Where a Virginia resident sued a manufacturer after its e-cigarette battery allegedly exploded, causing severe burns to his body, but the Korean-based manufacturer did not purposefully avail itself of the privilege of conducting activities in Virginia, the court lacked personal jurisdiction over the manufacturer.
David Grizzard alleges he was injured by lithium-ion 18650 batteries manufactured by LG Chem Ltd, a Korean company. Plaintiff claims that the batteries, which he purchased in Virginia and used for his e-cigarette device, exploded in his pocket and caused severe burns to his leg.
Following jurisdictional discovery, LG Chem filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit has articulated a three-part test to guide this inquiry: “(1) the extent to which the defendant purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum state; (2) whether the plaintiff’s claims arose out of those activities; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction is constitutionally reasonable.”
Much of plaintiff’s argument regarding purposeful availment rests on defendant’s supplying lithium-ion batteries to companies providing services in Virginia, such as electric scooters, buses and cars, and using Virginia shipping ports for United States’ imports of its products. Even when this court considers defendant’s supplying its products to companies that have operations in Virginia, the fact that defendant operates a global business and website and that defendant chose to send cease-and-desist letters toe-cigarette and vape retailers in Virginia, these all fall short of proving that defendant purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in Virginia.
To satisfy the second prong, plaintiff must show that his claim arises out of defendant’s conduct directed at Virginia. Here, defendant has demonstrated that “LG Chem was not involved in supplying consumers in Virginia with LG 18650 lithium-ion battery cells sold as standalone batteries” and that it did not “advertise [these] to Virginia consumers to purchase.” Defendant asserts that these batteries are “industrial component parts and they were not designed or sold by LG Chem to be handled by consumers.”
Defendant did not manufacture the e-cigarette device, and to the extent that defendant’s battery was used in conjunction with an e-cigarette, it would have been through a store’s unilateral decision to sell, and the resulting consumer’s purchase of a separate 18650 lithium-ion battery.
Furthermore, defendant has provided sworn statements confirming that no 18650 lithium-ion cells or 18650 lithium-ion batteries were shipped to “any entity located in Virginia between August 20, 2015 and August 20, 2019.” Therefore, based on the evidence before court, the only foreseeable way that the 18650 lithium-ion cells or standalone batteries made their way into the hands of consumers is from “unilateral activity of another party or a third person,” and not by defendant’s deliberate activities directed to residents of Virginia.
Importantly, plaintiff fails to provide “specific facts tying [defendant’s] in-state conduct to the litigation.” Plaintiff himself concedes in his deposition that he purchased batteries separate from the e-cigarette device. Cease-and-desist letters, which were sent to Virginia e-cigarette and vape retailers, alone, “do not establish personal jurisdiction.” Consequently, plaintiff has failed to satisfy the second prong of the Fourth Circuit’s three-prong inquiry.
The third prong requires a court to determine “whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction is constitutionally reasonable.” Here, at most, plaintiff has demonstrated that defendant placed its lithium-ion 18650 batteries into the stream of commerce in Virginia. But this court has made clear that a “defendant’s introduction of its product into the stream of commerce … is, by itself, an insufficient basis for personal jurisdiction.”
Defendant’s motion to dismiss granted.
Grizzard v. LG Chem Ltd., Case No. 2:21-cv-469, Nov. 18, 2022. EDVA at Norfolk (Smith). VLW 022-3-534. 21 pp.