PHILADELPHIA – For jurisdictional reasons, a federal appeals court recently denied the appeal of a Holland Township couple who filed a negligence lawsuit against Walt Disney, alleging one of the plaintiffs was bitten and injured by a snake during a visit to the Walt Disney World resort in Florida.

On Sept. 8, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit judges Michael A. Chagares, Kent A. Jordan and Thomas M. Hardiman decided to dismiss the appeal of plaintiffs Michael and Maureen Barth, in their case against The Walt Disney Company of Burbank, Calif. and Walt Disney Parks & Resorts U.S., Inc. of Orlando, Fla. Hardiman authored the Court's opinion in this matter.

In the original negligence suit filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, plaintiff Michael Barth alleged he was bitten by a copperhead snake while visiting the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. His wife Maureen joined in the lawsuit through a charge of loss of consortium.

After removing the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction.

The District Court granted the motion, and the Barths appealed the ruling to the Third Circuit.

In their appeal, the Barths claimed the defendants are amenable to general personal jurisdiction in Pennsylvania. In order to establish that type of personal jurisdiction, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s connections to the forum state are “so continuous and systematic as to render [the corporation] essentially at home in the forum state.”

The Third Circuit provided its view that the plaintiffs did not meet this standard.

Hardiman explained the District Court was correct to rule the Barths failed to establish that either defendant had applicable jurisdiction in Pennsylvania, adding Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Inc. is a Florida corporation with its principal place of business in Florida, and the Walt Disney Company is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in California.

Since neither defendant was incorporated or had its principal place of business in Pennsylvania, Hardiman said the Barths were “unable to establish either of the paradigmatic bases for personal jurisdiction under Goodyear and Daimler AG”, and likewise, did not establish this circumstance was “an exceptional case such that the place of incorporation/principal place of business rule should be disregarded.”

“The Barths argued that companies affiliated with defendants did substantial business in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but those facts were unavailing to the Barths because those contacts could not be imputed to defendants. Accordingly, the District Court lacked personal jurisdiction over defendants, and, based on this record, we agree with the District Court that jurisdictional discovery would have been futile,” Hardiman concluded.

The plaintiffs are represented by James R. Radmore in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Frederick P. Marczyk and Ginene A. Lewis of Drinker Biddle & Reath, in Philadelphia.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 16-3593

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:16-cv-02140

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 151001060

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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