Korean chemical giant LG Chem Ltd. got another chance to fight New Jersey’s jurisdiction over a lawsuit seeking to hold the company liable for an exploding vaping device battery, with a state appeals court’s ruling that a lower court maintained the claims too hastily.
A three-judge Appellate Division panel remanded Isa Abdul-Baatin’s complaint back to the Essex County Superior Court, reasoning that the judge who found that LG Chem was subject to New Jersey’s jurisdiction — and therefore denied the company’s dismissal motion — did so on a record that was “not sufficiently developed.”
The lawsuit was filed in October 2019 and alleges that Abdul-Baatin, of Newark, was “seriously and permanently injured” on April 30, 2018, when an LG MJ2 18650 lithium-ion battery made by Seoul-headquartered LG Chem and purchased by defendant Good Guy Vapes in Clifton, New Jersey, “spontaneously exploded in his pocket.”
Abdul-Baatin tried to serve the lawsuit to LG Chem through two of its United States subsidiaries, LG Chem America Inc. and LG Chem Michigan Inc., but the purported agents of each refused to accept service.
In April 2020, LG Chem moved to toss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction and insufficient service. Company employees provided certified statements that they weren’t authorized to accept service of the complaint.
Abdul-Baatin opposed the motion, arguing that LG Chem America was fully owned and controlled by LG Chem and operated in New Jersey. He pointed to an archived internet page listing LG Chem America’s Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, address on LG Chem’s website as of Nov. 15, 2016, and also backed his assertion with annual reports and other documents, the decision said.
LG Chem retorted with documents from other cases in courts that granted their jurisdiction-based motions.
In the decision on appeal, a Superior Court judge ruled in September 2020 that LG Chem had “sufficient contacts” with the Garden State given the Englewood Cliffs location listed on its website for corporate offices. The judge also said the motion should be denied due to “substantial issues of operative fact” and the assertion of “additional facts outside of the pleadings.” The judge later denied LG Chem’s reconsideration bid.
On appeal, LG argued that the screenshot of the archived webpage was “inadmissible hearsay” that revealed an address for a “legally distinct entity” 17 months before the alleged injury. The company also said it provided evidence that it didn’t serve New Jersey in the standalone vape-pen battery market and that the service ran afoul of the international Hague Service Convention, which requires parties to establish a central authority to receive documents from other countries.