United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
DAN GAILLET, individually; and BETHANY GAILLET, individually and as conservator of ROBERT GAILLET, a minor, Plaintiffs,
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, a corporation; and XYZ CORPORATIONS 1-5, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR
PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT 
G. Edmunds United States District Judge
Dan Gaillet, individually, and Bethany Gaillet, individually
and on behalf of Robert Gaillet, a minor, are suing Defendant
Ford Motor Company under various theories of products
liability. The matter now before the Court is Plaintiffs'
motion for partial summary judgment, which seeks the
application of Mississippi's law on punitive
damages. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs'
motion is DENIED.
lawsuit arises out of a car accident that occurred on
November 17, 2013 in Mississippi, where all three Plaintiffs
reside. (Dkt. 2 at ¶¶ 1, 10.) According to
Plaintiffs, Robert Gaillet was driving a 1992 Ford Explorer
when he lost control of the vehicle and crashed, sustaining
serious injuries in the process. (Id. at ¶ 10.)
Plaintiffs allege that this accident occurred because
Defendant defectively designed the Explorer. (Id. at
¶¶ 12-14.) They assert claims of strict liability,
negligence, negligent failure to warn, and breach of
warranty. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-33.) Plaintiffs
also seek punitive damages based on Defendant's allegedly
willful, wanton, and reckless disregard for Plaintiffs'
rights. (Id. at ¶ 37.)
is incorporated in Delaware, and its principal place of
business is in Michigan. (Dkt. 18-2 at ¶ 4.) Defendant
designed the 1992 Explorer in Michigan and manufactured it in
Kentucky. (Id. at ¶ 5; Dkt. 22-1, at 11.)
Defendant does not manufacture any vehicles in Mississippi,
nor does it directly service its vehicles in Mississippi.
(Dkt. 18-2 at ¶¶ 9, 12.) Furthermore, Defendant
does not have an office, companies, subsidiary entities,
employees, or representatives in Mississippi. (Dkt. 22-1, at
7.) Defendant does advertise nationally, however, and it
sells a substantial amount of vehicles to independent
dealerships in Mississippi, including Ford Explorers.
(Id. at 22, 24-25, 32.) Defendant also provides
service and technical information to Mississippi dealerships
regarding repair procedures, field service actions, and
dealer bulletins. (Id. at 18.) Additionally,
Defendant provides new vehicle warranties to vehicle owners
in Mississippi. (Id. at 32.)
the particular Explorer involved in the accident, Defendant
first distributed it to a dealership in Georgia. (Dkt. 18-2
at ¶ 5.) The vehicle's first owner, who purchased it
in May 1992, was a resident of Georgia and titled it in
Georgia. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6.) Its second owner
was one of Plaintiffs' relatives, Phillipe Gaillet.
(Id. at ¶ 7.) He purchased the vehicle on or
around December 31, 1998, and he was also a resident of
Georgia. (Id.) The Explorer then remained in Georgia
until March 2012, when Plaintiff Bethany Gaillet acquired it
from her relative and brought it to Mississippi.
(Id. at ¶ 8.)
originally filed this action in the United States District
Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on April 24,
2015. (Dkt. 1.) A few months later, on September 21, 2015,
Defendant moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal
jurisdiction. (Dkt. 4, at 3.) Over the next year, the parties
engaged in jurisdictional discovery. (Id.)
on October 10, 2016, while Defendant's motion to dismiss
for lack of personal jurisdiction remained pending,
Plaintiffs filed an emergency motion to transfer the case to
this Court. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiffs' motion
sought a transfer under either 18 U.S.C. §§ 1404 or
1406. (Dkt. 18, at 4 (citation omitted).) The former permits
transfer "[f]or the convenience of parties and
witnesses, in the interest of justice, " while the
latter permits transfer to cure defects, including a lack of
jurisdiction. 18 U.S.C. §§ 1404, 1406. Defendant
consented to a transfer but maintained that the transfer
should proceed under § 1406 to cure the lack of personal
jurisdiction. (See Dkt. 3.)
weeks later, the Mississippi court entered an order
transferring the case here. (Id.) The court stated
that it was transferring the case under 28 U.S.C. § 1404
"in the interests of justice." (Id.) The
court added that transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1406 to cure
defects, as requested by Defendants, "would be
improper" because the court "never reached a
decision concerning whether personal jurisdiction over
defendants existed." (Id.)
before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for partial
summary judgment. Plaintiffs seek the application of
Mississippi law, which permits the recovery of punitive
damages in products liability cases. See Miss. Code.
Ann. § 11-1-65. Defendant responds that the Court should
apply Michigan law, which does not. See Broadnax-Hill v.
Hosington, 625 F.App'x 268, 271 (6th Cir. 2015);
McAuley v. Gen. Motors Corp., 578 N.W.2d 282, 285
(Mich. 1998). For the reasons below, the Court concludes that
it must apply Michigan law.
judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is proper
when the movant “shows that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). When
reviewing the record, “the court must view the evidence
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw
all reasonable inferences in its favor.” U.S.
S.E.C. v. Sierra Brokerage Servs., Inc., 712 F.3d 321,
327 (6th Cir. 2013) (internal citation omitted).
“[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a
material fact is ‘genuine, ' that is, if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. (citing
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
motion for partial summary judgment raises only one issue:
whether the Court should apply Mississippi's law on
punitive damages To resolve this question, the Court must
undertake a choice of law analysis; however, the Court cannot
do so until it determines which state's choice of law
rules apply. And that determination, as explained below,
requires resolving the lingering question of whether
Mississippi has personal jurisdiction over Defendant.
Whether Mississippi Could Exercise Jurisdiction over
case was transferred to this Court from the district court in
Mississippi under 18 U.S.C. § 1404 "in the
interests of justice." (Dkt. 3.) Had the case been
transferred under 28 U.S.C. § 1406 to cure
Mississippi's lack of personal jurisdiction, as Defendant
requested, then Michigan's choice of law framework would
automatically apply. Newberry v. Silverman, 789 F.3d
636, 640 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Martin v. Stokes,
623 F.2d 469, 473 (6th Cir. 1980)). ...