Margulis v. Stryker Corp., 2019 US Dist LEXIS 68555 (S.D. Fla. Apr. 23, 2019), is another case in which the plaintiffs filed a product liability claim in a court that did not have personal jurisdiction over the defendants. In this instance, however, the court didn’t dismiss the case. It punted.
The plaintiffs were from Argentina, where one of them had hip replacement surgery that was followed by complications and ultimately revision surgeries to remove the defendants’ hip implant products. Id. at *2. The plaintiffs then filed product liability claims against Stryker and Howmedica in a Florida federal court. Under Bauman, however, neither defendant was “at home” in Florida. Stryker is a Michigan corporation with its principal place of business in Michigan. Id. at *2. And Howmedica is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey. Id. at *2-3. There is also nothing in the court’s opinion to suggest that any of the events underlying plaintiffs’ claims occurred in Florida. So the Florida court appeared to lack general and specific jurisdiction. Defendants, accordingly, moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Id. at *3.
You’d think that they’d win that motion. But they didn’t.
While plaintiffs opposed it (on what basis, we don’t know), more importantly they moved to transfer the case under 28 U.S.C. §1406(a) to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, the home state of Howmedica. This maneuver, while having some surface-level appeal, wouldn’t seem to solve Stryker’s problem. Stryker is not “at home” in New Jersey. It’s a Michigan company.
Yet the court jumped at the opportunity to transfer the case anyway, declaring that, with their motion, the plaintiffs had “effectively acquiesce[d] to the ultimate relief” sought by the Defendants. Id. at *4. We’d wager that the defendants wouldn’t agree. In fact, as the court conceded, the defendants asked it to simply dismiss the case without prejudice for lack of personal jurisdiction. Id.
That seems like the better approach. The onus would then be on plaintiffs to decide whether to file their case in New Jersey and, if they were to do so, establish that a New Jersey court can exert personal jurisdiction over Stryker. Instead, the Florida court simply punted Stryker straight up the east coast to New Jersey into a second court that may not have personal jurisdiction over it as to these claims.
Frankly, the best approach would seem to involve the Argentinian plaintiffs suing in Argentina, where the alleged wrong occurred and where the plaintiffs allegedly suffered their damages. But that didn’t happen—at least not yet. And so we’ll now have the see what happens in New Jersey after the seemingly inevitable motion practice to come.