Hinrichs v. Gen. Motors of Can., Ltd.

Decision Date24 June 2016
Docket Number1140711.
Citation222 So.3d 1114
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Richard D. Morrison of Beasley Allen Crow Methvin Portis & Miles, P.C., Montgomery, for appellant.

Brief in support of appellant's application for rehearing filed by J. Cole Portis and Stephanie S. Monplaisir of Beasley Allen Crow Methvin Portis & Miles, P.C., Montgomery; and Frank M. Wilson of Copeland, Franco, Screws & Gill, P.A., Montgomery.

Matthew H. Lembke of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, Birmingham; Charles A. Stewart III of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, Montgomery; and Philip E. Holladay, Jr., Harold E. Franklin, Jr., and Susan M. Clare of King & Spaulding LLP, Atlanta, Georgia, for appellee.

Leila H. Watson of Cory Watson, P.C., Birmingham; Rhonda Pitts Chambers of Taylor & Taylor, Birmingham; Bruce McKee of Hare Wynn Newell & Newton, Birmingham; and David G. Wirtes of Cunningham Bounds, LLC, Mobile, for amicus curiae Alabama Association for Justice in support of the appellant's application for rehearing.

James R. Pratt III of Hare Wynn Newell & Newton, Birmingham, for amicus curiae Attorneys Information Exchange Group, Inc., in support of the appellant's application for rehearing.

R. Bernard Harwood, Jr., of Rosen & Harwood, P.A., Tuscaloosa, for amicus curiae Business Council of Alabama in opposition to the application for rehearing.

Harlan I. Prater IV and Nikaa Jordan of Lightfoot Franklin & White LLC, Birmingham; Thomas H. Dupree, Jr., of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Washington, D.C.; and Hugh F. Young, Jr., Product Liability Advisory Council, Inc., Reston, Virginia, for amicus curiae Product Liability Advisory Council, Inc., in opposition to the application for rehearing.


Florian Hinrichs, the plaintiff in this case, appeals from a judgment dismissing the case as to defendant General Motors of Canada, Ltd. ("GM Canada"). The trial court made the judgment final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. We affirm.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

On June 24, 2007, Hinrichs was riding in the front passenger seat of a 2004 GMC Sierra 1500 pickup truck ("the Sierra") that was owned and operated by his friend Daniel Vinson when they were involved in a motor-vehicle accident. It is undisputed that Hinrichs was wearing his seat belt. A vehicle operated by Kenneth Earl Smith, who was driving under the influence of alcohol, ran a stop sign and collided with the passenger-side door of the Sierra. The Sierra rolled over twice, but landed on its wheels. Hinrichs suffered a spinal-cord injury

in the accident that left him a quadriplegic. The accident occurred in Geneva County. Hinrichs alleges that his injuries were caused by the defective design of the roof of the Sierra that allowed the roof over the passenger compartment to collapse during the rollover and by the defective design of the seat belt in the Sierra, which failed to restrain him.

At the time of the accident, Hinrichs, a German citizen, was a member of the German military; he had been assigned to Fort Rucker for flight training. He and Vinson were in the same training program. Vinson had purchased the Sierra at Hill Buick, Inc., d/b/a O'Reilly Pontiac–Buick–GMC and/or Hill Pontiac–Buick–GMC ("the O'Reilly dealership"), in Pennsylvania in 2003. He drove it to Alabama in 2006 when he was assigned to Fort Rucker. General Motors Corporation, known as Motors Liquidation Company after July 9, 2009 ("GM"), designed the Sierra. GM Canada, whose principal place of business is in Ontario, Canada, manufactured certain parts of the Sierra, assembled the vehicle, and sold it to GM in Canada, where title transferred. GM then distributed the Sierra for sale in the United States through a GM dealer. The Sierra ultimately was delivered to the O'Reilly dealership for sale.

Hinrichs sued GM and Smith in February 2008, alleging a claim against GM under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine ("AEMLD") and claims against GM and Smith of negligence and wantonness. Pursuant to Rule 9(h), Ala. R. Civ. P., Hinrichs also alleged claims against several fictitiously named defendants. Hinrichs alleged that design defects in the Sierra were responsible for the accident and his permanent paralysis. Specifically, he alleged that the roof of the Sierra collapsed during the rollover and that the seat belt did not properly restrain him. In 2009, GM filed a petition for bankruptcy, which resulted in the trial court's staying the case as to GM pursuant to the automatic-stay provision of the Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. § 362. Hinrichs thereafter filed a claim in the bankruptcy case and settled with GM.

Hinrichs then filed an amendment to his complaint to substitute GM Canada, the O'Reilly dealership, and Hill Cadillac, Inc., d/b/a Hill Cadillac–Oldsmobile ("the Hill dealership"),1 for three of the fictitiously named defendants. The O'Reilly dealership and the Hill dealership moved to dismiss the action as to them, alleging that the trial court did not have personal jurisdiction over them. GM Canada answered the complaint, alleging a lack of personal jurisdiction. GM Canada then filed a motion for a hearing on its jurisdictional defense. In the motion, GM Canada alleged:

"As explained more fully below, GM Canada is a Canadian entity organized under the laws of Canada and doing business only in Canada. While the 2004 GMC Sierra 1500 pickup truck was assembled and sold by GM Canada, both the truck's assembly and sale took place in Canada, not in Alabama. Indeed, GM Canada's operations are in Canada, and it does not sell any products in Alabama or have any operations, property, employees, or agents stationed to work for it here. In addition, after GM Canada sold the truck to MLC [Motors Liquidation Company] in Canada, MLC sold and distributed the truck to an authorized dealership in Pennsylvania, not Alabama. This Pennsylvania dealership then sold the truck to Daniel Vinson in Pennsylvania, and Vinson evidently later took the truck to Alabama when he moved there. In short, GM Canada has no contacts with the State of Alabama that would allow this Court to constitutionally exercise jurisdiction over the Company in this case."

In support of its motion, GM Canada filed the affidavit of Geoffrey Bailey, the manager of vehicle-product programs and regulations for GM Canada. Bailey testified, in pertinent part:

"3. GM Canada does no business in the United States, including the State of Alabama, and does not maintain any office, agency, or representative there. GM Canada is not qualified, registered, licensed, or authorized to do business in Alabama. GM Canada does not have any officers, employees, or agents stationed to work for it in Alabama. No one is authorized by GM Canada to accept service of process in Alabama, nor has GM Canada appointed an agent for service of process in Alabama.
"4. Before General Motors Corporation (n/k/a Motors Liquidation Company) ('MLC') filed for bankruptcy on June 1, 2009, GM Canada was a wholly owned subsidiary of MLC. GM Canada was and at all times remained a separate legal entity from MLC in the United States of America.
"5. Today, GM Canada is a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Motors Holdings LLC. GM Canada is and always has been a separate legal entity from General Motors Holdings LLC and General Motors LLC, a Delaware Limited Liability Company that has automotive operations in the United States. GM Canada has always had its own Board of Directors and Officers, performed its own accounting, and been responsible for its own financial performance.
"6. GM Canada manufactures, in part, assembles, and sells automotive vehicles and parts in Canada. Specifically, GM Canada sells vehicles to independent dealerships in Canada, which in turn sell the vehicles to consumers in Canada. GM Canada does not now and has never sold or distributed automotive vehicles or component parts in the United States of America, including Alabama.
"7. Prior to the bankruptcy of MLC, GM Canada manufactured, in part, and assembled certain automotive vehicles and parts at its plants in Canada and sold them to MLC in Canada, under Canadian law. GM Canada did not exercise any control over MLC's business operations or MLC's distribution system. After GM Canada sold vehicles to MLC, the transfer of title for which occurred in Canada, MLC, not GM Canada, was responsible for their importation into the United States, their distribution within the United States, as well as service and sales support, throughout the United States, including Alabama. MLC, not GM Canada, was also responsible for testing to ensure that the imported vehicles complied with applicable United States Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Since the bankruptcy of MLC, GM Canada has not assumed responsibility for any of the activities in the United States that were formerly performed by MLC.
"8. The subject 2004 GMC Sierra was manufactured, in part, and assembled by GM Canada in Canada and then sold to MLC in Canada. GM Canada did not design the 2004 Chevrolet Sierra, including its roof structure and seat belt system. GM Canada also did not advertise or market the subject truck and did not distribute or sell it, or any of its component parts, to Daniel Vinson or to any dealership or member of the general public in Alabama or elsewhere. GM Canada also did not maintain, repair, or service the subject truck in Alabama or elsewhere.
"15. GM Canada does not and has not ever served the markets of Alabama directly or through distributorships, dealerships, or sales agents within Alabama. As discussed above, MLC was an independent company, which owned the vehicles it marketed. MLC was not GM Canada's sales agent in Alabama or elsewhere for sales of vehicles.
"18. GM Canada's website does not and has not ever allowed direct sales of vehicles to individuals or entities located in the United States of America."


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