755 F.2d 1162 (5th Cir. 1985), 84-4404, Thompson v. Chrysler Motors Corp.

Docket Nº:84-4404
Citation:755 F.2d 1162
Party Name:Jack THOMPSON, Individually and as Next Friend for Clinton J. Heath, etc., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CHRYSLER MOTORS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants, Crimson Dodge, Inc., Defendant-Appellee. Martha V. NASH, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CHRYSLER MOTORS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants, Crimson Dodge, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:March 25, 1985
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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755 F.2d 1162 (5th Cir. 1985)

Jack THOMPSON, Individually and as Next Friend for Clinton

J. Heath, etc., Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

CHRYSLER MOTORS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants,

Crimson Dodge, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.

Martha V. NASH, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

CHRYSLER MOTORS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants,

Crimson Dodge, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 84-4404

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 25, 1985

Opinion on Denial of Rehearing May 6, 1985.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Maryellen Duprel, Roland C. Lewis, Jackson, Miss., for plaintiff-appellant.

Watkins & Eager, Steven D. Orlansky, James A. Becker, Jr., Jackson, Miss., for defendants-appellees.

Thomas A. Bell, J. Wyatt Hazard, Jackson, Miss., for Buster's Dodge.

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

Before RUBIN, RANDALL and TATE, Circuit Judges.

RANDALL, Circuit Judge:

In this diversity case filed in a Mississippi district court, the plaintiffs seek damages for wrongful death and personal injuries resulting from an automobile accident. One of the defendants successfully challenged the court's in personam jurisdiction. We conclude that under the prima facie showing made by the plaintiffs, the district court would have personal jurisdiction over the challenging defendant if the complaints are amended to allege that a defect in the part supplied by the defendant caused the accident. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment of the district court and remand.

I.

On July 19, 1980, a 1979 Dodge Magnum, in which Mississippi residents Cynthia and Clifton Heath were the driver and passenger, respectively, collided with another automobile, in which California resident Martha Nash was a passenger, on the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi. The accident resulted in fatal injuries to the Heaths and personal injuries to Nash.

The Dodge Magnum involved in the accident was manufactured in May 1979 by the Chrysler Corporation and was sold on April 19, 1980, to the Heaths as a new car by Crimson Dodge, Inc. (Crimson). Crimson is a car dealership incorporated in Alabama, its place of business is in Alabama, and it is not qualified to do business in Mississippi. Crimson had conducted an inspection of the car, certifying its merchantable quality or fitness for the road. The Heaths took delivery

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of the car in Alabama and drove it back to their home in Mississippi, which was located only sixty-one miles from the Alabama dealership. As early as May 5, 1980, two weeks after taking delivery, the Heaths experienced problems with the car; specifically, the brakes would "lock up" causing a "pull" in the steering.

The Heaths made several trips to the Alabama dealership in an attempt to have the brakes on the car repaired. The plaintiffs allege that a Mississippi dealership, Buster's Dodge (Buster's), refused to service the car since it was under warranty from Crimson, thereby requiring that the Heaths travel to the Alabama dealership for service. The record reflects that the Heaths placed fifteen telephone calls from their home to Crimson during the period from June 28, 1980, to July 8, 1980. On July 3, 1980, Crimson sold and shipped to Buster's a hydraulic brake master cylinder designated for the Heaths' vehicle.

On July 19, 1982, the survivors of the Heaths filed a wrongful death action against Chrysler, Buster's, and Crimson. 1 On October 20, 1982, Nash filed a personal injury action against the same defendants. 2 These two actions were consolidated and, on June 27, 1983, Crimson, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d), applied for a preliminary hearing on its defense of lack of personal jurisdiction. The matter was referred to a magistrate for findings and recommendations. After a hearing, the magistrate recommended that Crimson be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court adopted the magistrate's findings and recommendations, granting Crimson's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court then entered final judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). This appeal followed.

II.

The plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing the district court's jurisdiction over Crimson. DeMelo v. Toche Marine, Inc., 711 F.2d 1260, 1270 (5th Cir.1983). When the district court decides the defendant's motion without an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiffs' burden is met by presenting a prima facie case for personal jurisdiction. The allegations of the complaint, except insofar as controverted by opposing affidavits, must be taken as true, and all conflicts in the facts must be resolved in favor of the plaintiffs for purposes of determining whether a prima facie case for personal jurisdiction has been established. Id. at 1270-71; see Black v. Acme Markets, Inc., 564 F.2d 681, 683 n. 3 (5th Cir.1977); C. Wright, A. Miller & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure Secs. 1351, 1363 (1969 & Supp.1984). The court may determine the jurisdictional issue by receiving affidavits, interrogatories, depositions, oral testimony, or any combination of the recognized methods of discovery. Washington v. Norton Manufacturing Co., 588 F.2d 441, 443 (5th Cir.1979). The district court below considered the entire record, including all discovered materials and Crimson's affidavit, in ruling on the motion to dismiss.

"It is well-settled that a defendant is amenable to the personal jurisdiction of a federal court in a diversity case to the extent permitted a state court in the state where the federal court sits." DeMelo v. Toche Marine, Inc., 711 F.2d at 1264; see Brown v. Flowers Industries, Inc., 688 F.2d 328, 331 (5th Cir.1982), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1023, 103 S.Ct. 1275, 75 L.Ed.2d 496 (1983); Gold Kist, Inc. v. Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream Co., 623 F.2d 375 (5th Cir.1980) (collecting cases).

In a federal diversity action such as this, the reach of federal jurisdiction over

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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.

Smith v. DeWalt Products Corp., 743 F.2d 277, 278 (5th Cir.1984); see also Jetco Electronic Industries, Inc. v. Gardiner, 473 F.2d 1228, 1232 (5th Cir.1973). We consider first the reach of Mississippi's long-arm statute and then the question whether the assertion of jurisdiction over Crimson by a Mississippi court would be constitutionally permissible.

A. Scope of the Mississippi Long-Arm Statute.

The Mississippi long-arm statute, Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 13-3-57, provides in pertinent part:

Any nonresident person, firm, general or limited partnership, or any foreign or other corporation not qualified under the constitution and laws of this state as to doing business herein, who shall make a contract with a resident of this state to be performed in whole or in part by any party in this state, or who shall commit a tort in whole or in part in this state against a resident or nonresident of this state, or who shall do any business or perform any character of work or service in this state, shall by such act or acts be deemed to be doing business in Mississippi. Such act or acts shall be deemed equivalent to the appointment by such nonresident of the secretary of state of the State of Mississippi, or his successor or successors in office, to be the true and lawful attorney or agent of such nonresident upon whom all lawful process may be served in any actions or proceedings accrued or accruing from such act or acts, or arising from or growing out of such contract or tort, or as an incident thereto, by any such nonresident or his, their or its agent, servant or employee.

(Emphasis added.)

Looking to the tripartite test 3 for personal jurisdiction under the long-arm statute that was employed by the Mississippi Supreme Court in Collins v. Truck Equipment Sales, Inc., 231 So.2d 187 (Miss.1970), the magistrate determined that Crimson was not "doing business" in Mississippi and, consequently, was not amenable to an assertion of personal jurisdiction over it by a Mississippi court. Because there was no showing of any purposeful act or consummation of a transaction in Mississippi, the magistrate reasoned, it could not be said that Crimson was "doing business" in Mississippi under the first prong of the test set out in Collins.

The plaintiffs contend that the Mississippi Supreme Court has interpreted the reach of Mississippi's long-arm statute to include nonresident defendants who commit a single tort in the state, even if the alleged tortfeasor is not physically present in the state when the injury occurs. The plaintiffs argue that the magistrate's reliance on Collins was misplaced in view of the broadening effect of the statute's 1964 amendment.

In its brief, Crimson makes passing reference to the tripartite test for personal jurisdiction but chose not to address the issue of its amenability to suit under the Mississippi long-arm statute, focusing only on the due process issue. Citing Charia v. Cigarette Racing Team, Inc., 583 F.2d 184, 185-86 n. 2 (5th Cir.1978), and Benjamin v. Western Boat Building Corp., 472 F.2d 723, 725 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 830, 94 S.Ct. 60, 38 L.Ed.2d 64 (1973), Crimson

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declares "that this Court has stated that it believes that principles of federalism mandate that cases of this type be decided on the constitutional ground where that can readily be done on the authority of existing decisions." Appellee's Brief at 10. While recognizing that in some cases it might be appropriate to avoid construction of the state long-arm statute, we choose to address the issue of the reach of the Mississippi statute in this case because the constitutional issue should not be considered if service was defective under...

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