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Navarrete Rodriguez v. Ford Motor Co.

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

December 20, 2018

MANUEL EDEL NAVARRETE RODRIGUEZ, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of EDGAR NAVARRETE RODRIGUEZ, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant, and LUIS A. PONCE, Defendant.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF SANTA FE COUNTY: David K. Thomson, District Judge

          Law Offices of James B. Ragan i James B. Ragan Corpus Christi, TX: Arrazolo Law, P.C. Gilbert Arrazolo Albuquerque, NM for Appellee

          Hogan Lovells U.S. LLP Sean Marotta Washington, DC Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin and Robb, P.A. Jeffrey M. Croasdell Albuquerque, NM Snell & Wilmer LLP Todd E. Rinner Albuquerque, NM for Appellant

          OPINION

          LINDA M. VANZI, CHIEF JUDGE

         {¶1} In this appeal, we consider whether Ford consented to general personal jurisdiction in New Mexico courts when it registered to do business here. To answer this question, we must determine whether the United States Supreme Court's decision in Pennsylvania Fire Insurance Co. of Philadelphia v. Gold Issue Mining & Milling Co., 243 U.S. 93 (1917), and this Court's decision in Werner v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 1993-NMCA-112, 116 N.M. 229, 861 P.2d 270, remain binding precedent in light of the evolution of general jurisdiction jurisprudence found in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 319 (1945), and Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 137 (2014). We recognize the tension between the two lines of cases. Nevertheless, because we conclude that both Pennsylvania Fire and Werner are still binding, we conclude that Ford consented to general jurisdiction in New Mexico.

         {¶2}The district court found that New Mexico could exercise specific personal jurisdiction, but not general personal jurisdiction, and therefore denied Ford's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Because we conclude to the contrary-that Ford consented to general jurisdiction-we affirm the denial of Ford's motion to dismiss but for a different reason than relied on by the district court. We do not reach the issue of specific jurisdiction.

         BACKGROUND

         {¶3} "Where, as here, the district court bases its ruling on the parties' pleadings, attachments, and non-evidentiary hearings, . . . [we] construe th[ose] pleadings and affidavits in the light most favorable to the complainant[.]" Sproul v. Rob & Charlies, Inc., 2013-NMCA-072, ¶ 6, 304 P.3d 18 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Edgar Navarrete Rodriguez (Decedent), a New Mexico resident, purchased a 2000 Ford F-250 (the F-250) from a private seller in New Mexico. Decedent later died in a single vehicle accident when the roof structure of the F-250 collapsed after the vehicle rolled over on New Mexico State Road 206. Manuel Edel Navarrete Rodriguez, as personal representative for Decedent's estate, (Plaintiff) filed this wrongful death action against Ford, claiming that the F-250's roof structure was defectively designed. In the complaint, Plaintiff claimed that the district court had jurisdiction over Ford "by virtue of its manufacture, and distribution of the vehicle and by virtue of Ford's overall conduct in conducting business within the state." He also alleged that "Ford designed, tested, approved, manufactured, marketed, distributed, and sold the subject F-250 and its components for sale in New Mexico and elsewhere throughout the United States." Finally, Plaintiff alleged that "Ford ... is a foreign corporation and can be served through its registered agent. . . located . . . [in] New Mexico."

         {¶4} Ford filed a motion to dismiss for lack of general or specific personal jurisdiction. While Ford did not contest any of the facts asserted by Plaintiff, Ford argued that the district court did not have specific personal jurisdiction because Plaintiffs claims did not arise out of any in-state activities, as the F-250 was not designed, manufactured, sold, or serviced by Ford in New Mexico. Although it acknowledged that it "interjected its products into the stream of commerce knowing full well its products would be sold by independent dealers in New Mexico," Ford argued that its in-state activities did not lead to Plaintiffs claims because the F-250 was designed in Michigan, assembled in Kentucky, and sold by Ford to an independent Ford dealership in Arizona. Ford also argued that general jurisdiction was lacking because "Ford was not incorporated in New Mexico and does not have its principal place of business here."

         {¶5} Plaintiff did not contest any of Ford's asserted facts. However, Plaintiff argued that the district court had specific personal jurisdiction due to Ford's substantial contacts with New Mexico and Ford's placement of the F-250 "into the stream of commerce under circumstances such that Ford should reasonably anticipate being haled into court in New Mexico to answer claims about the failure of that product in New Mexico." In support of his argument, Plaintiff provided an affidavit detailing the following connections Ford had with New Mexico: (1) Ford has at least thirteen official Ford dealerships in New Mexico; (2) Ford maintains an interactive website where New Mexico consumers can purchase Ford automotive parts, search inventory of Ford vehicles in the state, obtain coupons and discounts, find safety recall information, and apply for credit for vehicle purchases; (3) Ford targets New Mexican consumers through marketing techniques such as sponsoring local professional bull riding championships; and (4) Ford has "in-forum advertising and defense and indemnity contracts with its dealerships" and is a "frequent" litigant in New Mexico.

         {¶6} The district court held a non-evidentiary hearing on the motion and concluded that it had specific, but not general, personal jurisdiction over Ford. Ford filed a motion for reconsideration. After another non-evidentiary hearing, the district court denied Ford's motion for reconsideration. However, the district court certified its order for interlocutory appeal, which we granted. After initial briefing was complete, we requested simultaneous supplemental briefing on the "viability and applicability of Werner" and "whether, under Werner, [Ford] consented to general jurisdiction in New Mexico courts by registering in compliance with Article 17 of the Business Corporation Act [(the Act)], NMSA 1978, §§ 53-11-1 to 53-18-12 (1967, as amended through 2003)."

         DISCUSSION

         {¶7} "In reviewing an appeal from an order granting or denying a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the determination of whether personal jurisdiction exists is a question of law, which an appellate court reviews de novo when the relevant facts are undisputed." CAB A Ltd. Liab. Co. v. Mustang Software, Inc., 1999-NMCA-089, ¶ 9, 127 N.M. 556, 984 P.2d 803. As we explain, we conclude that Ford consented to general jurisdiction in New Mexico under Werner. We therefore affirm the district court's denial of Ford's motion to dismiss, but for a different reason. See State v. Vargas, 2008-NMSC-019, ¶ 8, 143 N.M. 692, 181 P.3d 684 ("Under the right for any reason doctrine, we may affirm the district court's order on grounds not relied upon by the district court if those grounds do not require us to look beyond the factual allegations that were raised and considered below." (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). Given our conclusion, we need not address Ford's arguments related to specific jurisdiction.

         Preliminary Matters

         {¶8} We begin by addressing whether this Court's review is limited by preservation principles or the scope of interlocutory appeal. First, to the extent Ford argues that this Court should not address whether Ford consented to general jurisdiction because Plaintiff failed to raise the issue of consent in the district court, we disagree that this fact precludes our review of the issue here. This Court has "broad discretion to decide jurisdictional issues on appeal." Capco Acquisub, Inc. v. Greka Energy Corp., 2008-NMCA-153, ¶ 35, 145 N.M. 328, 198 P.3d 354. Although the district court did not address specifically whether registration by Ford indicated consent to jurisdiction, it found that Ford is registered in New Mexico and made findings, which are undisputed, about Ford's other activities in New Mexico. Thus, the factual record is adequately developed for our review of this question and remand for a hearing on the legal significance of undisputed facts would be duplicative and wasteful. See id. (considering personal jurisdiction issue in light of evidence produced at trial because remand for a hearing on jurisdiction "would be duplicative-and possibly futile"). Ford points to Chaleunphonh v. Parks & Recreation Division, in which this Court stated that reversing on a ground not raised below is "especially inappropriate when the ground requires a factual predicate and the party who prevailed below had no reason to make a record regarding the factual predicate." 1996-NMCA-066, ¶ 14, 121 N.M. 801, 918 P.2d 717. Here, Ford prevailed in the district court on the issue of general jurisdiction based on minimum contacts, but it did not dispute the factual predicate underlying consent by registration, i.e., that it registered in New Mexico. Moreover, Ford provided a supplemental brief on consent by registration and, therefore, was not blindsided by the issue. Consideration of this issue is therefore not unfair to Ford.

         {¶9} Second, in an interlocutory appeal, as here, this Court's review is "limited to the issues fairly contained in the order[, ]" although "we are not confined to the particular questions the district court certified" for appeal. Curry v. Great Nw. Ins. Co.,2014-NMCA-031, ¶ 8, 320 P.3d 482. In other words, an appellate court can decide issues other than those certified, so long as they are not "wholly unrelated to the issues identified by the district court" in its order. Armijo v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.,2007-NMCA-120, ¶ 19, 142 N.M. 557, 168 P.3d 129. Here, the district court considered and ruled on both general and specific jurisdiction. Because the district court granted Ford's motion to dismiss as to general jurisdiction and denied Ford's motion as to specific jurisdiction, Ford appealed only the latter portion of the district court's order. Nevertheless, the ...


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