Importer granted motion to dismiss claim by cigarette lighter distributor being sued in injury case

By Mary Ann Magnell | Sep 5, 2018

NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana recently granted a third-party defendant’s motion to dismiss due to lack of jurisdiction in a 2016 personal injury case in which a disposable cigarette lighter exploded and caused third degree burns to plaintiff Dorothy Hebert.

U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman granted Shanico Enterprise Corp.’s motion to dismiss distributor Wing Sale Inc.’s third party complaint in an Aug. 30 ruling, noting that importer Shanico’s role in the sale of the lighter was “disputed.” 

The legal dispute began April 17, 2017, when Herbert filed a personal injury suit against Wing Sale, the lighter's distributor, claiming that Wing Sale violated the Louisiana Product Liability Act and breached its "warranty that the lighter would be safe for use," court filings said.

Wing Sale then sued California importers Shanico and NSL Group USA on October 2017, along with China-based manufacturer Xuzhou Aliter Products Co., alleging that the lighters manufactured, imported and distributed by these companies were “not properly tested and were unsafe.” 

Wing Sale maintained that the third-party defendants were responsible to Hebert for her injuries and damages.

In April, Wing Sale voluntarily dismissed its claims against Xuzhou Aliter in April because it was unable to serve it. The same day Wing Sale dismissed claims against Xuzhou Aliter, Shanico moved to dismiss Wing Sale’s complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Although Wing Sale acknowledged that the court did not have general jurisdiction over Shanico, it petitioned the court to establish personal jurisdiction over the importer, as defined in the “stream of commerce” doctrine. 

“This court does not have personal jurisdiction over Shanico because Shanico did not purposefully avail itself in the state of Louisiana,” Feldman said in his ruling. “It did not regularly import products that were sold to distributors in Louisiana; it has not sold to a distributor in the state in the last 10 years. It has not done ‘something more’ to develop a relationship with Louisiana—no advertising, marketing, contact, or even a website.” 

Further, Feldman pointed out that less than 1 percent of Shanico’s sales to Wing Sale ended up in Louisiana and the company did not profit from Wing Sale’s lighter sales in the state. 

“There is no indication that the lighters were specifically designed to appeal to Louisiana customers or that Louisiana customers have a special affinity for lighters above other states," Feldman said. 

"Because Wing Sale has not met its burden to show that Shanico has minimum contacts with the state, the court does not have specific jurisdiction over it,” Feldman said.

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