The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that U.S. courts lacked both general and specific jurisdiction over the Italian manufacturer of a .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol, thus affirming a district court order vacating an $11-million default judgment rendered in favor of the family of a man who died from injuries allegedly caused by the gun’s unexpected discharge. Jackson v. Tanfoglio Giuseppe S.R.L., No. 09-30870 (5th Cir., decided August 23, 2010). While the pistol was assembled in Florida in the early 1970s, its component parts were made in Italy. The plaintiffs alleged that the firing pin was too long, which made the pistol discharge too readily.
According to the court, Fratelli Tanfoglio, S.n.c., one of three Italian defendants in the case, did not have a sufficient business presence in Louisiana, where the injury occurred, to give the court general jurisdiction over the company. Without an office, bank accounts, employees, a postal address, property, or registration in Louisiana, the court found that its contacts were not substantial. Placing a significant volume of products into a forum’s stream of commerce and advertising and marketing through national media are insufficient to confer general jurisdiction, and these activities constituted Fratelli’s only contacts with the state.
The court also determined that specific jurisdiction was lacking under the expansive “stream-of-commerce” theory, which allows the assertion of jurisdiction over nonresident defendants that send a defective product into a forum, because Fratelli did not manufacture any of the .25 caliber pistols until after the decedent was injured, “and long after the weapon that caused the injury was produced and sold sometime in the 1970s.” The company had purchased equipment to bore .25 caliber barrels in 1972 or 1973, but “there is no evidence that Fratelli was actually boring barrels at this time.” Nor did the court find any evidence that Fratelli manufactured the allegedly defective part, the pistol’s firing pin.
Rejecting plaintiffs’ contention that specific jurisdiction existed “through a theory of imputed contacts or alter egos,” the court explained that while the employees of U.S. companies involved in the pistol’s manufacture may have confused the identities of the different Italian defendants and while the Tanfoglio siblings were officers and directors of each of the entities, because the corporations and their books were kept distinct and the companies observed every corporate formality under Italian law, they were not alter egos.