In Dixon v. GAA Classic Cars, LLC, 2019 IL App (1st) 182416, the trial court dismissed the Illinois plaintiff’s suit against a North Carolina car seller on the basis that Illinois lacked jurisdiction over the defendant.
Reversing, the First District answered some important questions concerning the nature and reach of specific jurisdiction under the Illinois long-arm statute as informed by constitutional due process factors.
Since the defendant had no physical presence or office in Illinois, the question was whether the Illinois court had specific jurisdiction [as opposed to general jurisdiction] over the defendant.
Specific jurisdiction requires a plaintiff to allege a defendant purposefully directed its activities at the forum state and that the cause of action arose out of or relates to those contacts. Even a single act can give rise to specific jurisdiction but the lawsuit must relate specifically to that act. [¶ 12]
In the context of web-based companies, the Court noted that a site that only imparts information [as opposed to selling products or services] does not create sufficient minimum contacts necessary to establish personal jurisdiction over a foreign defendant. Here, though, the defendant’s site contained a “call to action” that encouraged visitors like the plaintiff to pay the defendant. [¶ 14]
The court found that plaintiff’s allegations that defendant falsely stated that the Bronco’s frame was restored, had new brakes and was frequently driven over the past 12 months [when it hadn’t] were sufficient to allege a material misstatement of fact under Illinois fraud law. It further held that fraudulent statements in telephone calls are just as actionable as in-person statements and can give an Illinois court jurisdiction over a foreign defendant. [¶ 17]
Viewed in the aggregate, the plaintiff’s allegations of the defendant’s Illinois contacts were enough to confer Illinois long-arm jurisdiction over the defendant.
The plaintiff alleged the defendant (i) advertised the Bronco on a national website, and (ii) e-mailed and telephoned plaintiff several times at his Illinois residence.
Next, the court considered whetherspecific jurisdiction over the defendant was consistent with constitutional due process considerations.
The due process prong of the personal jurisdiction inquiry focuses on the nature and quality of a foreign litigant’s acts such that it is reasonable and fair to require him to conduct his defense in Illinois.
Factors the court considers are (1) the burden on the defendant to defend in the forum state, (2) the forum’s interest in adjudicating the dispute, (3) the plaintiff’s interest in obtaining effective relief, (4) the interstate judicial system’s interest in obtaining the most efficient resolution of the case, and (5) the shared interests of the several states in advancing fundamental social policies.
Once a plaintiff shows that a defendant purposely directed its activities at the forum state, the burden shifts to the out-of-state defendant to show that litigating in the forum is unreasonable.
The Dixon court held the defendant failed to satisfy this burden and that specific jurisdiction over it was proper.
Next, the Court declined to credit defendant’s Terms & Conditions (“T&C”) – referenced in the Defendant’s on-line registration form and that fixed North Carolina as the site for any litigation.
Generally, one written instrument may incorporate another by reference such that both documents are considered as part of a single contract. However, parties must clearly show an intent to incorporate a second document.
Here, the court found such a clear intent lacking. Defendant did not argue that it sent the T&C to Plaintiff or referenced them in its multiple e-mail and telephone communications with Plaintiff.
The court also pointed out that defendant’s registration form highlighted several of the T&C’s terms. However, none of the featured [T&C] terms on the registration form mentioned the North Carolina venue clause. As a result, the bidder registration form didn’t evince a clear intent to incorporate the T&C into the contract.
A foreign actor’s phone, e-mail and on-line advertisements directed to Illinois residents can meet the specific jurisdiction test;
Where a Terms and Conditions document contains favorable language to a foreign defendant, it should make it plain that the T&C is a separate document and is to be incorporated into the parties’ contract by using distinctive type-face [or a similar method];
If the defendant fails to sufficiently alert the plaintiff to a separate T&C document, especially if the plaintiff is a consumer, the defendant runs the risk of a court refusing to enforce favorable (to defendant) venue or jurisdiction provisions.