A company registering to do business in Pennsylvania, even as a foreign corporation, can be sued in the state’s courts, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled in a case of first impression.
The ruling came in the case of several New York firefighters who sued Federal Signal Corp. over hearing loss from excessive sound exposure from fire engine sirens. The lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania, where Federal Signal is registered as a foreign corporation.
Initially, a Philadelphia judge dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, but the Superior Court reversed that ruling. The appellate court noted that the issue of business registration was not addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Daimler AG v. Bauman, a case in which the justices ruled that jurisdiction could not be exercised over a corporation in a state where that corporation was not “at home.”
“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,” Superior Court Senior Judge William Platt wrote in the court’s majority opinion. “Our review of the caselaw 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.”
The court turned to Bors v. Johnson & Johnson, a case from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, for guidance.
“In Bors, supra, the district court considered whether Bane v. Netlink Inc. remained good law or whether Daimler eliminated consent by registration under Section 5301 as a basis for jurisdiction,” Platt said. “The Bors court reasoned that ‘Pennsylvania’s statute specifically advises the registrant of the jurisdictional effect of registering to do business[,]‘ and concluded that ‘[c]onsent remains a valid form of establishing personal jurisdiction under the Pennsylvania registration statute after Daimler.’”
Judge Anne Lazarus joined Platt’s opinion, but Judge Mary Jane Bowes wrote a dissent, arguing that the case “does not involve Pennsylvania in any meaningful way.”
“Appellants, who comprise several plaintiffs from Massachusetts, New York, and Florida, sued Federal Signal Corporation (‘appellee’), a Delaware company with its principal place of business in Illinois, for injuries that allegedly occurred in New York. 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,” Bowes said.
Wayne Graver of Lavin, O’Neil, Cedrone & DiSipio, who represents Federal, did not return a call seeking comment. Thomas Joyce of Marc H. Bern & Partners represents the plaintiffs and also did not return a call seeking comment.