Pennsylvania's appellate courts have issued precious few personal jurisdiction opinions since the United States Supreme Court clarified the applicable constitutional standards in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117 (2014). In those few opinions, the courts adopted an expansive view of personal jurisdiction and found ways to avoid or distinguish Daimler, e.g., Hammonds v. Ethicon, Inc. (Indiana plaintiff may sue New Jersey headquartered pharmaceutical companies in Pennsylvania based solely upon product development activity in Pennsylvania) and Webb-Benjamin, LLC v. International Rug Group, LLC (reasoning that Daimler does not foreclose consent to general personal jurisdiction in Pennsylvania based upon corporate registration statutes). Our Fall 2018 issue of Aviation Happenings addressed Murray v. American LaFrance, LLC, another Pennsylvania Superior Court opinion holding that registering to do business in Pennsylvania constitutes consent to general personal jurisdiction.
Two recent developments suggest that Pennsylvania's intermediate appellate court, i.e., the Superior Court, may be poised to reposition state personal jurisdiction law more consistently with Daimler. First, on December 7, 2018, the Superior Court granted an application for re-argument en banc and vacated its opinion in Murray v. American LaFrance. The appellant filed its brief on January 28, 2019. On February 14, 2019, the court granted an extension to appellee to file his brief. Re-argument is expected in the Spring, with a decision some time later this year.
Second, on January 18, 2019, the Superior Court is-sued an opinion in Coppola v. Steel Services, Inc., No. 811 EDA 2018. In Coppola, a Pennsylvania plaintiff sued a Virginia steel fabricator in Pennsylvania over allegedly defective products that were shipped from defendant's Virginia facility to a construction site in Virginia. Coppola accessed the steel fabricator's website from his home in Pennsylvania and contended the accessibility of defendant's website from Pennsylvania was a sufficient basis on which to find that specific personal jurisdiction existed over defendant in Pennsylvania. The Superior Court disagreed, affirming the lower court's holding that "[t]he mere presence of a website does not and should not subject a defendant to a finding of specific personal jurisdiction."
The Coppola opinion has been designated "non-precedential," a technicality that could limit its jurisprudential value, but as a practical matter, practitioners will find a way to call the decision to a court's attention when it serves their clients' interests. Of further note, the Coppola decision was rendered by a panel of judges that includes the Honorable Anne E. Lazarus, who also was on the panel of the now withdrawn opinion in Murray. These circumstances indicate that the Superior Court may be poised to align Pennsylvania personal jurisdiction law more closely with the letter and spirit of the Supreme Court's decision in Daimler. Murray v. Am. LaFrance, LLC, 2018 Pa. Super LEXIS 1320 (Pa. Sup. Ct. Dec. 7, 2018); Coppola v. Steel Servs., No. 811 EDA 2019, 2019 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 210 (Pa. Sup. Ct. Jan. 18, 2019)
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