George v. Uponor Corp.

Decision Date23 December 2013
Docket NumberCivil No. 12–249 ADM/JJK.
Citation988 F.Supp.2d 1056
PartiesTim GEORGE, Charles and Jamie Gibbs, William and Corie Connelly, Galen and Leslie Satterlee, Gail Henrichsen, Dustin and Martha Barnett, Dave and Holly Marcus, Kelly Babb, and Gary and Elsa Overstreet, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. UPONOR CORPORATION, Uponor Group, Uponor, Inc., Wirsbo Company, and Uponor Wirsbo Company, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Robert K. Shelquist, Esq., Lockridge Grindal Nauen, PLLP, Minneapolis, MN; Shanon J. Carson, Esq., and Lawrence Deutsch, Esq., Berger & Montague, PC, Philadelphia, PA; J. Randall Jones, Esq., Kemp, Jones & Coulthard, LLP, Las Vegas, NV; Scott K. Canepa, Esq., and Terry W. Riedy, Esq., Canepa, Riedy & Rubino, APC, Las Vegas, NV; Shawn M. Raiter, Esq., Larson King, LLP, St. Paul, MN; Charles J. LaDuca, Esq., Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca, LLP, Washington, DC; Charles E. Schaffer, Esq., Levin Fishbein Sedran & Berman, Philadelphia, PA; Michael A. McShane, Esq., Audet & Partners, LLP, San Francisco, CA; P. Kyle Smith, Esq., Lynch, Hopper Salzano & Smith, LLP, Las Vegas, NV; Troy L. Isaacson, Esq., Maddox, Isaacson & Cisneros, LLP, Las Vegas, NV; James D. Carraway, Esq., Carraway & Associates, LLC, Las Vegas, NV; Kenneth S. Kasdan, Esq., Kasdan Simonds Weber & Vaughan LLP, Irvine, CA; and Graham B. LippSmith, Esq., Girardi Keese, Los Angeles, CA, on behalf of Plaintiffs.

John R. Schleiter, Esq., Howard L. Lieber, Esq., and Daniel W. Berglund, Esq., Grotefeld, Hoffmann, Schleiter, Gordon & Ochoa, LLP, Chicago, IL, and Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANN D. MONTGOMERY, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On October 3, 2013, the undersigned United States District Judge heard oral argument on Defendants Uponor Corporation, Uponor Group, Uponor, Inc., Wirsbo Company, and Uponor Wirsbo Company's Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 107] and on Uponor Corporation's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction [Docket No. 131] (“Jurisdiction Motion”). Plaintiffs oppose both motions. For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted in part, and Uponor Corporation's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction is granted in part.

II. BACKGROUND

Defendant Uponor Corporation (Uponor Corp.) is the Finland-based parent company of several subsidiaries in the business of designing, manufacturing, and selling plumbing systems and other plumbing products worldwide. Defendant Uponor, Inc., one of the subsidiaries, is organized under the laws of Illinois and has its principal place of business in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Uponor, Inc. is the successor to Defendants Wirsbo Company and Uponor Wirsbo Company. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14–21 [Docket No. 103] (“Complaint”).

This putative class action relates to plumbing fittings sold by Defendants for use in homes. In past decades, commercial and residential potable water systems largely used copper piping. Compl. ¶ 28. Over time, plumbing product manufacturers, including Defendants, began selling plumbing systems made with non-copper products. One copper alternative is cross-linked polyethylene, a plastic polymer known as “pex.” Defendants developed and sold pex products under various trade names, advertising these products as being more durable and affordable than copper products. Id. ¶¶ 32–34, 37. Specifically, Defendants sell a pex-based plumbing system that uses brass fittings designed to conform to ASTM manufacturing standards F877, F1960, and F2080 (the “Components”).1Id. ¶ 35. Brass is a metal alloy primarily made of copper and zinc, though its exact composition may vary. In this case, Defendants made the Components with “yellow brass,” a type of brass composed of at least 15% zinc, or which is otherwise vulnerable to “dezincification.” Id. ¶¶ 36–39. Dezincification is a form of chemical corrosion in which zinc leaches out of the alloy, resulting in a softer and more porous metal structure. Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed. 2013).

Plaintiffs are a group of homeowners living in New Mexico, Arizona, and California who own homes with plumbing systems that rely or relied on the Components sold by Defendants. Plaintiffs allege the Components installed in their homes began exhibiting dezincification upon exposure to water, the very liquid plumbing systems are designed to convey. Compl. ¶ 39. Because of this defective design, Plaintiffs allege, they have suffered, or are “reasonably certain to suffer,” corrosion of their plumbing fittings, lead leaching into their potable-water delivery systems, plumbing blockages, reduced water flow or loss of pressure, loss of function, loss of structural integrity, and other damage to their property, appliances, and building components. Id. ¶ 91.

Plaintiffs allege Defendants knew of the Components' defective design. When Defendants marketed their pex plumbing systems, Plaintiffs allege, Defendants falsely advertised the Components' quality and falsely represented testing the Components for reliability. Similarly, Defendants falsely advertised the Components as comporting with the ASTM F877, F1960, and F2080 manufacturing standards. Thus, Plaintiffs allege Defendants knowingly misled consumers, suppliers, and contractors regarding the quality and reliability of the Components. Id. ¶¶ 48–66. Plaintiffs also allege Defendants withheld critical information from consumers regarding the tendency of the Components to suffer dezincification due to their yellow brass composition. Id. ¶¶ 67–73.

Plaintiffs have alleged eleven causes of action. As a putative national class, Plaintiffs state claims for: (1) breach of implied warranties of fitness for particular purpose, merchantability, habitability, quality, and workmanship; (2) breach of express warranties; (3) negligence, including negligent misrepresentation, failure to warn/instruct, negligent selection, and negligent installation; (4) strict products liability; (5) unjust enrichment; and (6) declaratory and injunctive relief.

Plaintiffs also state several claims on behalf of putative state subclasses, for: (7) violation of the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act; (8) violation of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act; (9) violation of the standards for residential construction under California Civil Code § 896(a)(15); (10) violation of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act; and (11) violation of the California Unfair Competition Law.

This action represents only one part of a series of lawsuits relating to Defendants' products. Of particular relevance, in 2009, several putative class representatives brought claims against Defendants and related entities regarding the ASTM F1807 brass fittings in Defendants' pex plumbing systems. Those claims were consolidated into a multi-district litigation (MDL) assigned to this Court. Under the supervision of Magistrate Judge Jeffrey J. Keyes, the parties reached a national settlement in 2012. See In re Uponor, Inc., F1807 Plumbing Fittings Prods. Liab. Litig., 716 F.3d 1057, 1060–62 (8th Cir.2013).

In the meantime, various homeowners filed suit against Defendants and other parties in connection with other plumbing products, including the Components. Plaintiff Tim George filed this action on January 31, 2012, and other plaintiffs filed similar suits both before and after George. See In re: Uponor, Inc., F1960 Plumbing Fittings Prods. Liab. Litig., 895 F.Supp.2d 1346, 1347 (J.P.M.L.2012). By June 2012, at least 19 actions had been filed against Defendants and other parties in 7 districts, and George sought to consolidate these actions into multi-district litigation. Id. at 1347, 1349–50. The Judicial Panel on Multi–District Litigation (the “JPML”) held that the various actions, though sharing factual allegations related to the F1960 fittings, did not sufficiently overlap to make centralization efficient. In addition, the actions had progressed at different paces, including a group of cases in the District of Nevada that had progressed further than most of the others. Id. at 1347–48. Thus, the JPML denied George's request but encouraged the parties to voluntarily coordinate litigation. Id. at 1348–49. To that end, several plaintiffs have joined George by either transferring their actions to this district or by filing their action in Minnesota in the first instance. 2

On June 24, 2013, Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On August 9, 2013, Uponor Corp., the Finland-based parent company of the other Defendants, moved separately to dismiss itself from this action due to a lack of personal jurisdiction.

III. DISCUSSION
A. Uponor Corp.'s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction

When a party moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the district court may consider factual evidence outside of the pleadings. See, e.g., Dakota Indus., Inc. v. Dakota Sportswear, Inc., 946 F.2d 1384, 1387 (8th Cir.1991). The plaintiff has the burden of establishing jurisdiction, but need not prove jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence until an evidentiary hearing or trial. Id. Instead, [t]o survive a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction over the defendant.” Digi–Tel Holdings, Inc. v. Proteq Telecomms., 89 F.3d 519, 522 (8th Cir.1996). The facts offered will be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Dakota Indus., 946 F.2d at 1387.

1. Applicable Personal Jurisdiction Law

A court has personal jurisdiction over a party only if both the forum state's long-arm statute and the Due Process Clause fairly allow the exercise of jurisdiction. Minnesota's long-arm statute is “coextensive with constitutional limits,” and does not require separate consideration so long as federal due process requirements are met. Johnson v. Woodcock, 444 F.3d 953, 955 (8th Cir.2006).

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