In Hammons v. Ethicon, Inc., 2020 Pa. LEXIS 5511 (Pa. Oct. 21, 2020), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the intermediate Pennsylvania appellate court and held that an out-of-state manufacturer defendant was subject to specific personal jurisdiction in Pennsylvania even though the injury to the Indiana plaintiff occurred in Indiana and the defendant's only forum-related conduct was sending raw materials into Pennsylvania for eventual inclusion in a component of the product at issue.
The plaintiff in Hammons alleged serious injuries resulting from use of a medical device manufactured by Ethicon, one of the components of which was pelvic mesh. The parties stipulated that the mesh was the only component manufactured in Pennsylvania, and that it was provided by a thirdparty contractor that used Ethicon's specifications and proprietary materials to construct the mesh. The final assembly of the device was done outside Pennsylvania. Ethicon argued that Plaintiff's claims did not arise from the Pennsylvania contractor's involvement in the manufacturing process, that the contractor was not subject to any corporate governance or other structuring issues at the behest of Ethicon, and that no part of the process that led to selection of the Pennsylvania contractor actually took place in Pennsylvania.
As a preliminary matter, general jurisdiction was not at issue, as Ethicon was not incorporated in Pennsylvania, did not maintain its principal place of business in that state, and was not otherwise "at home" there. With regard to specific jurisdiction, the Court found that Ethicon engaged in sufficient forumrelated conduct such that Pennsylvania courts could exercise jurisdiction over it. The Court distinguished this case from the recent Bristol-Myers Squibb ("BMS") U.S. Supreme Court case, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017), which held that out-of-state plaintiffs could not sue an out-of-state defendant in the forum state when none of the suit-related conduct occurred in that state. Here, the majority wrote that "the focus of the jurisdictional question should be the actions of the defendant in relation to the forum," and found there was "little controversy that the mesh is causally related to Plaintiffs' asserted injuries." Finally, the Court differentiated this fact pattern from one in which a manufacturer orders online a "generic" component (the Court used the example of paper on which warnings were printed), with little to no regard for the location of the entity providing the generic component, or involvement with that provider.
While not in an aviation context, this case is important for aviation manufacturers who may be subject to suit in Pennsylvania because it signals that out-of-state aircraft manufacturers who rely on a component manufacturer or a manufacturing process with ties to Pennsylvania may be subject to personal jurisdiction there. The case also shows the limits of relying on the narrow fact pattern in the U.S. Supreme Court's BMS case to contest specific jurisdiction. While many of the 'cutting edge' personal jurisdiction cases have focused on registration statutes as a means of conferring personal jurisdiction, this case shows another |potential hurdle for larger manufacturers who rely on in-state component manufacturers. Hammons v. Ethicon, Inc., No. 7 EAP 2019, 2020 Pa. LEXIS 5511 (Pa. Oct. 21, 2020).
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