A state appeals panel said jurisdictional issues should have allowed General Electric to be dismissed from a personal injury complaint involving asbestos exposure.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Clare Elizabeth McWilliams in November had refused to dismiss GE from a complaint brought by Alabama resident Arlin Campbell, who sued dozens of companies in connection with a December 2016 mesothelioma diagnosis he blamed on his exposure to asbestos during his working life from 1961-1999 in Illinois, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. Campbell’s only Illinois employment, however, was an early 1960s stint at Republic Steel in Chicago.
After filing the complaint May 4, 2017, Campbell died. Estate administrator Anissa Campbell Ivey is pursuing the claim, with GE the only party to the appeal that came before the Illinois First District Appellate Court. Justice Thomas Hoffman wrote the opinion issued May 18; justices Maureen Connors and Mathias Delort concurred.
According to Hoffman, GE’s June 9 motion to dismiss said Campbell failed to allege sufficient facts to confer personal jurisdiction, specifically by not alleging he “encountered GE products containing asbestos at Republic Steel.”
Justice Thomas Hoffman
Campbell responded Aug. 16, saying Illinois has “jurisdiction by necessity” because his asbestos exposure took place in many states. He further said a July deposition established he suffered asbestos exposure from GE’s electric furnaces used to melt steel at Republic Steel. But in an Aug. 30 reply, GE cited remarks from an employee who said the industrial furnaces he oversaw from 1959 to 1979 were not designed to melt steel.
In its appeal, GE said it is not “at home” in Illinois; didn’t consent to jurisdiction in the state; and repeated its assertion Campbell’s injury didn’t have a connection to use of its products in Illinois.
The appellate panel agreed, noting GE is incorporated in New York and its principal place of business is in Massachusetts. Although it has operated in Illinois since 1897 with more than 3,000 employees at 30 Illinois facilities, Hoffman wrote GE’s Prairie State presence “constitutes a relatively small portion of its total operations.” The justice likewise said nothing on the record established GE as consenting to jurisdiction in Illinois.
With respect to personal jurisdiction, the panel noted Campbell’s deposition testimony shows he initially said he didn’t remember which manufacturers produced any of the equipment at Republic Steel. He later attributed the furnaces to GE because his brother “worked on furnaces,” and even though nothing written or tagged on the devices “suggested” they were GE products, Campbell ultimately admitted “he had no way of knowing who made the furnaces in use at Republic Steel.”
The panel also relied on the former GE employee who said the company never made an electric furnace for melting steel, saying that even if GE did make such furnaces before the employee’s tenure, nothing in Campbell’s filings or testimony link the Republic Steel furnaces to GE. Hoffman wrote of the need for a direction connection between the federal court district and Campbell’s specific claim.
The justices likewise rejected Campbell’s argument that Illinois is an appropriate venue because there’s no other forum in which he could bring one claim against all the defendants. While they acknowledged Campbell’s reliance on a number of U.S. Supreme Court cases, “he identifies no case in which the Court adopted” the notion of jurisdiction by necessity, nor did he cite any other court employing the same logic.
Finding McWilliams erred in refusing the dismissal, the panel reversed her ruling and remanded the case with directions to remove GE as a party defendant.
According to Cook County court records, Campbell has been represented by The Flint Law Firm, of Edwardsville, while GE is represented by the firm of Sidley Austin LLP, of Chicago.