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Butler v. Daimler Trucks North America, LLC

United States District Court, D. Kansas

January 10, 2020

Damian BUTLER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DAIMLER TRUCKS NORTH AMERICA, LLC, et al., Defendants.

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          Jeffrey D. Rowe, Rachel Nelson Boden, Randall L. Rhodes, Rouse Frets White Goss Gentile Rhodes, P.C.-Leawood, Steven W. Brookreson, Rouse Frets White Goss Gentile Rhodes, P.C., Leawood, KS, David Allen Brose, J. Kent Emison, John M. Tyner, Langdon & Emison-Lexington, Lexington, MO, Leon R. Russell, Law Offices of Leon R. Russell, Dallas, TX, for Plaintiffs.

          Jordan A. Kane, Michael J. Kleffner, Robert T. Adams, Sarah E. Lynn Baltzell, Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP-KC/Grand, Kansas City, MO, for Defendants.

         MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

         JULIE A. ROBINSON, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Damian Butler, Alexander Cohen, Gerald Cohen, William Cohen, Nicole

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Gates, Alisha Mireles, Terrie Myers, and Diane Sanford (collectively, "Plaintiffs") bring this action against Defendants Daimler Trucks North America LLC ("DTNA") and Daimler AG, alleging causes of action for strict product liability and negligence related to a fatal, multivehicle crash that took place on July 11, 2017. Before the Court is DTNA's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 20) pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6). DTNA asserts that this Court does not have personal jurisdiction over it, and that even if it did, Plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed because they are preempted and violate the separation of powers doctrine. The matter is fully briefed, and the Court is prepared to rule. For the reasons set forth below, DTNA's motion is denied.

         I. Background

         A. Procedural Overview

         Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on July 10, 2019.[1] Prior to any responsive pleading by Defendants, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on September 23, 2019.[2] DTNA filed its Motion to Dismiss on October 14, 2019.[3] Following a scheduling conference with Magistrate Judge James O'Hara, Plaintiffs were permitted to amend their complaint to clarify the citizenship status of the parties; however, the parties agreed that Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint did not moot or otherwise impact DTNA's pending Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiffs allege causes of action for strict product liability and negligence for Defendants' failure to equip a 2015 Freightliner semi-truck trailer (the "Subject Freightliner") with forward collision warning ("FCW") and automatic emergency brake ("AEB") systems.[4] DTNA responded with a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6), arguing that this Court does not have personal jurisdiction over it; and even if it did, Plaintiffs' claims are preempted and violate the doctrine of separation of powers. Plaintiffs have responded, and DTNA filed a reply.

         B. Accident Giving Rise to Suit

         Drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of Plaintiffs, the Second Amended Complaint sets out the following facts. On July 11, 2017 around 2:23 p.m., Teresa Butler accompanied by Karen Kennedy, Sheldon Cohen accompanied by Virginia Cohen, and Ricardo Mireles were driving their respective vehicles westbound on I-70. Behind these three cars, Kenny Ford was operating the Subject Freightliner, which is categorized as a "Class Eight" heavy truck due to its weight. Westbound traffic slowed, and Ford failed to adequately adjust the speed of the Subject Freightliner, causing it to collide with the three passenger vehicles and kill all five occupants. The Subject Freightliner was not equipped with an FCW or AEB system.

         C. Facts Related to Jurisdiction

         Plaintiff Damian Butler—who brings suit individually, as administrator of Teresa

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Butler's estate, and on behalf of all heirs-at-law of Teresa Butler—is an Illinois resident. Plaintiffs Alexander and Gerald Cohen—who bring suit individually, on behalf of all heirs-at-law of Sheldon and Virginia Cohen, and on behalf of the future estates of Sheldon and Virginia Cohen— are both Kansas residents. Terrie Myers— who brings suit as next friend of L.M., a minor, on behalf of all heirs-at-law of Ricardo Mireles, and on behalf of the future estate of Ricardo Mireles—is also a Kansas resident. William Cohen—who brings suit individually, on behalf of all the heirs-at-law of Sheldon and Virginia Cohen, and on behalf of the future estates of Sheldon and Virginia Cohen—is a North Carolina resident. Alisha Mireles—who brings suit individually, as next friend of T.M., a minor, on behalf of all heirs-at-law of Ricardo Mireles, and on behalf of the future estate of Ricardo Mireles—is a Wisconsin resident. Diane Sanford—who brings suit individually, as administrator of the estate of Karen Kennedy, and on behalf of the heirs-at-law of Karen Kennedy—is an Indiana resident.

         DTNA is a Delaware limited liability company registered to do business in Kansas. The sole member of DTNA is Daimler Trucks & Buses U.S. Holdings, Inc., which is a Delaware corporation whose principal place of business is in Portland, Oregon. Daimler AG, which has not yet filed a responsive pleading, is a German-based corporation with its principal place of business in Germany.

         DTNA designs, manufactures, tests, inspects, markets, and sells vehicles such as the Subject Freightliner involved in the July 11, 2017 wreck. DTNA conducts business in Kansas, including entering into contracts, sending written and digital communications, maintaining websites, advertising, owning dealerships, selling trucks and parts, providing truck maintenance and repair services, performing warranty repairs, and employing Kansas residents. DTNA sold the Subject Freightliner to an authorized dealer, who sold it to Indian Creek Express LLC, resulting in Indian Creek Express's employee, Kenny Ford, driving the Subject Freightliner at the time of the wreck. The wreck occurred in Kansas. At the time that DTNA manufactured the Subject Freightliner, there were no federal safety standards, regulations, or legislation mandating or prohibiting the installment of FCW or AEB systems on Class Eight trucks.

         II. Discussion

         In its Motion to Dismiss, DTNA argues that this Court does not have personal jurisdiction over it. DTNA contends that the Court lacks specific personal jurisdiction because the instant lawsuit did not arise out of its contacts with Kansas. DTNA also argues that the Court does not have general personal jurisdiction because its contacts with Kansas do not render it "at home" in the state. Additionally, DTNA argues that exercising jurisdiction pursuant to its registration to do business in Kansas would not comport with due process. DTNA also moves for dismissal because, it argues, Plaintiffs' claims are barred by implied obstacle preemption. Finally, DTNA moves for dismissal based on the separation of powers doctrine, alleging that allowing a jury to determine liability in this case "would result in significant judicial interference with the operations of the legislature" since both the federal and Kansas legislatures have delegated authority to agencies to promulgate rules and regulations related to vehicle safety.[5] The Court addresses these issues in turn.

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          A. Personal Jurisdiction

         Plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction over DTNA.[6] In the absence of an evidentiary hearing, as in this case, a plaintiff must make only a prima facie showing of jurisdiction to defeat a motion to dismiss.[7] "The plaintiff may make this prima facie showing by demonstrating, via affidavit or other written materials, facts that if true would support jurisdiction over the defendant."[8] Allegations in a complaint are accepted as true if they are plausible, non-conclusory, and non-speculative, to the extent that they are not controverted by submitted affidavits.[9] When a defendant has produced evidence to support a challenge to personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff has a duty to come forward with competent proof in support of the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint.[10] Courts resolve all factual disputes in favor of the plaintiff.[11] Conflicting affidavits are also resolved in the plaintiff's favor, and "the plaintiff's prima facie showing is sufficient notwithstanding the contrary presentation by the moving party."[12] "In order to defeat a plaintiff's prima facie showing of jurisdiction, a defendant must present a compelling case demonstrating `that the presence of some other considerations would render jurisdiction unreasonable.'"[13]

         DTNA argues that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it and that Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) mandates Plaintiffs' claims against it be dismissed. Plaintiffs assert that DTNA is subject to both specific and general personal jurisdiction.

         1. Specific Jurisdiction

         a. Legal Standard

         Specific jurisdiction exists when "the suit `aris[es] out of or relate[s] to the defendant's contacts with the forum.'"[14] To establish minimum contacts for the exercise of specific jurisdiction within the bounds of due process, a plaintiff must show: (1) that ...


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