JURISDICTION RULING IN ILLINOIS IS BAD NEWS FOR FORD MOTOR COMPANY

Illinois courts have general jurisdiction over Ford Motor Company, according to Judge Stobbs of the Third Judicial Circuit. Irene Jeffs, the surviving spouse of Dale Jeffs, filed suit in Madison County against Ford and numerous co-defendants whose conduct may have exposed Dale to asbestos and contributed to his mesothelioma. The Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges Dale was exposed to asbestos-containing products while working as an insulator between 1968 and 1995. Dale worked at the Ford plant in Michigan as an insulation contractor for a period of time. Plaintiff further alleges that Dale’s exposure to harmful asbestos-containing products at the Ford plant contributed to his mesothelioma. 

Ford moved to dismiss for lack of in personam jurisdiction. A foreign corporation can be sued in a forum state for either specific or general jurisdiction. Under specific jurisdiction, a foreign corporation may only be sued for a wrongful act committed within the forum state. Under general jurisdiction, a foreign corporation may be sued in the forum state for any act committed anywhere in the world. Ford argued Illinois courts cannot confer specific personal jurisdiction over them in this action, as Dale’s alleged exposure took place in Michigan. Citing Daimler AG v. Bauman (134 S. Ct. 746 [2014]), Ford further argued that there is no basis for Illinois courts to exercise general jurisdiction over them, as Ford is a Delaware corporation with its headquarters in Michigan. The Court did not find Ford’s arguments persuasive and denied its motion to dismiss.

The Court first cited to the Daimler decision’s reiteration that a court may assert general jurisdiction over a foreign corporation to hear any and all claims against it when the foreign corporation’s contacts with the forum state are so continuous and systematic to render them essentially at home in the forum state. Citing Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz (105 S.Ct. 2174 [1985]), the Court further explained that once minimum contacts with a forum state have been established, the contacts must be considered in light of other factors to determine whether asserting  in personam jurisdiction would comport with the traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

Continuous and Systematic Contacts

The Court began their analysis by cataloging Ford’s business activities in Illinois: Ford is certified to conduct business in Illinois; it owns real property in Illinois; it has authorized Dealers to advertise, solicit sales, and to service and sell vehicles to Illinois residents; it employs people in Illinois; it maintains a registered agent to accept service of process in Illinois.  Furthermore, Ford has conducted regular business in Illinois since 1922. Ford has also litigated numerous cases in Illinois without asserting an objection to personal jurisdiction, including asbestos personal injury claims.  The Court was also persuaded by Ford’s own words: Ford recently filed a brief inFolta v. Ferro Engineering (2015 IL 118070 [Ill. 2015]) where the corporation admitted “Ford conducts substantial business in Illinois.” From these facts, the Court held Ford has availed itself of the protections of the Illinois Court system and the benefits of Illinois law. The Court further held that Ford’s contacts with Illinois are substantial and go well beyond the “minimum contacts” required by federal due process standards.

Fair Play and Substantial Justice

After determining that Ford’s contacts with the State of Illinois have been so continuous and systematic to render them essentially at home in the forum state, the Court then weighed Ford’s contacts against other factors to determine whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Ford would comport with the traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. The first factor the Court weighed was whether Ford has unequivocally consented to jurisdiction in Illinois. The Court held that Ford has unequivocally consented to jurisdiction in Illinois, again noting Ford has conducted business in Illinois since 1922 with a registered agent to accept process and that Ford has litigated numerous cases in Illinois without objecting to personal jurisdiction. The Court noted Ford has 156 Ford Dealers in Illinois, it 102,000 vehicles in Illinois the previous year, and it employs 5,500 people in Illinois, and that Ford has invested over half a billion dollars in their business operations in Illinois in the past 5 years. Having considered the factors, the Court held the exercise of jurisdiction over Ford would not be inconsistent with the notions of fair play and substantial justice.