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Miller v. Toyota Motor Corp.

June 2, 2009

COLLEEN MILLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Colleen Miller has sued Toyota Motor Corp. ("TMC") and Thrifty Rent-A-Car Service, Inc. ("Thrifty") for damages resulting from injuries she suffered during an accident that occurred in South Africa involving a vehicle rented from Thrifty's licensee and made by TMC. Before the Court are defendants' motions to dismiss. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss TMC for lack of personal jurisdiction and transfer plaintiff's claims against Thrifty to the Middle District of Florida on the grounds of forum non conveniens.

BACKGROUND

I. FACTS

Plaintiff Colleen Miller is a citizen of Ohio. (Compl. ¶ 1.) On October 3, 2005, plaintiff was injured in an auto accident near Uniondale, South Africa when the brake on the vehicle in which she was traveling allegedly malfunctioned, causing the vehicle to swerve, spin uncontrollably, flip off the roadway, and ultimately, strike a pole ("the accident"). (Id. ¶¶ 8, 11-14.) Plaintiff was traveling in a Toyota Condor sport utility vehicle ("the SUV") which had been rented from a vehicle rental facility operated by Safy Trust ("Safy") per a licensing agreement with Thrifty Rent-A-Car Service, Inc. ("Thrifty"). (Id. ¶¶ 8, 10.) Also in the SUV at the time of the accident were plaintiff's mother, Dorothy Thomson; plaintiff's son, Jerame Miller, and his wife, Rita Miller; and Jerame's daughters (and plaintiff's granddaughters), Madison and Cori Miller (collectively, "the other SUV passengers").

Defendant Thrifty is an Oklahoma corporation with its principal place of business in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Compl. ¶ 3.) Thrifty operates vehicle rental facilities in the District of Columbia. (Thrifty's Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss ["Thrifty's Mem."] at 9.) On October 1, 2003, Thrifty entered a licensing agreement with Safy, a South African company. (See id., Ex. 1 (International Master License Agreement).) Per the licensing agreement, Safy operates a vehicle rental facility at the airport in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Id.; see also Thrifty's Mem. at 1, 9.) Safy is not a defendant in this action. (Compl. ¶ 36.)

Defendant Toyota Motor Corp. Worldwide ("TMC") is a Japanese corporation with its principal place of business in Japan. (Compl. ¶ 2.) TMC "designs, manufactures, assembles and developmentally tests" various Toyota vehicles. (TMC's Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss ["TMC's Mem."], Ex. 1 (Kojiro Tanaka Aff., Feb. 27, 2009) ["Tanaka Aff."] ¶ 3; see generally TMC's Mem. at 1-2, 8, 11-12.) The Toyota Condor is not designed or manufactured for the United States market. (Tanaka Aff. ¶ 31.) TMC does not import Toyota vehicles into the United States, nor does it market or sell Toyota vehicles here. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.)Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. ("TMS"), a subsidiary of TMC that is incorporated in California, performs these functions. (Id. ¶ 6.) TMS is the exclusive importer of Toyota vehicles in the United States, and a distributor of vehicles in the District of Columbia. (TMC's Mem., Ex. 2 (Jerry Koyanagi Aff., Feb. 18, 2009) ["Koyanagi Aff."] ¶ 3.) Toyota Motor North America, Inc. ("TMA") is the holding company for TMS. (TMC's Mem., Ex. 3 (Jeffrey Roman Aff., Feb. 11, 2009) ["Roman Aff."] ¶ 3.) TMA, also incorporated in California, directs corporate communications and advertising, investor and media relations, government and regulatory affairs, market research, and philanthropy. (Id. ¶ 4.)

TMC is not licensed to do business in the District of Columbia. (Tanaka Aff. ¶ 14.) It does not own or lease real estate in the District of Columbia and does not maintain a sales force or any other agents or representatives here. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 13.) It does not pay taxes to the District of Columbia. (Id. ¶ 15.) None of TMC's designing or manufacturing takes place in the District of Columbia. (Id. ¶ 17.) TMC does not target marketing at District of Columbia residents. (See id. ¶¶ 6, 10, 11, 16.) It does not ship any vehicles for the purposes of sale directly into the District of Columbia. (Id. ¶ 9.)

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The October 3, 2005 accident has generated five lawsuits by plaintiff and the other SUV passengers. On October 9, 2006, plaintiff and the Estate of Dorothy Thomson (plaintiff's mother, who died from complications relating to injuries she sustained in the accident) filed the first suit against TMC and Thrifty in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Estate of Dorothy Thomson v. Toyota Motor Corp. Worldwide (hereinafter "Estate of Dorothy Thomson I"), No. 06-2431,2007 WL 1795271, at *1 (N.D. Ohio June 19, 2007). On June 19, 2007, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio granted TMC's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and sua sponte dismissed the claims against Thrifty on the grounds of forum non conveniens. Id. at *2, *3. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed these dismissals. See 545 F.3d 357, 360 (6th Cir. 2008).

On October 1, 2007, plaintiff's son and daughter-in-law, Jerame and Rita Miller, and plaintiff's granddaughter, Cori Miller, filed suit to recover damages for their own injuries and for the death of Madison Miller, plaintiff's other granddaughter who died when the helicopter evacuating her from the scene of the accident crashed into a mountain. Estate of Madison Miller v. Toyota Motor Corp. (hereinafter "Estate of Madison Miller"), No. 07-1358, 2008 WL 516725, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 22, 2008), amended by 2008 WL 4525058 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 3, 2008). After granting limited jurisdictional discovery, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida dismissed plaintiff's claims against TMC for lack of personal jurisdiction. 2008 WL 516725, at *6. However, it denied Thrifty's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and forum non conveniens. Estate of Madison Miller,No. 07-1358, 2007 WL 4482589, at *11 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 18, 2007). The claims against Thrifty are scheduled for trial in August 2009. (Pl.'s Opp'n to Def. Thrifty-Rent-a-Car Service, Inc.'s Mot. to Dismiss ["Pl.'s Opp'n to Thrifty's Mot."] at 2.)

On October 2, 2007, plaintiff's husband, Michael Miller, filed suit in Ohio state court, and TMC and Thrifty subsequently removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio and filed motions to dismiss. Miller v. Toyota Motor Corp. (hereinafter "Michael Miller"), 593 F. Supp. 2d 1254, 1256 (M.D. Fla. 2008). Rather than dismiss Michael Miller's claims, the Northern District of Ohio transferred his case to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Id. On October 10, 2008, Michael Miller and TMC stipulated to the dismissal of all his claims against TMC. (TMC's Mem. at 4.) His claims against Thrifty have been consolidated for trial with Estate of Madison Miller. (Pl.'s Opp'n to Thrifty's Mot. at 2.)

On September 19, 2008, Dorothy Thomson's estate filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. Estate of Dorothy Thomson v. Toyota Motor Corp. Worldwide (hereinafter "Estate of Dorothy Thomson II"), No. 08-2467 (D. Md. filed Sep. 19, 2008). TMC and Thrifty have filed motions to dismiss which are currently pending before that court.

On September 18, 2008, plaintiff brought suit in this jurisdiction, alleging that TMC negligently failed to use reasonable care in designing and constructing a safe vehicle and brake system. (Compl.¶¶ 14, 17, 18.) Plaintiff also alleges that Thrifty negligently failed to use reasonable care in selecting and providing safe vehicles for its customers. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 22.) Plaintiff further alleges strict liability and breach of both express and implied warranties as to both defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 24-35.) ...


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