By Steve Korris
AUSTIN Ã¯Â¿Â½ Winning half a battle at the Supreme Court of Texas, Mexican manufacturer Zinc Nacional escaped the state's specific jurisdiction in a suit over a Texas crash.
On April 9, the Justices reversed appeals judges who granted specific jurisdiction but directed those judges to consider whether to grant general jurisdiction.
Personal jurisdiction applies if a cause of action arises from a defendant's purposeful contacts with a forum.
General jurisdiction applies when contacts are continuous and systematic, regardless of their connection to the cause of action.
All nine Justices agreed that the truck's passage through Texas on its way from Mexico to New Mexico didn't matter.
"The exercise of jurisdiction over a merchant requires that the merchant actually direct sales to the forum state, not through it," they declared in an unsigned opinion.
"Both this court and the United States Supreme Court have held that the mere fact that goods have traveled into a state, without more, does not establish the minimum contacts necessary to subject a manufacturer to personal jurisdiction within that state," they wrote.
"The fact that a seller knows his goods will end up in the forum state does not support jurisdiction when the seller made no attempt to market its goods there," they wrote.
Zinc Nacional primarily manufactures zinc sulfate and zinc oxide, according to the Justices, and it supplies 260 customers worldwide.
It also makes grayback paper, a drywall component, for two customers in Mexico and an American Gypsum plant in New Mexico.
In 1999, Zinc Nacional workers in Monterrey loaded eight rolls of grayback on a trailer that belonged to Mexican trucking contractor C. H. Robinson.
The rolls weighed about two and a half tons.
The driver pulled the trailer 150 miles to Laredo, where he turned it over to American subcontractor Bouche Trucking.
The new driver, Jorge Arrellano of Texas, lost control when the rolls shifted. The rig overturned, and he suffered injuries.
He sued Bouche Trucking in El Paso County, and Bouche Trucking answered by filing a third party petition against Zinc Nacional.
Zinc Nacional challenged Texas jurisdiction, specific or general.
District Judge William Moody denied the challenge and granted specific jurisdiction.
Zinc Nacional appealed to the Eighth District in El Paso, still challenging specific and general jurisdiction.
Three judges affirmed specific jurisdiction and ignored general jurisdiction.
"Zinc deliberately structured its business to use Texas ports of entry and Texas roads and highways to transport its products to New Mexico on a regular basis," Justice Ann McClure wrote.
"The burden on Zinc does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice," she wrote.
At the Supreme Court, the Justices decided otherwise.
"Although Zinc does have three or four customers for its other products in Texas, and does receive some raw materials from Texas, these facts are unrelated to the accident in this case and are thus irrelevant to the question of specific jurisdiction," they wrote.
They advised the Eighth District to consider general jurisdiction.
Byron Keeling, Alison Haynes, Ken Slavin and Milton Colia represented Zinc Nacional.
Eric Darnell represented Bouche Trucking.
Roberto Duran represented Arrellano.