Dissenting judge says out-of-state firefighters' hearing loss lawsuits do not belong in Philadelphia court

By Nicholas Malfitano | Oct 2, 2018

HARRISBURG – In continuing litigation involving firefighters suing siren manufacturers for hearing loss, a panel from the Superior Court of Pennsylvania has ruled that jurisdiction in the Commonwealth extends to all businesses registered here, no matter if the corporation is listed as foreign or domestic.

On Sept. 25, Superior Court judges Mary Jane Bowes, Anne E. Lazarus and William H. Platt ruled in a 2-1 majority that based firefighters based in several states who sued American LaFrance and Federal Signal Corporation for permanent hearing loss injuries from prolonged exposure to fire engine sirens, are permitted to pursue their litigation in Pennsylvania.

The seven separate lawsuits (later consolidated into one action) were initially filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas and dismissed by Judge Idee C. Fox on May 25, 2016 for a supposed lack of jurisdiction. However, the Superior Court overturned that ruling last week.

Platt, who authored the case’s majority opinion, pointed to the notable U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Daimler AG v. Bauman ruling stating jurisdiction was not applicable to a corporation in a state where it was not “at home”, as one which did not examine the legal issue of where a business was registered.

“We observe that whether a foreign corporation consents to general personal jurisdiction in Pennsylvania by registering to do business in the Commonwealth is a matter of first impression in this Court,” Platt said.

“Our review of the case law has revealed that neither this Court nor our Supreme Court has had the occasion to determine whether, post-Daimler, registering to do business as a foreign corporation in the Commonwealth constitutes consent for the purposes of exercising general personal jurisdiction.”

Platt also cited a case from the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Bors v. Johnson & Johnson, in supporting his rationale.

“The Bors court reasoned that ‘Pennsylvania’s statute specifically advises the registrant of the jurisdictional effect of registering to do business,’ and concluded that ‘consent remains a valid form of establishing personal jurisdiction under the Pennsylvania registration statute after Daimler,” Platt added.

Lazarus concurred with Platt in the majority opinion, but Bowes dissented.

In Bowes’ opinion, Pennsylvania had no connection to the instant litigation.

“This case does not involve Pennsylvania in any meaningful way. Appellants, who comprise several plaintiffs from Massachusetts, New York, and Florida, sued Federal Signal Corporation, a Delaware company with its principal place of business in Illinois, for injuries that allegedly occurred in New York,” Bowes stated.

“Appellants’ pleading failed to establish the grounds for Pennsylvania to exercise personal jurisdiction over the out-of-state appellee. Therefore, I believe that the trial court properly sustained appellee’s preliminary objection to the complaint and dismissed the claims against it for lack of personal jurisdiction.”

As a result of the Superior Court’s decision, the orders surrounding the preliminary objections to the case were vacated, jurisdiction was relinquished and the case was remanded to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania cases 2105-2111 EDA 2016

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas cases 151102490, 151102492, 151102494, 151102514, 151102522, 151102536 and 151200187  

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

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Federal Signal Corporation Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Superior Court of Pennsylvania

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