District Court Finds No Personal Jurisdiction over Romanian Gun Manufacturer Whose Activities in the U.S. Did Not Target Forum State Arbitration

The World in U.S. Courts: Fall 2015 - Alien Tort Statute (ATS)/Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA)

Williams v. Romarm S.A., United States District Court for the District of Maryland, July 20, 2015

Parents of individuals killed or injured by assault rifles sued the manufacturer of the weapons, Romarm, a company owned by the Government of Romania. Romarm moved to dismiss on a number of grounds, including that the FSIA barred the claims against it.

The plaintiffs conceded that Romarm was a "foreign state" under the FSIA because the statute extended to corporations wholly-owned by non-U.S. governments. Ordinarily, personal jurisdiction over a non-U.S. sovereign follows from a finding that a claim is not barred by the FSIA. An exception exists where the defendant is an instrumentality of a sovereign yet independent of it, in which case a plaintiff must separately establish the minimum contacts with the U.S. forum to satisfy the requirements of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Based on prior litigation between the parties, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland concluded that such independence between Romarm and Romania existed and thus the exception applied.

The Court only addressed whether Romarm had sufficient contacts with Maryland to support specific personal jurisdiction. It observed that such a showing required that Romarm have "purposefully availed" itself of the privilege of conducting activities within Maryland, and that its "conduct and connection with the forum State" must make a suit arising out of those contacts "reasonably foreseeable." In the context of a case involving injury form a product sold by the defendant, the Court noted that jurisdiction cannot merely be based on the fact that the manufacturer anticipated that its product would be sold in the forum, but observed that the U.S. Supreme Court had yet to decide definitively what more must be shown. The Court adopted the rule specified by the U.S. Court of Appeals with jurisdiction over the Maryland federal court, requiring that the defendant have "created a substantial connection to the forum state by action purposefully directed toward the forum state." Asserting jurisdiction must not, additionally, offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice."

In the case at bar, the Court noted that the plaintiffs did not allege that Romarm targeted sales to Maryland, or even that Romarm's U.S. distributor had done so. Indeed, there was not even evidence that the assault weapon used in the attacks had even been bought or sold in Maryland, merely that it had been transported from Maryland to the District of Columbia, where the injuries had occurred. Finding no "regular course of sales" into the State, and no conduct targeting the State, the Court concluded that the Due Process Clause precluded the assertion of jurisdiction over Romarm.

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