A Personal Jurisdiction Decision Tailor-Made for a Civil Procedure Exam

Law school; first-year; civil procedure exam question: May a court assert personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant who ships millions of packages into Ohio, and is paid millions of dollars in return by the resident plaintiff? Be careful, 1L’s (and practitioners): The answer is no — at least where the goods shipped were not to be sold or consumed in the forum state, and where the plaintiff moved to the forum state from another state after the commercial relationship began. This was the holding of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in Wornick Co. v. Trans-Packers Services Corp, No. 1:09-CV-931.

The non-resident defendant manufactured individual packets of dairy shake power mix in New York, and shipped them to the plaintiff’s facility in Ohio. Plaintiff, an Ohio resident corporation, incorporated the dairy shake mix packets into a larger package with other food items called Meals, Ready to Eat, or MRE’s, used to feed American troops, that were then shipped to military depots at the direction of the U.S. military.

Evidence at a full day hearing established that none of the defendant’s product was sold in Ohio, or consumed by Ohio consumers, that the defendant did not intend to exploit any Ohio markets, and that when the plaintiff and defendant began their commercial relationship over 20 years ago, the plaintiff, now in Ohio, operated out of Texas. The plaintiff unilaterally moved to Ohio after the relationship began. In a well reasoned decision, the District Court found that on these facts, the non-resident defendant did not “purposefully avail” itself of the Ohio forum, and therefore dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Benefits of An Evidentiary Hearing on Jurisdiction

This decision highlights the efficiencies of an early evidentiary hearing on a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss. Just to look at the Complaint, the plaintiff surely would have made out a prima facie case of jurisdiction. Putting the plaintiff to its preponderance of the evidence proofs, as was done here, reaches an efficient result on facts that would not have come to the Court’s attention at least until summary judgment a year or so down the road.

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