A federal court in Ohio has refused to stay proceedings against the Hong Kong-based manufacturer of a coffee-maker that allegedly caused a house fire in 2009, ruling that the company’s filing of an appeal from the court’s denial in part of its motion to dismiss did not divest the court of jurisdiction and that the company failed to demonstrate exceptional circumstances to warrant interlocutory appeal and thus warrant a permissive stay of the proceedings. Erie Indem. Co. v. Keurig, Inc., No. 10-2899 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ohio, decided September 19, 2011).
The plaintiffs filed negligence and strict liability claims in December 2010 against Keurig, Inc., believing that it manufactured the allegedly defective coffee machine. After learning that Hong Kong company Simatelex was likely involved in its manufacture, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in March 2011 to add it as a defendant. Service was effected under the Hague Convention by April 28. Simatelex moved to dismiss the claims, arguing that the negligent design claim was abrogated by Ohio’s product liability statute and that both claims were barred by Ohio’s two-year statute of limitations, which ran two weeks before the plaintiffs amended the complaint.
The district court dismissed the negligence claim, agreeing that it was abrogated, but determined that the plaintiffs’ mistaken identification of the product’s manufacturer allowed the strict liability claims against Simatelex to “relate back” to the original filing, thus making them timely. To reach the latter determination, the court was compelled to interpret a U.S. Supreme Court decision that other district courts in the Sixth Circuit have, according to the court, read in “an unduly narrow fashion.” Krupski v. Costa Crociere, S.p.A., 130 S. Ct. 2485 (2010). Given the split authority in the circuit, Simatelex filed an appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and then filed a motion to stay proceedings before the district court.
According to the court, Simatelex’s notice of appeal did not divest the court of jurisdiction because its order denying the motion to dismiss was not a final appealable order. The court also noted that the Sixth Circuit clerk’s order docketing the appeal and ordering Simatelex to demonstrate the basis, if any, for the Sixth Circuit’s jurisdiction “neither divests this Court of jurisdiction nor creates any proper basis for a stay pending the Sixth Circuit’s potential review of a non-final judgment.” In the court’s view, no exceptional circumstance warranted a permissive stay of proceedings pending appellate review, because “Simatelex cannot establish any ‘irreparable’ injury’” other than the time and money spent defending the claim.