June 30, 2020

Challenging General Personal Jurisdiction in Pennsylvania – Developments on Consent Registration

The Superior Court sitting en banc held In Murray v. Am. Lafrance, that the plaintiffs had waived the argument that Federal Signal had consented to personal jurisdiction by registering to conduct business in Pennsylvania because they did not raise that argument until the appeal. The court stated that  “once Federal Signal presented evidence to support its preliminary objection to the Pennsylvania court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction, Plaintiffs were required to establish personal jurisdiction. Their attempt to demonstrate jurisdiction through Federal Signal’s alleged continuous and systematic contacts failed and, since Plaintiffs  neglected to assert an alternative basis of jurisdiction, the consequence of that failure was the dismissal of their claims.

Plaintiffs tried to argue that their failure to raise the issue in response the Preliminary Objections should be overlooked because Federal Signal had not included a “Notice to Plead” and, therefore, Plaintiffs did not technically have to respond to the Preliminary Objections (even though they did file a Response), but the Superior Court rejected that:  “[T]he fact that a response was not required pursuant to Rule 1029(d) neither nullified the response that Plaintiffs actually filed nor relieved Plaintiffs’ burden of demonstrating personal jurisdiction at the risk of having the complaints dismissed.”

After finding waiver, the Court ultimately stated that is was not addressing “the merits of Plaintiffs’ fresh claim that Pennsylvania has personal jurisdiction over Federal Signal due to its 1969 registration with the Pennsylvania Department of State as a foreign corporation pursuant to 15 Pa.C.S. § 411(a)” and affirmed the trial court’s Order sustaining the Preliminary Objections for lack of personal jurisdiction.

The Court acknowledges, in the last footnote of the Opinion, that Pennsylvania appellate decisions on this issue (state and federal) are inconsistent, and that personal jurisdiction based on consent through registration is a minority position — but, nevertheless declines to address it.
For additional information concerning challenges to General personal jurisdiction please contact John C. McMeekin (jmcmeekin@rawle.comhttp://www.rawle.com/attorneys/john-mcmeekin) or Angela Heim (aheim@rawle.comhttp://www.rawle.com/attorneys/angela-heim).


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