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ROSS v. ALTRIA GROUP

LINDA ROSS, Plaintiff,
v.
ALTRIA GROUP, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge

ORDER GRANTING MOTION BY DEFENDANTS ALTRIA GROUP, INC. AND LOUIS C. CAMILLERI TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF PERSONAL JURISDICTION
Defendants move to dismiss the claims against them for lack of personal jurisdiction. Plaintiff has not filed a brief in opposition to defendants' motion.*fn1 The Court takes defendants' motion under submission without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 7-1(b). Having carefully reviewed the arguments submitted, the Court hereby GRANTS defendants' motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff Linda Ross ("Ross") filed a complaint on April 8, 2004 in Sonoma County Superior Court against defendants Altria Group, Inc. ("ALG"), and Louis C. Camilleri ("Camilleri"), alleging that defendants and their subsidiary, Kraft Foods, used aspartame as a sugar substitute in the manufacture of "Crystal Light," and thereby knowingly and intentionally exposed consumers to the health risks associated with aspartame without warning them of its harmful effects. Compl. at 1:20-22, 2:10-13. Plaintiff alleges violations of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, fraud, and breach of warranties under California law, and seeks damages and injunctive relief. Id. at ¶¶ 49-89. Defendants removed the case to this Court on April 14, 2004. Subject matter jurisdiction exists on the basis of diversity.*fn2

  Plaintiff alleges personal jurisdiction over ALG on grounds that ALG, "through their subsidiary Kraft Foods[,] sells Crystal Light in the state of California and worldwide," and "via Kraft Foods, advertises its products extensively in California." Compl. ¶ 2. Plaintiff also states that ALG's website "is accessible to California consumers." Id. In addition, plaintiff alleges that ALG "manufactures," "distributes," and "market[s]" Crystal Light through Kraft Foods, and has made false representations that Crystal Light is safe and healthy. Id. at ¶ 41, 43, 44-45.

  Plaintiff alleges personal jurisdiction over Camilleri on grounds that "as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer" for ALG, he "is responsible for the operation of the company and its subsidiaries and in that capacity is directly and proximately liable for the actions of the company in the use and sale of Aspartame as an additive in Crystal Light," and is also "individually liable for the actions of Defendant Altria Group, Inc." because he has "intentionally allowed Aspartame-containing products to be placed in the stream of commerce to the detriment of the Plaintiff and other similarly situated consumers." Id. at ¶¶ 3-4.

  ALG, formerly the Philip Morris Companies, Inc., is a publicly traded holding company that acquires ownership interests in various subsidiaries for investment purposes. Lampe Decl. ¶ 2-3, 6. It is incorporated in Virginia and has its principal place of business in New York. Id. at ¶ 2. ALG does not conduct business in California, has never engaged in sales or service activities in California, and does not place products into the stream of commerce with the expectation that they will enter California. Id. at ¶ 7. It does not file any state income tax returns or pay state taxes in California. Id. ALG does not have an office or place of business, bank accounts or credit facilities, real property, joint ventures, or telephone listings in California. Id. at ¶ 7, 9, 11, 13. It has no employees or agents in California and has no designated agent for service of process in the state. Id. at ¶ 7, 8.

  ALG owns a majority interest in Kraft Foods, Inc., a Virginia corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois. Id. at ¶ 4. Kraft and ALG have separate boards of directors, are managed by separate executive officers, and engage in different types of business activity. Id. at ¶ 4, 6. Unlike ALG, which does not produce any products or services, Kraft is a food and beverage company that derives its income from the sale of these products. Id. at ¶ 6.

  ALG occasionally engages in national, non-product "image" advertising. Id. at ¶ 14. Previously, ALG aired advertisements about the public service efforts of the people and companies that were part of the Philip Morris family of companies, and in 2003 it conducted a national advertising campaign to introduce its new name and communicate its identity. Id. None of ALG's placements have included product advertisements. Id. ALG has a public website, but it is not used to advertise the products made and distributed by ALG's operating subsidiaries or to solicit business. Id. at ¶ 15.

  Louis Camilleri is the Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer of ALG. Camilleri Decl. ¶ 1. His only residence is in New York, and he has never resided in California. Id. at ¶ 2. His only office is in New York, and he has never maintained an office in California. Id. at ¶ 3.

  Camilleri has never owned, leased, or possessed any real property in California. Id. at ¶ 4. He has never filed tax returns in California, and he does not have bank accounts, investment accounts, or loans with California financial institutions. Id. at ¶ 5-6. He has never been a party to litigation in California other than this action. Id. at ¶ 7. He has never entered into any contracts in California. Id. at ¶ 8. He has traveled to California only once. Id.

  Camilleri has not personally directed, controlled, or had day-to-day decision-making responsibility for the formulation, design, manufacturing, labeling, promotion, marketing, distribution, or sale of Crystal Light, or its placement into the stream of commerce. Id. at ¶ 11. He has never made any statements or representations to plaintiff Ross about Crystal Light or aspartame. Id. at ¶ 10.

  Now before the Court are ALG's and Camilleri's motions to dismiss plaintiff's claims for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2).*fn3 Plaintiff has filed no opposition to defendants' motion. Therefore, the Court assumes that the factual assertions made in defendants' motion are uncontroverted.

  LEGAL STANDARD

  A motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction may be brought under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). "Although the defendant is the moving party on a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that jurisdiction exists." Rio Props., Inc. v. ...


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