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Jurisdictional Discovery Has Limits

March 6, 2024

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Earlier this week, the Superior Court of New Jersey’s Appellate Division resolved a jurisdictional discovery dispute in a products liability action involving an alleged vape explosion.  Plaintiff Ian Crespi (“Crespi”) claims that in 2016 he was injured when his vape exploded.  After filing suit against several defendants Crespi filed a Third Amended Complaint against LG Chem, a South Korean company that designs, manufactures and sells an 18650 lithium-ion battery.  Following a round of motion practice that included an appeal to the Superior Court, the parties were instructed to conduct jurisdictional discovery, as LG Chem argued the trial court lacked specific personal jurisdiction.  Crespi issued 101 interrogatories to LG Chem, which led to further motion practice. Eventually, the Superior Court was asked to determine whether Crespi was entitled to answers or supplemental answers to 22 interrogatories.

Citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the Court noted that placing a product into the stream of commerce, without more, does not amount to a purposeful act directed towards the forum state that would be sufficient to establish specific personal jurisdiction.  Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Superior Ct., 480 U.S. 102, 112 (1987).  To that end, jurisdictional discovery should be limited.  And where the issue is whether the court has specific personal jurisdiction, such discovery should be limited to “developing facts showing whether defendant engaged in purposeful conduct in New Jersey related to plaintiff's claims.”  This is distinguished from the broad focus of merits discovery. 

The Court found Crespi’s jurisdictional theory as overly broad and indicated it must be tailored.  To that end, the Court found that only one of the 22 interrogatories was proper.  This interrogatory asked LG Chem to list ways it “recycles, re-purposes, brands, names, uses, sells, ships, and/or distributes [18650 batteries] that do not satisfy [its] requirements for the rechargeable lithium[-]ion battery to be supplied to the [c]onsumer by LG Chem.” (Emphasis omitted). Crespi v. Zeppy, et al., No. A-2881-22, 2024 WL 1295798, at *3 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Mar. 27, 2024).  Crespi had requested a follow up answer to LG Chem’s response, which the Court found was proper. 18 of the remaining 21 interrogatories concerned details of battery production “from start to finish,” which the Court stated had nothing to do with jurisdictional discovery.  The Court also found that Crespi was not entitled to supplemental answers on two interrogatories concerning the sale or advertisement of products in New Jersey between 2011 and 2016, nor was he entitled to an answer as to what steps LG Chem took to ensure other entitled did not distribute or sell its 18650 batteries in New Jersey.  As for these last three interrogatories, the Court found LG’s answers and objection satisfied the scope of jurisdictional discovery.  

This case serves as a helpful reminder that while discovery is a broad concept generally, parties must be mindful that jurisdictional discovery is limited and should not be used as a “fishing expedition” or as an extension of merit discovery. 

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