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RAMAMURTI v. ROLLS-ROYCE LTD.

July 25, 1978

Carol E. RAMAMURTI, as Administratrix for the Estate of Chinni P. Ramamurti, Plaintiff
v.
ROLLS-ROYCE LTD., Aerospatiale (SNIAS) (Societe National Industrielle Aerospatiale), Air India, Inc. and Indian Airlines Corporation, Defendants, J. Willard NALLS, Jr., as Administrator of the Estate of John C. Abraham, Plaintiff v. ROLLS-ROYCE LTD., Aerospatiale (SNIAS) (Societe National Industrielle Aerospatiale), Air India, Inc., and Indian Airlines Corporation, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SIRICA

 These diversity actions arise out of the 1976 crash of an Indian Airlines Corporation airplane in the Republic of India. Two of the defendants in C.A. No. 77-1740 -- Rolls-Royce Ltd. *fn1" (hereinafter "Rolls-Royce") and Indian Airlines Corporation -- have moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In C.A. No. 77-2156, service never having been effected on Rolls-Royce, only Indian Airlines has so moved.

 Although service can always be accomplished in a manner authorized by Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, it is largely settled that, in a diversity case, questions of amenability to service and personal jurisdiction are determined by reference to the law of the forum state. See Arrowsmith v. United Press International, 320 F.2d 219 (2d Cir. 1963).

 Neither plaintiff makes any claim that his or her claims for relief arose from any of the defendants' activities in the District of Columbia or that the claims are in any other manner connected with the District. Rather, all parties to the instant motions apparently agree that the relevant jurisdictional provision as to both moving defendants is D.C. Code § 13-334(a). *fn2" That section provides a basis for personal jurisdiction as follows:

 Service on Foreign Corporations

 
(a) In an action against a foreign corporation doing business in the District, process may be served on the agent of the corporation or person conducting its business, or, when he is absent and can not be found, by leaving a copy at the principal place of business in the District, or, where there is no such place of business, by leaving a copy at the place of business or residence of the agent in the District, and that service is effectual to bring the corporation before the court.

 D.C. Code § 13-334(a) (1973). Under this provision, as long as a foreign corporation is "doing business" in the District, it is amenable to service here, regardless of any connection between the claim for relief and this jurisdiction. "Doing business" has been defined as "any continuing corporate presence in the forum state directed at advancing the corporation's objectives." Price v. Griffin, 359 A.2d 582, 586 (D.C. 1976).

 Defendant Rolls-Royce, a corporation organized under English law, is an instrumentality of the government of the United Kingdom with its principal place of business in London. Service on Rolls-Royce was accomplished through service upon a person employed in the Washington, D.C. office of Rolls-Royce, Inc. *fn3" (hereinafter "RRI"), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rolls-Royce Holdings North America Ltd., a Canadian corporation which is itself a wholly-owned subsidiary of defendant Rolls-Royce.

 Rolls-Royce emphasizes that the separate corporate existence of RRI cannot be ignored, and that whatever is being done in the District of Columbia is being done by RRI and not by the parent corporation. It is true that some courts have allowed assertion of personal jurisdiction over a parent corporation via service on a subsidiary on an "alter ego" or "piercing the veil" theory, i.e., disregarding the separate corporate existence of the two entities so that valid service upon one is automatically valid service on the other. The Court need not consider these theories with regard to Rolls-Royce, however, because it is clear that whatever activities are carried out in the District by RRI are entirely on behalf of Rolls-Royce. As explained in the affidavit of RRI's District of Columbia manager: "[RRI] exists to provide marketing information and service support for engines manufactured by Rolls-Royce and sold by Rolls-Royce to operators within the United States. It does not design or manufacture aircraft engines or engine parts. It does not sell aircraft engines." In other words, the defendant uses its American subsidiary as its agent for the provision of marketing and service support for its products used in the United States.

 The business conducted here by RRI is not its own business, but that of the parent corporation. The effect would be the same if Rolls-Royce chose to station an individual employee or an unrelated corporate agent in the District to perform these same marketing and service functions. The fact that these activities are conducted by a separate, yet closely related, corporation is hardly a basis for distinction. As summarized by a leading treatise: "If the subsidiary is merely an agent through which the parent conducts business in the jurisdiction . . . . then the subsidiary's business will be viewed as that of the parent and the latter will be said to be doing business in the jurisdiction through the subsidiary." 4 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1069, at 256 (1969). Accord, Wells Fargo & Co. v. Wells Fargo Express Co., 556 F.2d 406, 419-20 & n.13 (9th Cir. 1977).

 
engaged in responding to inquiries, principally with respect to technical matters, from federal agencies. The Federal Government owns and operates a substantial number of aircraft which use engines manufactured or designed wholly or in part by Rolls-Royce . . . . The Washington liaison office of RRI responds to frequent inquiries from the Department of Defense and other federal departments and agencies about the technical characteristics of the engines included in those aircraft. In addition, the office is from time to time asked to respond to inquiries from other agencies of the Federal Government.

 Affidavit of Alan Gray, at 3-4. The office also occasionally receives information regarding opportunities for sales to federal agencies. This information is merely passed along to RRI personnel elsewhere. The Washington office of RRI is not authorized to negotiate or contract for sales and is not responsible for soliciting new business. Id. at 4-5.

 Deposition testimony of two RRI employees also indicates that RRI's Washington office is, in particular, responsible for ongoing support services connected with sale of the Pegasus jet engine to the U.S. Marines. RRI's engineers answer questions and act as a conduit to Rolls-Royce for complaints and information ...


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