Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Shot in the Dark :: eBay Long Arm Jurisdiction

Marschke v Wratislaw, No. 24218 (SD Sup Ct Dec. 5, 2007) is yet another in a long series of eBay jurisdiction cases. In this case, the court asks the eternal question, does a “one shot deal” create sufficient contacts with a forum to sustain a finding of jurisdiction. Plaintiff clearly thought so and therefore took a Shot in the Dark and sued defendant.

Somehow this court’s use of the phrase “one shot deal” gave me the image of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau bungling a purchase on eBay and subsequently blaming entirely the wrong person when the deal goes awry.

This eBay jurisdiction case involves, what else but, a purchase of a car. Plaintiff in South Dakota engaged in a quest to obtain the car-of-his-youth, a Fiat 850 Spider (must have been a good youth!). In April 2005, he found one for sale on that galactic garage sale, eBay, listed by Defendant Wratislaw’s Montana Muscle and Classics. In the ad, Defendant listed his phone number and linked to his website.

Plaintiff, however, did not purchase the car through eBay. Instead, he decided to leave South Dakota, go to Illinois, and call defendant from there. An agreement was made for the transaction, defendant sent a purchase agreement to Plaintiff, Plaintiff signed the agreement while in South Dakota, and Plaintiff arranged for the down deposit to be wired from a bank in Wisconsin to defendant. Plaintiff paid the balance of the car and then “executed the agreement at the office of Montana Muscle” in Montana. The car was shipped by Plaintiff. After receiving the car in South Dakota, plaintiff “decided that it was not in the condition that he expected.”

Plaintiff decided to sue Defendant and decided that South Dakota would be an okay forum in which to sue Defendant.

We’ve been over long arm jurisdiction in previous posts. This is where a court in one state has jurisdiction over a resident of another state. General long arm jurisdiction can occur where there continuous contacts with the court’s state. Specific jurisdiction can occur where there may not be continuous contact, but the cause of action arises from limited contact and the limited contact is sufficient that “assertion of personal jurisdiction does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.’”

Okay, so what we care about is the Internet aspect. Plaintiff based his argument that the court has jurisdiction over defendant in part on defendant’s Internet presence. But then, plaintiff did not actually use the Internet to make the deal; Plaintiff just learned about the availability of the car from the Net - just like one might pick up any advertising magazine that lists cars for sale. And the court had already dealt with Deals on Wheels concluding that such print advertising by itself is insufficient for jurisdiction.

Plaintiff responds, well what about all this other stuff: the negotiations, the mailing of the agreement, and the paying of the money.

The court was not persuaded, concluding in the alternative that this appeared to be a “one shot deal.” The court noted that there were no other contacts of defendant with South Dakota on the record. Indeed, it was Plaintiff that initiated the negotiations (from Illinois). The only contact initiated by defendant with South Dakota was mailing the purchase agreement to Plaintiff there. The Court concludes that this “one shot deal” does not constitute sufficient contact for South Dakota to extend its long arm around Defendant.

Defendant - 1; Plaintiff - 0.

In the immortal words of Inspector Clouseau, “There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them.”

Inspector Clouseau in A Shot in the Dark


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