January 31, 2007

Shisler v. Sanfer Sports Cars

by Sean Sirrine

I happened to read this case today as I was doing a bit of out-of-class research on personal jurisdiction for my Civil Procedure class. I have to admit that I think internet litigation is very interesting. Shisler v. Sanford Sports Cars is a very odd case that seems to go against common sense while trying to determine whether or not California has jurisdiction over a car-salesman in Florida. (Shisler v. Sanfer Sports Cars, Inc., H02979, Santa Clara County Super. Ct. No. CV041750):

Plaintiff Bryan Shisler is a California resident. Defendant Sanfer Sports Cars, Inc., is a Florida corporation that maintains its principal place of business in Miami, Florida. Plaintiff sued defendant in California on causes of action arising out of the purchase of a used car that plaintiff saw advertised on defendant’s Web site. The trial court granted defendant’s motion to quash service of summons for lack of personal jurisdiction. We shall affirm.

The reason this case doesn't make any sense revolves around the fact that the precedent it relies on, Pavlovich, doesn't really have anything to do with Shisler. (Pavlovich v.Superior Court (2002) 29 Cal.4th 262.)

Here is some of the language quoted in Shisler from Pavlovich:

If a defendant’s contacts with the forum state are not substantial, continuous, and systematic, the defendant may be subject to specific jurisdiction. “A court may exercise specific jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant only if: (1) ‘the defendant has purposefully availed himself or herself of forum benefits’ [citation]; (2) ‘the “controversy is related to or ‘arises out of’ [the] defendant’s contacts with the forum” ’ [citations]; and (3) ‘ “the assertion of personal jurisdiction would comport with ‘fair play and substantial justice.’ (Pavlovich, supra, 29 Cal.4th at p. 269.)

However, in California, the question as to whether the contacts are "sufficiently substantial, continuous, and systematic" only comes into play when the cause of action is not connected with the "defendant’s business relationship to the forum."

In this case the cause of action is obviously connected with the defendant's business relationship:

When the car arrived in California it was not as plaintiff had expected it to be. Plaintiff communicated with defendant seeking to remedy the problem. When those negotiations failed plaintiff filed this lawsuit. Plaintiff’s complaint alleges violation of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act (Civ. Code, § 1770 et seq.), violation of the Florida Deceptive Trade Practices Act (Fl. Stat., § 501.201 et seq.), and common law fraud and misrepresentation causes of action.

The court then goes on to explain how the web site at issue didn't target California residents and so on, but never discusses the fact that a car was purchased by a California resident and actually delivered to him. In fact, the whole rest of the opinion fails to even discuss the facts found in the case. This case is not about sending files over the internet, it is about a contract for the purchase of a car which was delivered to California. (The court notes that there were at least 10 sales of vehicles from this salesman to California using the web site.)

This is the language used to decide the case:

In evaluating Internet activity for jurisdictional purposes Pavlovich adopted the
sliding scale test: “ ‘At one end of the spectrum are situations where a defendant clearly
does business over the Internet. If the defendant enters into contracts with residents of a
foreign jurisdiction that involve the knowing and repeated transmission of computer files
over the Internet, personal jurisdiction is proper. [Citation.] At the opposite end are
situations where a defendant has simply posted information on an Internet Web site
which is accessible to users in foreign jurisdictions. A passive Web site that does little
more than make information available to those who are interested in it is not grounds for
the exercise [of] personal jurisdiction. [Citation.] The middle ground is occupied by
interactive Web sites where a user can exchange information with the host computer. In
these cases, the exercise of jurisdiction is determined by examining the level of
interactivity and commercial nature of the exchange of information that occurs on the
Web site.’ ” (Pavlovich, supra, 29 Cal.4th at p. 274, quoting Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot
Com, Inc. (W.D.Pa. 1997) 952 F.Supp. 1119, 1124.)


In this case, defendant’s Web site merely advertised its vehicles and (presumably)
included a credit application.

I could understand the opinion if the plaintiff were trying to serve the defendant on an issue not relevant to their transaction, (say a libel claim), but this case is a cut-and-dry example of a situation in which personal jurisdiction should have been found.

I expect we will see this case at the California Supreme Court in the near future.

January 31, 2007 05:04 PM | TrackBack

Someone wrote to me complaining that they couldn't post a comment. Just checking it out.

Posted by: Sean Sirrine at February 5, 2007 02:16 PM

Comments seem to be working, though in the absence of a trackback, I use this comment to direct attention to a response to the above post: Traditional Notions calls "Attention jurisdiction geeks...." to argue against Sean's conclusion.

Posted by: PG at February 6, 2007 02:20 AM
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