Washington DC Court Reviews Venue and Personal Jurisdiction in a Case Alleging a Defective Medical Device: Marshall v. I-Flow, LLC

A medical device manufacturer moved for dismissal of a lawsuit, Marshall v. I-Flow, LLC, in a Washington DC court, arguing that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over it or, alternatively, that the venue was not proper. The plaintiff had undergone surgery in upstate New York and alleged injuries caused by the defendant’s device. The court found that it had personal jurisdiction and that venue was proper, but it exercised its authority to transfer the case to New York for purposes of convenience.

The plaintiff, Jennifer L. Marshall, had surgery on her shoulder in 2006 in Syracuse, New York. Marshall was and remains a resident of Ithaca. After the surgery, her doctor implanted a “pain pump” manufactured by the defendant, I-Flow, LLC, in her shoulder joint. The pump delivered a steady stream of painkillers directly to the joint. Marshall alleges that the pump caused extensive damage to the cartilage in the joint, eventually requiring further surgery in Rochester in 2011. As of the date of the court ruling in 2012, Marshall had received a recommendation for “total shoulder replacement.”
Marshall filed suit against I-Flow, a Delaware company based in California, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2012. The lawsuit asserted various causes of action for negligence, product liability, and failure to warn. I-Flow filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, or to transfer it to the Northern District of New York.

The question of personal jurisdiction, generally defined as a particular court’s authority over a defendant, can be difficult to ascertain in cases where businesses manufacture or distribute products in multiple states. The court considered two types of personal jurisdiction, general and specific. Washington DC’s long-arm statute, the court found, allows it to exercise specific jurisdiction over individuals or companies that do business in the District, but it is limited to causes of action arising from events that actually occurred within Washington DC. All of plaintiff’s treatment, including both surgeries, occurred in upstate New York. The plaintiff offered evidence of the defendant’s extensive use of Washington-based doctors and hospitals in its product marketing, and its high volume of business transactions in the District, but the court held that this was insufficient to support specific jurisdiction.

A Washington DC court can exercise general jurisdiction over a foreign defendant (meaning located outside the District) for events occurring outside the District, if the plaintiff shows that the defendant maintains “continuous and systematic” business contacts within the District. The court found that the plaintiff’s evidence, while not supporting specific jurisdiction, did support general jurisdiction over I-Flow.

Venue in the District was proper, the court held, because of the court’s finding that it had personal jurisdiction over the defendant. The ideal venue for a lawsuit, however, is in a district where the defendant resides or where a substantial part of the events underlying the suit took place. The court held that, even though Washington DC had proper jurisdiction and venue, the Northern District of New York would better serve the convenience of the parties. The plaintiff objected that New York’s statute of limitations might bar the suit, but the court noted that, in a transfer of venue based on convenience, DC law would continue to govern that question.

At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we help people in the Washington, DC area recover their just compensation when they have suffered injuries due to faulty or defective products and medication errors. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Federal Court Denies Class Certification in Medical Products Liability Claim, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, July 25, 2012
Doctors and Medical Device Companies Square Off on Questions of Liability, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, January 27, 2012
Dangerous Medical Device?: Woman Files Cold Therapy Lawsuit Against DeRoyal Industries Alleging Tissue Damage, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, June 18, 2011

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