Norris v. Top Lock Corporation et al
OPINION AND ORDER: Court GRANTS 60 Motion to determine applicable substantive law, and the law of Pennsylvania provides the rule of decision. Signed by Judge Robert L Miller, Jr on 10/19/2017. (tc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
BRIAN NORRIS, SR.,
MYERS SPRING COMPANY INC.,
Cause No. 3:15-cv-466 RLM-MGG
OPINION AND ORDER
On or about March 15, 2013 while on a jobsite in Collegeville,
Pennsylvania, plaintiff Brian Norris was elevated about four and one-half feet on
a scaffolding when it allegedly collapsed. On March 10, 2015, Mr. Norris brought
a products liability action against Myers Spring in the Court of Common Pleas
of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. Mr. Norris argues there were defects in
the design of the scaffolding and manufacture of the spring. The focus of Mr.
Norris’ claim is the condition of a latch for the scaffolding and the latch’s spring
component at the time of the accident. Myers Spring manufactured the spring to
Sonny Scaffolding’s specifications and incorporated it into the product’s latch
system. It is undisputed this design, manufacture and assembly occurred
entirely within Indiana.
Myers Spring removed the case to the United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Pennsylvania and moved to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P.
12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court granted the motion and
transferred the case to this court under 28 U.S.C. § 1631. Norris v. Myers Spring
Company, et al., No. 5:15-cv-2687 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 4, 2015). Myers Spring now
asks this court to determine which state’s substantive law that should apply to
this case under Indiana’s choice-of-law principles. For the reasons stated below,
Pennsylvania laws apply.
In resolving a conflict of laws question, a federal court sitting in diversity
generally applies the choice of law rules of the state in which it sits. Klaxon Co.
v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487 (1941). The situation is more
complicated when the federal court deciding the question has had the case
transferred to it from another federal court. When a case is transferred to cure a
lack of jurisdiction, the transferee forum’s law must apply, lest plaintiffs from
enjoying choice-of-law advantages to which they wouldn’t have been entitled in
the proper forum. W. Smelting & Metals, Inc. v. Slater Steel, Inc., 621 F. Supp.
578, 581–582 (N.D. Ind. 1985) (citing Tillett v. J.I. Case Co., 756 F.2d 591, 593
n.1 (7th Cir. 1985) (citations omitted)). This conclusion is supported by 28 U.S.C.
§ 1631. If a case is transferred because of a want of jurisdiction, the action “shall
proceed as if it had been filed in . . . the court to which it is transferred . . . .” 28
U.S.C. § 1631. Accordingly, this court will apply Indiana’s choice-of-law rules.
Indiana’s choice-of-law analysis involves multiple inquiries in tort cases.
As a preliminary matter, the court first determines whether the differences
between the laws of the states are “important enough to affect the outcome of
the litigation.” Simon v. United States, 805 N.E.2d at 804–805 (citing Hubbard
Mfg. Co., v. Greeson, 515 N.E.2d 1071, 1073 (7th Cir. 1987). If so, the
presumption is that the traditional lex loci delicti rule (the place of the wrong) will
apply. Hubbard v. Greeson, 515 N.E.2d at 1073. Under this rule, the court
applies the substantive laws of “the state where the last event necessary to make
an actor liable for the alleged wrong takes place.” Id. This presumption can be
overcome if the court is persuaded that “the place of the tort ‘bears little
connection’ to this legal action.” Id. at 1074.
If the location of the tort is insignificant to the action, the court considers
other contacts that might be more relevant, such as: where the conduct causing
the injury occurred; the residence or place of business of the parties; and where
the relationship is centered. Hubbard v. Greeson, 515 N.E.2d at 1073 (citing
Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 145(2) (1971)). These factors aren’t
an exclusive list, nor are they necessarily relevant in every case. All contacts
“should be evaluated according to their relative importance to the particular
issues being litigated.” Hubbard v. Greeson, 515 N.E.2d at 1074.
The parties agree that Indiana’s choice-of-law rule under Hubbard v.
Greeson and Simon v. United States governs whether Indiana or Pennsylvania
substantive law is applicable to Mr. Norris’ claims. The parties also agree the
differences between Indiana and Pennsylvania law would affect the outcome of
this case. The remaining issue is whether the place of the injury—
Myers Spring argues that Pennsylvania, where Mr. Norris was injured,
bears little connection to this case. Myers Spring argues the record doesn’t reflect
manufactured, or assembled in Pennsylvania. So, Myers Spring says,
Pennsylvania bears little connection to this case as “the most important relevant
factor is where the conduct causing the injury occurred” because “an individual’s
actions and the recovery available to others as a result of those actions should
be governed by the law of the state in which he acts.” Simon v. United States,
805 N.E. 2d at 807-808. The tortious conduct, as Myers Spring sees it, occurred
in Indiana, and the sale of the scaffolding to Mr. Norris’ Pennsylvania employer
was merely fortuitous.
Myers Spring also cites to several cases to support its argument that
Pennsylvania law is insignificant. First, in Large v Mobile Tool Intern, Inc., the
defendant’s subsidiary MTI Insulated Products, Inc. was an Indiana corporation.
The plaintiff Large was a North Carolina citizen employed in Virginia. The
accident occurred along a roadside in Virginia. Mr. Large's employer was a
Virginia corporation. The aerial lift which was the subject of the suit was
designed (and apparently manufactured) in Indiana. After Mr. Large's accident,
Mobile Tool called the truck back to Fort Wayne, Indiana for evaluation and
reconditioning, and it was apparently in Fort Wayne where parts of the lift were
scrapped. This court held that Virginia law was insignificant, because “this case
is about the aerial lift, the design of the aerial lift, and the destruction of parts
of the aerial lift.” These were all Indiana issues, and so the law of Indiana applied.
Large v. Mobile Tool Int'l, Inc., No. CIV 102CV177, 2007 WL 2187106, at *3 (N.D.
Ind. July 27, 2007).
In Hubbard v. Greeson, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death action in
Indiana on behalf of her husband, who was killed while using an aerial lift in
Illinois. Hubbard v. Greeson, 515 N.E.2d at 1072. The Indiana Supreme Court
held the use of lex loci deliciti was too harsh, and Indiana law should apply. Id.
at 1073. The court acknowledged that the decedent died in Illinois, the coroner’s
inquest was held in Illinois, and the surviving family received workers’
compensation benefits under Illinois law. Id. at 1074. Still, the court held that
Illinois bore little connection to the action, and Indiana law applied, reasoning
that, among other things, “[t]he plaintiff’s two theories of recovery relate to the
manufacture of the lift in Indiana . . . , ” and that the “parties’ relationship was
centered therein.” Id.
This court disagrees with Myers Spring’s analysis. The court of appeals
didn’t consider the second prong of Indiana’s choice-of-law analysis in Land v.
Yamaha Motor Corp., because the place of injury wasn’t insignificant. Land v.
Yamaha Motor Corp., 272 F.3d 514, 517 (7th Cir. 2001). Charles Land had been
injured while operating the WaveRunner boat in Indiana. He was a resident of
Indiana, the owner of the boat was a resident of Indiana, and the boat had been
garaged and serviced in Indiana for a decade before it caused Mr. Land's injury.
Land v. Yamaha Motor Corp., 272 F.3d at 517.
The Lands argued that California, where the Yamaha was incorporated
and where Yamaha’s allegedly tortious conduct occurred, had greater relevance.
The Lands cited to several cases in which courts have found the place of injury
to be insignificant. But nothing in the record indicated that the WaveRunner had
ever been used outside of Indiana. The court of appeals reasoned: “it was not
mere fortuity that the injury occurred in Indiana, as the Lands suggested by
comparing this choice-of-law determination with those involving pass-through
automobile or airplane accidents in which the place of the injury is given little
weight, and the argument that Indiana's contacts have little or no relevance to
the legal action simply cannot withstand scrutiny.” The choice-of law analysis
ended with step one. Land v. Yamaha Motor Corp., 272 F.3d at 517.
The Land v. Yamaha court also addressed the second prong as it relates
to the Hubbard decision: “Indiana does not adhere to the most significant
relationship analysis, however, and [Indiana] has not signaled that it intends to
overrule Hubbard. Although Hubbard does note some discomfort with the rigid
place of injury, or lex loci delicti, approach, it still adheres to an analysis that
uses the place of injury as a baseline.” Land v. Yamaha, 272 F.3d at 517; (citing
Hubbard v. Greeson, 515 N.E.2d at 1073–1074). The court explained that if the
place of injury is not insignificant, courts must apply its law regardless of the
greater interest another state may have. Land v. Yamaha, 272 F.3d at 517.
The cases Myers Spring cites would be helpful if today’s decision reached
the second prong in the choice of law analysis. But the second prong can be
considered only if the place of the wrong—Pennsylvania—is insignificant. Large
v. Mobile Tool Intern and Hubbard v. Greeson involved “pass through” accidents
in which the courts would give the place of injury little weight, as described in
Land v. Yamaha. Myers Spring says the evidence doesn’t show where the
scaffolding was shipped after its manufacture in Indiana, but there’s no doubt
that the scaffolding made it to Pennsylvania by 2005. Nothing in record suggests
the scaffold ever left Pennsylvania or that Myers Spring serviced the defective
spring at any time before or after Mr. Norris’s accident.
Pennsylvania’s contacts satisfy the lex loci delicti baseline. Myers Spring,
an Indiana corporation, manufactured and sold the allegedly defective spring in
Indiana. The spring was then shipped to Sonny Scaffolding in Indiana, which
incorporated the spring into the scaffolding there. Following the manufacture
and assembly of the scaffolding in Indiana, Sonny Scaffolding sold and shipped
the scaffold to Pennsylvania. It’s also undisputed that Mr. Norris, a Pennsylvania
resident, purchased the scaffold from his employer United, a Pennsylvania
company. Mr. Norris was working for United at the time of the accident. The
scaffolding was in Pennsylvania since 2005. Indiana’s contacts might be found
to be more significant if the court reached the second prong of the choice of law
analysis, but it can’t be said that Pennsylvania’s contacts are insignificant as
Indiana’s modified lex loci delicti rule uses that term. It wasn’t merely fortuitous
that the injury occurred in Pennsylvania, see Land v. Yamaha, 272 F.3d at 517,
so the analysis ends at step one. Pennsylvania law provides the rule of decision
in this case. The transfer of this case under § 1631 gave Myers Spring the benefit
of the forum’s choice of law rules, but not the forum’s law itself.
For the foregoing reasons, the motion to determine applicable substantive
law is GRANTED, and the law of Pennsylvania provides the rule of decision.
ENTERED: October 19, 2017
/s/ Robert L. Miller, Jr.
United States District Court
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