743 F.2d 277 (5th Cir. 1984), 83-4213, Smith v. DeWalt Products Corp.

Docket Nº:83-4213
Citation:743 F.2d 277
Party Name:Sam SMITH, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. DeWALT PRODUCTS CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:October 05, 1984
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 277

743 F.2d 277 (5th Cir. 1984)

Sam SMITH, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

DeWALT PRODUCTS CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 83-4213

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

October 5, 1984

Page 278

        James W. Nobles, Jr., Jackson, Miss., A. Kennon Goff, III, Ruston, La., for plaintiff-appellant.

        Watkins & Eager, James A. Becker, Jr., Jerrald L. Shivers, Paul J. Stephenson, Jackson, Miss., for defendant-appellee.

        Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

        Before RUBIN, RANDALL and TATE, Circuit Judges.

        ALVIN B. RUBIN, Circuit Judge:

        This diversity case was filed in a Mississippi district court in an effort to obtain the protection of the longer Mississippi statute of limitations over a personal injury action that would have been untimely if filed in Louisiana, where the injury occurred. We affirm its dismissal by the district court for want of personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

        While working in Ruston, Louisiana, and using a power saw, Sam Smith, a Louisiana resident, suffered a complete amputation of his left hand, wrist, and lower forearm by the saw. The saw had been designed and manufactured by DeWalt Products Corporation ("DeWalt"), which is domiciled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and is a division of Black & Decker (U.S.), Inc., a Maryland corporation.

        More than one year after his injury, Smith filed this products liability action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. Jurisdiction was predicated on the complete diversity of citizenship between Smith and DeWalt. 1 Assuming that the court had jurisdiction, Smith sought to apply Mississippi's six year statute of limitations for negligence and strict liability in products liability actions. 2 The applicable Louisiana statute of limitations for similar actions is one year. 3 Following a motion by DeWalt, the district court dismissed Smith's claim for lack of personal jurisdiction. 4 Smith appeals.

        In a federal diversity action such as this, the reach of federal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants is measured by a two-step inquiry. First, the law of the forum state must provide for the assertion of such jurisdiction; and second, the exercise of jurisdiction under state law must comport with the dictates of the fourteenth amendment due process clause. 5 In this case, because Mississippi law does not provide for the assertion of personal jurisdiction over DeWalt, we do not consider the due process issue. For the same reason, we also do not address the choice-of-law question concerning the applicable statute of limitations.

        Smith asserts three possible grounds for obtaining personal jurisdiction over DeWalt. The first argument is that DeWalt falls within the scope of the "doing-business" provisions of the Mississippi long-arm statute, 6 and is thereby amenable

Page 279

to suit in Mississippi. This argument fails for several reasons. First, although the statute on its face does not preclude its use by non-resident plaintiffs, federal courts interpreting Mississippi law have consistently held that a non-resident plaintiff cannot use its provisions to obtain in personam jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant. 7 "The thesis of these and similar decisions is that the statute is designed to protect and be used only by Mississippi residents." 8 This line of authority makes Smith's status as a non-resident plaintiff a barrier to his use of the long arm statute to obtain in personam jurisdiction over DeWalt.

        This interpretation of the statute is buttressed by recent amendments to it. In 1980, the Mississippi legislature amended the statute to allow a non-resident plaintiff to obtain service of process upon a non-resident defendant who has committed a tort in whole or in part in Mississippi against the non-resident plaintiff. 9 The legislature did not amend the "doing-business" provision of the statute in a similar fashion. Given the long-standing judicial construction of the long-arm statute to preclude its use by non-resident plaintiffs, the legislature's decision not to amend the "doing-business" provision of the statute at the same time it specifically extended the "tort" provision to non-resident plaintiffs indicates a legislative intent that the "doing-business" provision is not available to non-resident plaintiffs. Subsequent construction of the long-arm statute after the 1980 amendments confirms this result. 10

        Finally, even if this court were to allow a non-resident plaintiff such as Smith to make use of the Mississippi long-arm statute, DeWalt still would not be subject to the in-personam jurisdiction of the district court. By its own terms, the statute's scope is limited to those cases in which the cause of action accrues from or is incident to the activities of the non-resident defendant. 11 As interpreted by the Mississippi Supreme Court, before personal jurisdiction may be exercised under...

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