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3.9 Cases

Burger King v. Rudzewicz

Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz

471 U.S. 462 (U.S. Supreme Court 1985)

Summary

Burger King Corp. is a Florida corporation with principal offices in Miami. It principally conducts restaurant business through franchisees. The franchisees are licensed to use Burger King’s trademarks and service marks in standardized restaurant facilities. Rudzewicz is a Michigan resident who, with a partner (MacShara) operated a Burger King franchise in Drayton Plains, Michigan. Negotiations for setting up the franchise occurred in 1978 largely between Rudzewicz, his partner, and a regional office of Burger King in Birmingham, Michigan, although some deals and concessions were made by Burger King in Florida. A preliminary agreement was signed in February of 1979. Rudzewicz and MacShara assumed operation of an existing facility in Drayton Plains and MacShara attended prescribed management courses in Miami during the four months following Feb. 1979.

Rudzewicz and MacShara bought $165,000 worth of restaurant equipment from Burger King’s Davmor Industries division in Miami. But before the final agreements were signed, the parties began to disagree over site-development fees, building design, computation of monthly rent, and whether Rudzewicz and MacShara could assign their liabilities to a corporation they had formed. Negotiations took place between Rudzewicz, MacShara, and the Birmingham regional office; but Rudzewicz and MacShara learned that the regional office had limited decision-making power and turned directly to Miami headquarters for their concerns. The final agreement was signed by June 1979 and provided that the franchise relationship was governed by Florida law, and called for payment of all required fees and forwarding of all relevant notices to Miami headquarters.

The Drayton Plains restaurant did fairly well at first, but a recession in late 1979 caused the franchisees to fall far behind in their monthly payments to Miami. Notice of default was sent from Miami to Rudzewicz, who nevertheless continued to operate the restaurant as a Burger King franchise. Burger King sued in federal district court for the southern district of Florida. Rudzewicz contested the court’s personal jurisdiction over him, since he had never been to Florida.

The federal court looked to Florida’s long arm statute and held that it did have personal jurisdiction over the non-resident franchisees, and awarded Burger King a quarter of a million dollars in contract damages and enjoined the franchisees from further operation of the Drayton Plains facility. Franchisees appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and won a reversal based on lack of personal jurisdiction. Burger King petitioned the Supreme Ct. for a writ of certiorari.

Justice Brennan delivered the opinion of the court.

The Due Process Clause protects an individual’s liberty interest in not being subject to the binding judgments of a forum with which he has established no meaningful “contacts, ties, or relations.” International Shoe Co. v. Washington. By requiring that individuals have “fair warning that a particular activity may subject [them] to the jurisdiction of a foreign sovereign,” the Due Process Clause “gives a degree of predictability to the legal system that allows potential defendants to structure their primary conduct with some minimum assurance as to where that conduct will and will not render them liable to suit.”…

Where a forum seeks to assert specific jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant who has not consented to suit there, this “fair warning” requirement is satisfied if the defendant has “purposefully directed” his activities at residents of the forum, and the litigation results from alleged injuries that “arise out of or relate to” those activities, Thus “[t]he forum State does not exceed its powers under the Due Process Clause if it asserts personal jurisdiction over a corporation that delivers its products into the stream of commerce with the expectation that they will be purchased by consumers in the forum State” and those products subsequently injure forum consumers. Similarly, a publisher who distributes magazines in a distant State may fairly be held accountable in that forum for damages resulting there from an allegedly defamatory story.…

…[T]he constitutional touchstone remains whether the defendant purposefully established “minimum contacts” in the forum State.…In defining when it is that a potential defendant should “reasonably anticipate” out-of-state litigation, the Court frequently has drawn from the reasoning of Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958):

The unilateral activity of those who claim some relationship with a nonresident defendant cannot satisfy the requirement of contact with the forum State. The application of that rule will vary with the quality and nature of the defendant’s activity, but it is essential in each case that there be some act by which the defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws.

This “purposeful availment” requirement ensures that a defendant will not be haled into a jurisdiction solely as a result of “random,” “fortuitous,” or “attenuated” contacts, or of the “unilateral activity of another party or a third person,” [Citations] Jurisdiction is proper, however, where the contacts proximately result from actions by the defendant himself that create a “substantial connection” with the forum State. [Citations] Thus where the defendant “deliberately” has engaged in significant activities within a State, or has created “continuing obligations” between himself and residents of the forum, he manifestly has availed himself of the privilege of conducting business there, and because his activities are shielded by “the benefits and protections” of the forum’s laws it is presumptively not unreasonable to require him to submit to the burdens of litigation in that forum as well.

Jurisdiction in these circumstances may not be avoided merely because the defendant did not physically enter the forum State. Although territorial presence frequently will enhance a potential defendant’s affiliation with a State and reinforce the reasonable foreseeability of suit there, it is an inescapable fact of modern commercial life that a substantial amount of business is transacted solely by mail and wire communications across state lines, thus obviating the need for physical presence within a State in which business is conducted. So long as a commercial actor’s efforts are “purposefully directed” toward residents of another State, we have consistently rejected the notion that an absence of physical contacts can defeat personal jurisdiction there.

Once it has been decided that a defendant purposefully established minimum contacts within the forum State, these contacts may be considered in light of other factors to determine whether the assertion of personal jurisdiction would comport with “fair play and substantial justice.” International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S., at 320. Thus courts in “appropriate case[s]” may evaluate “the burden on the defendant,” “the forum State’s interest in adjudicating the dispute,” “the plaintiff’s interest in obtaining convenient and effective relief,” “the interstate judicial system’s interest in obtaining the most efficient resolution of controversies,” and the “shared interest of the several States in furthering fundamental substantive social policies.” These considerations sometimes serve to establish the reasonableness of jurisdiction upon a lesser showing of minimum contacts than would otherwise be required. [Citations] Applying these principles to the case at hand, we believe there is substantial record evidence supporting the District Court’s conclusion that the assertion of personal jurisdiction over Rudzewicz in Florida for the alleged breach of his franchise agreement did not offend due process.…

In this case, no physical ties to Florida can be attributed to Rudzewicz other than MacShara’s brief training course in Miami. Rudzewicz did not maintain offices in Florida and, for all that appears from the record, has never even visited there. Yet this franchise dispute grew directly out of “a contract which had a substantial connection with that State.” Eschewing the option of operating an independent local enterprise, Rudzewicz deliberately “reach[ed] out beyond” Michigan and negotiated with a Florida corporation for the purchase of a long-term franchise and the manifold benefits that would derive from affiliation with a nationwide organization. Upon approval, he entered into a carefully structured 20-year relationship that envisioned continuing and wide-reaching contacts with Burger King in Florida. In light of Rudzewicz’ voluntary acceptance of the long-term and exacting regulation of his business from Burger King’s Miami headquarters, the “quality and nature” of his relationship to the company in Florida can in no sense be viewed as “random,” “fortuitous,” or “attenuated.” Rudzewicz’ refusal to make the contractually required payments in Miami, and his continued use of Burger King’s trademarks and confidential business information after his termination, caused foreseeable injuries to the corporation in Florida. For these reasons it was, at the very least, presumptively reasonable for Rudzewicz to be called to account there for such injuries.

…Because Rudzewicz established a substantial and continuing relationship with Burger King’s Miami headquarters, received fair notice from the contract documents and the course of dealing that he might be subject to suit in Florida, and has failed to demonstrate how jurisdiction in that forum would otherwise be fundamentally unfair, we conclude that the District Court’s exercise of jurisdiction pursuant to Fla. Stat. 48.193(1)(g) (Supp. 1984) did not offend due process. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is accordingly reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Case Questions

  1. Why did Burger King sue in Florida rather than in Michigan?
  2. If Florida has a long-arm statute that tells Florida courts that it may exercise personal jurisdiction over someone like Rudzewicz, why is the court talking about the due process clause?
  3. Why is this case in federal court rather than in a Florida state court?
  4. If this case had been filed in state court in Florida, would Rudzewicz be required to come to Florida? Explain.

Ferlito v. Johnson & Johnson

Ferlito v. Johnson & Johnson Products, Inc.

771 F. Supp. 196 (U.S. District Ct., Eastern District of Michigan 1991)

Gadola, J.

Plaintiffs Susan and Frank Ferlito, husband and wife, attended a Halloween party in 1984 dressed as Mary (Mrs. Ferlito) and her little lamb (Mr. Ferlito). Mrs. Ferlito had constructed a lamb costume for her husband by gluing cotton batting manufactured by defendant Johnson & Johnson Products (“JJP”) to a suit of long underwear. She had also used defendant’s product to fashion a headpiece, complete with ears. The costume covered Mr. Ferlito from his head to his ankles, except for his face and hands, which were blackened with Halloween paint. At the party Mr. Ferlito attempted to light his cigarette by using a butane lighter. The flame passed close to his left arm, and the cotton batting on his left sleeve ignited. Plaintiffs sued defendant for injuries they suffered from burns which covered approximately one-third of Mr. Ferlito’s body.

Following a jury verdict entered for plaintiffs November 2, 1989, the Honorable Ralph M. Freeman entered a judgment for plaintiff Frank Ferlito in the amount of $555,000 and for plaintiff Susan Ferlito in the amount of $ 70,000. Judgment was entered November 7, 1989. Subsequently, on November 16, 1989, defendant JJP filed a timely motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) or, in the alternative, for new trial. Plaintiffs filed their response to defendant’s motion December 18, 1989; and defendant filed a reply January 4, 1990. Before reaching a decision on this motion, Judge Freeman died. The case was reassigned to this court April 12, 1990.

MOTION FOR JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE VERDICT

Defendant JJP filed two motions for a directed verdict, the first on October 27, 1989, at the close of plaintiffs’ proofs, and the second on October 30, 1989, at the close of defendant’s proofs. Judge Freeman denied both motions without prejudice. Judgment for plaintiffs was entered November 7, 1989; and defendant’s instant motion, filed November 16, 1989, was filed in a timely manner.

The standard for determining whether to grant a j.n.o.v. is identical to the standard for evaluating a motion for directed verdict:

In determining whether the evidence is sufficient, the trial court may neither weigh the evidence, pass on the credibility of witnesses nor substitute its judgment for that of the jury. Rather, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion is made, drawing from that evidence all reasonable inferences in his favor. If after reviewing the evidence…the trial court is of the opinion that reasonable minds could not come to the result reached by the jury, then the motion for j.n.o.v. should be granted.

To recover in a “failure to warn” product liability action, a plaintiff must prove each of the following four elements of negligence: (1) that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, (2) that the defendant violated that duty, (3) that the defendant’s breach of that duty was a proximate cause of the damages suffered by the plaintiff, and (4) that the plaintiff suffered damages.

To establish a prima facie case that a manufacturer’s breach of its duty to warn was a proximate cause of an injury sustained, a plaintiff must present evidence that the product would have been used differently had the proffered warnings been given.By “prima facie case,” the court means a case in which the plaintiff has presented all the basic elements of the cause of action alleged in the complaint. If one or more elements of proof are missing, then the plaintiff has fallen short of establishing a prima facie case, and the case should be dismissed (usually on the basis of a directed verdict). [Citations omitted] In the absence of evidence that a warning would have prevented the harm complained of by altering the plaintiff’s conduct, the failure to warn cannot be deemed a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury as a matter of law. [In accordance with procedure in a diversity of citizenship case, such as this one, the court cites Michigan case law as the basis for its legal interpretation.]

A manufacturer has a duty “to warn the purchasers or users of its product about dangers associated with intended use.” Conversely, a manufacturer has no duty to warn of a danger arising from an unforeseeable misuse of its product. [Citation] Thus, whether a manufacturer has a duty to warn depends on whether the use of the product and the injury sustained by it are foreseeable. Gootee v. Colt Industries Inc., 712 F.2d 1057, 1065 (6th Cir. 1983); Owens v. Allis-Chalmers Corp., 414 Mich. 413, 425, 326 N.W.2d 372 (1982). Whether a plaintiff’s use of a product is foreseeable is a legal question to be resolved by the court. Trotter, supra. Whether the resulting injury is foreseeable is a question of fact for the jury.Note the division of labor here: questions of law are for the judge, while questions of “fact” are for the jury. Here, “foreseeability” is a fact question, while the judge retains authority over questions of law. The division between questions of fact and questions of law is not an easy one, however. Thomas v. International Harvester Co., 57 Mich. App. 79, 225 N.W.2d 175 (1974).

In the instant action no reasonable jury could find that JJP’s failure to warn of the flammability of cotton batting was a proximate cause of plaintiffs’ injuries because plaintiffs failed to offer any evidence to establish that a flammability warning on JJP’s cotton batting would have dissuaded them from using the product in the manner that they did.

Plaintiffs repeatedly stated in their response brief that plaintiff Susan Ferlito testified that “she would never again use cotton batting to make a costume…However, a review of the trial transcript reveals that plaintiff Susan Ferlito never testified that she would never again use cotton batting to make a costume. More importantly, the transcript contains no statement by plaintiff Susan Ferlito that a flammability warning on defendant JJP’s product would have dissuaded her from using the cotton batting to construct the costume in the first place. At oral argument counsel for plaintiffs conceded that there was no testimony during the trial that either plaintiff Susan Ferlito or her husband, plaintiff Frank J. Ferlito, would have acted any different if there had been a flammability warning on the product’s package. The absence of such testimony is fatal to plaintiffs’ case; for without it, plaintiffs have failed to prove proximate cause, one of the essential elements of their negligence claim.

In addition, both plaintiffs testified that they knew that cotton batting burns when it is exposed to flame. Susan Ferlito testified that she knew at the time she purchased the cotton batting that it would burn if exposed to an open flame. Frank Ferlito testified that he knew at the time he appeared at the Halloween party that cotton batting would burn if exposed to an open flame. His additional testimony that he would not have intentionally put a flame to the cotton batting shows that he recognized the risk of injury of which he claims JJP should have warned. Because both plaintiffs were already aware of the danger, a warning by JJP would have been superfluous. Therefore, a reasonable jury could not have found that JJP’s failure to provide a warning was a proximate cause of plaintiffs’ injuries.

The evidence in this case clearly demonstrated that neither the use to which plaintiffs put JJP’s product nor the injuries arising from that use were foreseeable. Susan Ferlito testified that the idea for the costume was hers alone. As described on the product’s package, its intended uses are for cleansing, applying medications, and infant care. Plaintiffs’ showing that the product may be used on occasion in classrooms for decorative purposes failed to demonstrate the foreseeability of an adult male encapsulating himself from head to toe in cotton batting and then lighting up a cigarette.

ORDER

NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant JJP’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict is GRANTED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the judgment entered November 2, 1989, is SET ASIDE.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the clerk will enter a judgment in favor of the defendant JJP.

Case Questions

  1. The opinion focuses on proximate cause. As we will see in Chapter 7 "Introduction to Tort Law", a negligence case cannot be won unless the plaintiff shows that the defendant has breached a duty and that the defendant’s breach has actually and proximately caused the damage complained of. What, exactly, is the alleged breach of duty by the defendant here?
  2. Explain why Judge Gadola reasoning that JJP had no duty to warn in this case. After this case, would they then have a duty to warn, knowing that someone might use their product in this way?