843 F.2d 489 (11th Cir. 1988), 87-7184, Morris v. SSE, Inc.

Docket Nº:87-7184.
Citation:843 F.2d 489
Party Name:Carol MORRIS, Administratrix of the Estate of Linda Louise Grimes, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SSE, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:April 27, 1988
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 489

843 F.2d 489 (11th Cir. 1988)

Carol MORRIS, Administratrix of the Estate of Linda Louise

Grimes, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

SSE, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 87-7184.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 27, 1988

Denton, Dornan & Bilbo, Robert H. Tyler, Biloxi, Miss., and Larry Hallett, Mobile, Ala., for plaintiff-appellant.

Hand, Arendall, Bedsole, Greaves & Johnston, Paul W. Brock and Joe E. Basenberg, Mobile, Ala., for defendant-appellee.

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

Page 490

Before ANDERSON, EDMONDSON and GOODWIN, [*] Circuit Judges.

ANDERSON, Circuit Judge:

Appellant Carol Morris ("Morris") appeals the dismissal of a wrongful death action she brought against appellee SSE, Inc. ("SSE"). The District Court for the Southern District of Alabama dismissed the action for lack of personal jurisdiction. In this appeal, Morris argues that she presented sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction over SSE. We agree. Consequently, we reverse the district court's dismissal and remand this case for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

This case arises from a parachuting accident which occurred in Grand Bay, Alabama in November 1982 that killed Linda Grimes, a Mississippi resident. The parachute equipment used by the decedent in her fatal jump included a "Sentinel Mark 2000" automatic activation device, serial number 8004, which was designed and manufactured by SSE. SSE is a Pennsylvania corporation whose corporate headquarters are in New Jersey. Carol Morris, administratrix of Grimes' estate and a Mississippi resident, brought the wrongful death action against SSE in October 1985 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. The amended complaint asserted three grounds for recovery: strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty. Morris seeks $2 million compensatory and $3 million punitive damages.

Following SSE's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue, the case was transferred from the Southern District of Mississippi to the Southern District of Alabama pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1404(a) (1982) because a majority of the witnesses and evidence pertinent to the case was located there. In the proceedings in the Southern District of Alabama, SSE again moved to dismiss the action for lack of personal jurisdiction, alleging that it did not have enough contacts with Alabama. The evidence before the district court consisted of the deposition testimony and three affidavits of Stephen Snyder, the president and majority shareholder of SSE. 1 The parties do not contest the facts detailed below; their only dispute is over the legal significance of the facts.

SSE is incorporated under Pennsylvania law and its principal place of business is in New Jersey. Its primary business is the manufacture of peripheral equipment for parachute systems. Among the equipment manufactured by SSE is an "automatic activation device" whose commercial name is

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the Sentinel Mark 2000. Linda Grimes used a Sentinel Mark 2000, serial number 8004, in her fatal parachute accident.

SSE sells its products solely through distributors and dealers. Distributors and dealers are distinguished only in that distributors order in greater volume from SSE. At the time of Grimes' parachute accident, SSE had distributors in California, Illinois, and New York. It had dealers in an unspecified number of states.

SSE generally does not solicit orders. Instead, the company usually is contacted by companies which see advertisements SSE places in national trade journals such as those published by the National Parachuting Organization. SSE admitted that it probably published such ads in the year preceding the accident. There was no evidence presented about whether the magazines containing the ads were sold or available in Alabama.

Between November 1981 and May 1984, SSE had a dealership arrangement with an Alabama company. The arrangement involved only the purchase of altimeters for ultralight aircraft; no Sentinel Mark 2000 devices were sold as part of this dealership arrangement. In the two and a half year period, altimeter sales having a total value of $450 were transacted between SSE and the Alabama company. SSE's total corporate sales over this period exceeded $2 million.

Device number 8004, which is the focus of the merits of this litigation, was sold by SSE to a Michigan dealer in April 1980. There is no evidence in the record explaining how device 8004, sold in Michigan, ended up in Alabama. On July 30, 1981, Gulf Coast Air Sports of Theodore, Alabama shipped number 8004 and two other Sentinel Mark 2000 devices to SSE, accompanied by the following handwritten letter:

Enclosed you will find 3 MK 2000 automatic openers. # 8004, 2043 & 5038.

# 8004--Calib. button (knob) does not latch in the extended position

# 2043--Inop

# 5038--Calib. button (knob) is rough & eratic. [sic]

Please check all 3 units from start to finish.

I would like to send 3 more in for a periodic inspection as soon as these are returned.

Your diligence would be greatly appreciated

[signature]

Gulf Coast Air Sports

Rt 2 Box 366

Theodore Al. 36582

We have available C-182, Twin Beech, DC-3 for your jumping pleasure.

Pursuant to the repair request, SSE replaced the batteries and the test/button spring in device 8004 and shipped it and the other two repaired devices to Gulf Coast Air Sports in October 1981. The total cost of the repairs was $123.21. There is no evidence that any other devices subsequently were sent to SSE for repair.

The district court denied Morris' motion for an evidentiary hearing and granted SSE's motion to dismiss. The court concluded:

The plaintiff in this case has submitted no evidence to support its claim that defendant has the requisite contacts with the forum for the court to assert in personam jurisdiction over SSE, Inc. The only deposition on record seeks to establish the requisite contacts of defendant with Mississippi, where the action was originally filed. Without evidence, the plaintiff cannot carry his burden of establishing a prima facie case of jurisdiction.

Morris appeals from this judgment.

DISCUSSION

The single issue raised in this appeal is whether the evidence of SSE's contacts with Alabama is sufficient to establish a prima facie case of specific personal jurisdiction over SSE. 2 We conclude that it is.

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In the context of a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in which no evidentiary hearing is held, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of jurisdiction over the movant, non-resident defendant. Delong v. Washington Mills, 840 F.2d 843, 845 (11th Cir.1988); Bracewell v. Nicholson Air Service, Inc., 748 F.2d 1499, 1504 (11th Cir.1984). A prima facie case is established if the plaintiff presents sufficient evidence to defeat a motion for a directed verdict. The district court must construe the allegations in the complaint as true, to the extent they are uncontroverted by defendant's affidavits or deposition testimony. Delong, 840 F.2d at 845; Bracewell, 748 F.2d at 1504. In addition, where the evidence presented by the parties' affidavits and deposition testimony conflicts, the court must construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant plaintiff. Delong, 840 F.2d at 845.

The determination of whether a defendant is amenable to a forum's jurisdiction requires a two-part analysis. First, the...

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