van Heeswyk v. Jabiru Aircraft Pty. (CA2 2/24/12)

A products case about personal jurisdiction.

Plaintiff’s husband was killed when the propeller of a kit aircraft made by Jabiru, an Australian firm, fell off. He bought it, built it, and crashed it in Marana. The trial court dismissed the resulting wrongful-death Complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. Jabiru has three North American distributors and sold 116 products in Arizona from 2004-2006, the time period in question.

Courts seems compelled to mention every classic case in every personal jurisdiction opinion. So, yes, you’ll find here International Shoe, Burger King, Milliken v. Meyer, and  Asahi. Why courts think that every jurisdiction case should include a primer on the law is beyond us.

Plaintiff argued that Arizona has specific jurisdiction because Jabiru had American distributors, advertised in an American magazine, and allegedly targeted customers in Arizona. Jabiru contended that it sold to a distributor without knowing where the product would end up and that there was no evidence that the decedent ever saw the magazine ad.

The court follows Arizona’s “holistic” approach, by which jurisdiction has largely become just one more know-it-when-we-see-it area of law. It says that the use of an intermediary distributor does not defeat specific jurisdiction. “We are unwilling to ignore the economic reality that Jabiru, as the manufacturer and, thus, the head of a distribution network, realizes the bulk of the economic benefit from its sales in ‘distant forums’ such as Arizona.” The distributor’s contracts required them to use their best efforts to sell products in their territories. And they did sell stuff in Arizona which, though it “may have accounted for only one to two percent of Jabiru sales nationally,  . . . amount to  . . . “minimum contacts” . . .

So, finding minimum contacts and action purposefully directed at the forum, the Court of Appeals reverses the dismissal.

Jabiru did not help itself by arguing that it was indeed subject to jurisdiction in the U.S. –  but only in Tennessee, where one of its distributors is.

(link to opinion)