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Felix v. Novelis Corp.

Court of Appeals of Utah

June 20, 2019

Michele Felix, Appellee,
v.
Novelis Corporation, Appellant.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Randall N. Skanchy No. 150908525

          Alexander Dushku and Justin W. Starr, Attorneys for Appellant

          Gilbert L. Purcell, James P. Nevin, Daniel J. Morse, Kimberly J. Chu, and Gary Brayton, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Kate Appleby authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen Forster and David N. Mortensen concurred.

          APPLEBY, JUDGE.

         ¶1 This lawsuit stems from Raymond Felix's alleged contact with asbestos and resulting death from mesothelioma in 2014. Michele Felix, acting as the personal representative on behalf of Felix's legal heirs (Estate), filed a lawsuit in 2015 against multiple defendants who allegedly exposed Felix to asbestos. The Estate added Novelis Corporation to the lawsuit in 2017 and Novelis moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court denied the motion, concluding that Novelis had sufficient minimum contacts with Utah to support specific personal jurisdiction. We reverse.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Felix died in 2014 from mesothelioma. In 2015 the Estate sued multiple defendants who allegedly exposed him to asbestos. The Estate filed an amended complaint in 2017, adding Novelis as a defendant.

         ¶3 Novelis's predecessor in interest, Metal Goods, allegedly exposed Felix to asbestos in the 1950s through its artificial snow product called "Snow Drift."[1] Metal Goods manufactured Snow Drift until 1954. During its operation, Metal Goods manufactured and packaged Snow Drift in Missouri and sold it to two national companies: Woolworth and Kresge (later renamed Kmart).

         ¶4 Felix's sibling (Sibling) stated in a declaration that the Felix family used "multiple boxes of 'Snow Drift'" to decorate their Christmas trees "between the years of 1950 and 1955." Sibling "believe[d]" they purchased Snow Drift from a Woolworth department store in Utah. The boxes were labeled "Snow Drift" and contained "Christmas season themed illustrations depicting snow, and text touting the product's properties and uses, including that it was asbestos." Sibling recalled seeing "the name of the manufacturer, 'Metal Goods Corporation, St. Louis'" on the side of the box.

         ¶5 Novelis moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. Novelis asserted it does not own real property or business offices in Utah, does not have a workforce or manufacturing operations here, or advertise its products here. Novelis asserted it possessed no information "that Metal Goods (or Alcan) sold Snow Drift in Utah, or had offices, employees, inventory, real estate, or facilities in Utah." Novelis similarly asserted that it had no information that Metal Goods sold or advertised any products in Utah. It argued that neither "Novelis, nor its predecessors, have any contacts with the State of Utah," and therefore the Estate's claims against it should be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction.

         ¶6 The district court denied the motion. It ruled that the Estate failed to establish general jurisdiction[2] but concluded that the Estate submitted sufficient evidence to support specific jurisdiction. The court found that the evidence "support[ed] the conclusion that the Snow Drift product was sold for several years at Woolworth stores in Utah." Further, "Snow Drift was sold under the Metal Goods name, to Woolworth stores in Utah, and Utah consumers could reasonably expect Metal Goods and its [successor] in interest [Novelis] to stand behind its product and be answerable for any defects."

         ¶7 Novelis filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the court's ...


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