania County.” However, plaintiff has failed to allege any facts supporting these conclusory statements, and therefore, the court need not accept these allegations as true.
Linglong proffered evidence showing that it is not registered, certified or licensed to do business in Virginia. Linglong does not have, and has never maintained, offices in the state of Virginia. Nor does Linglong own or lease properties, facilities or offices in Virginia, have assets located there or have a Virginia phone number. Additionally Linglong did not conduct any business in Virginia related to any Crosswind L780 tire that was imported into the United States in 2014, and did not send its employees to Virginia on business related to any such tire.
Once Linglong made this showing, the burden then shifted to plaintiff to proffer evidence creating a factual dispute on each jurisdictional element, but plaintiff failed to do so. Instead plaintiff conceded that the majority of its factual allegations against Linglong no longer applied.
The complaint’s only remaining allegations against Linglong assert a stream of commerce theory: sometime before June4, 2020, Linglong “placed the Subject Tire into the stream of commerce” and sold it to other defendants for “the purposes of exporting the Subject Tire by container ship into the United States.” Even under this theory, however, the complaint utterly fails to allege that Linglong targeted Virginia. Given the undisputed facts in this case, the court must find that Linglong did not purposefully avail itself of the privilege of doing business in Virginia during the relevant timeframe.
Plaintiff’s motion for jurisdictional discovery is denied because plaintiff has only alleged speculative and conclusory assertions regarding Linglong’s purported contacts with Virginia. Plaintiff, for the first time in his reply in support of discovery, proffers a variety of evidence purporting to establish a “specific and substantial showing to warrant limited jurisdictional discovery.”
Plaintiff’s evidence only invites more speculation. The fact that Linglong began competing with Horizon to distribute Crosswind tires does not establish that Linglong distributed Crosswind tires in Virginia. The fact that Linglong sold some Crosswind tires in 2015 does not establish that they did so in Virginia. The fact that a citizen of Virginia can order a Crosswind tire online from Walmart or NTB in May, 2022, when the screenshots were taken, does not establish that they could have done so some years prior, at the time when the subject tire was purchased or the time of plaintiff’s accident.
Linglong’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction granted. Plaintiff’s motion for jurisdictional discovery denied.
Andrews v. Shandong Linglong Tyre Co. Ltd., Case No. 3:21-cv-794, July 6, 2022. EDVA at Richmond (Novak). VLW 022-3-287. 20 pp.