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Stobbs denies Ford Motor Company’s motion to dismiss asbestos suit; Cites Ford’s prior statement in IL SC establishing contact in the state

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Jan 12, 2016

Madison County Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs denied a motion to dismiss an asbestos case filed by Ford Motor Company, relying on a statement made by Ford to the Illinois Supreme Court expressing its substantial contacts with the state.

Stobbs, who presides over the Madison County asbestos docket, filed the order denying Ford’s motion to dismiss for lack of personam jurisdiction on Nov. 6.

In his order, Stobbs noted a recently filed brief with the Illinois Supreme Court in Folta v Ferro Engineering, which stated:

“Ford is one of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers. Ford manufactures and assembles automobiles across six continents and provides related products and services. Ford conducts substantial business in Illinois and operates as assembly plant in Chicago that manufactures several vehicles, including the Taurus, MKS, Police Interceptor, and Explorer. Ford employs over 4,000 people at the Chicago Assembly Plant. In the past five years, Ford has invested over half a billion dollars in its business operations in Illinois.”

As a result, Stobbs concluded that Ford “has availed itself of the protection of the Illinois Courts and the benefits of Illinois law and by its own admission conducts substantial, not de minimus, business in Illinois.

“Ford’s contacts with the State of Illinois are substantial, therefore significantly more than the minimum contacts required by federal due process standards.”

In fact, Ford has a town, Ford Heights, named after it in Illinois.

Irene Jeffs, individually and as special administrator of the estate of Dale Jeffs, filed the lawsuit. He alleges the decedent was exposed to various asbestos-containing products while working as a union insulator for various contractors at various sites from 1968-1995.

During the course of his employment, Jeffs alleges the decedent worked at Ford’s plant in Michigan, where he was allegedly exposed to asbestos.

As a result, the decedent eventually developed mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Ford filed its motion to dismiss, arguing that there is no alleged Illinois exposure occurring during the decedent’s time working for Ford.

Ford cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Daimler case, arguing that there is no basis to exercise general personal jurisdiction in Illinois for the case at hand.

In Daimler, the court held that “’a court may assert jurisdiction over a foreign corporation to hear any and all claims against [it] only when the corporation’s affiliations with the State in which suit is brought are so constant and pervasive as to render [it] essentially ‘at home’ in that forum State.’”

Ford’s principal place of business is in Michigan and its State of incorporation is Delaware.

Ford also argues that the plaintiff’s reliance on personal jurisdiction by consent, pursuant to the Illinois Business Corporation Act, is misplaced.

“The Defendant argues that the Act’s requirement that foreign corporations doing business in this State, register with the Secretary of State and appoint a resident agent for service of process cannot be construed as imposing consent to general personal jurisdiction in this State over a foreign corporation,” the order explains.

Stobbs was unconvinced.

He held that while Ford’s corporate offices are in Michigan, it has a certificate of authority to conduct business in Illinois, owns property in Illinois, has authorized dealers in Illinois, employs people in Illinois and maintains a registered agent to accept service of process in Illinois.

He wrote that Ford voluntarily conducts regular business in Illinois and has done so since 1922. The defendant has also litigated numerous cases in this state, including other asbestos cases in Madison County, without objecting to personal jurisdiction.

“Considering all the factors, the Court finds that Plaintiff has met her burden of establishing jurisdiction over this Defendant and that the exercise of jurisdiction, in this case, is not inconsistent with notions of fair play and substantial justice, the fundamental consideration in finding constitutional jurisdiction,” Stobbs concluded.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 15-L-533

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Ford Motor Company Illinois Supreme Court Madison County

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