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Prof. Group Travel v. Prof. Sem. Cons.

OPINION FILED MAY 21, 1985.

PROFESSIONAL GROUP TRAVEL, LTD., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

PROFESSIONAL SEMINAR CONSULTANTS, INC. ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County; the Hon. John S. Teschner, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE LINDBERG DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

JUSTICE LINDBERG delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiffs, Professional Group Travel, Ltd. (PGT), and International Professional Meeting Coordinators, Limited (IPMC), appeal from an order of the circuit court of Du Page County which granted the motion of defendants Professional Seminar Consultants, Inc. (PSC), and Marvin E. Weisberg (Weisberg) to dismiss this cause based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Defendants have filed a cross-appeal, citing as error the trial court's denial of their motion to dismiss for lack of in personam jurisdiction. Because we find that personal jurisdiction was lacking, we reverse the order of the trial court denying defendants' motion which was filed on that basis. As this disposition makes unnecessary our consideration of the forum non conveniens issue, we vacate the trial court's order dismissing this cause which was based on the availability of a more appropriate forum.

PGT and IPMC are, respectively, a New York corporation and a New York based subsidiary of a New York corporation engaged in the business of providing travel and related services to medical professionals attending seminars and medical education programs. PSC and Weisberg are, respectively, a New York corporation engaged in the same business as are PGT and IPMC, and a New York resident who is the president of PSC.

As part of their business, plaintiffs enter into contracts with sponsoring organizations to cooperate in the presentation of seminars and programs. Certain of these sponsoring organizations, comprised of profit and nonprofit membership organizations, are certified by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (Accreditation Council) as a provider of Continuing Medical Education (CME), which allows such organizations to certify CME credits and/or attendance for seminars and medical education programs.

In 1980, PGT entered into agreements with Doctors' Club, Inc. (DC), and the Doctors' Club, International, Inc. (DCI), to cooperate in the presentation of seminars and continuing medical education programs abroad. DC is a Florida corporation with offices in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and DCI is a Delaware corporation with offices in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Oceanside, New York. Subsequently, IPMC entered into similar agreements with DC and DCI. DC was certified by the Accreditation Council as a provider of CME.

On October 4, 1982, PSC filed a complaint against DC and DCI in Broward County, Florida (Florida lawsuit), alleging deceptive trade practices by DC and DCI. On July 15, 1983, defendants here (PSC and Weisberg) entered into a stipulation and agreement (Florida agreement) with DC, DCI, and Dr. Mauricio De Almeida, a resident of Florida and president of DC and DCI, to settle the Florida lawsuit. Pursuant to the Florida agreement, De Almeida sent several letters, one of which was addressed to Frances Maitland (Maitland), the assistant secretary to the Accreditation Council in Lake Bluff, Illinois, and which plaintiff alleged was sent by or at the direction of defendants containing false and defamatory statements about plaintiffs. Another letter was sent pursuant to the Florida agreement by De Almeida to the Postmaster of the Oceanside Post Office in Oceanside, New York, copies of which were also sent by De Almeida to postal officials at United States Post Offices in Brooklyn and Rockville Center, New York and in Washington, D.C.

In the letter to Maitland, De Almeida complained that plaintiffs had been sending out promotional brochures advertising professional courses and medical seminars that used DC's and DCI's names and DCI's nonprofit postal permit without the knowledge, consent, or authorization of DC or DCI. De Almeida further stated that although the brochures claimed that the courses and seminars had been accredited for CME by DC and DCI, in fact no accreditation had been given to plaintiffs by DC or DCI. De Almeida's letter to the postal authorities similarly complained that hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs' promotional brochures had been mailed using DCI's nonprofit postal permit without authorization. Both letters apparently were based on De Almeida's sworn testimony in the Florida lawsuit.

On December 27, 1983, plaintiffs filed a complaint in the circuit court of Du Page County seeking injunctive relief and damages from defendants for defamation based upon the letters sent by De Almeida. In response to the complaint, defendants filed a special appearance and motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Defendants argued that since the complaint failed to allege that either of the defendants engaged in any act in person or through an agent in Illinois, there was no basis for personal jurisdiction over defendants. After hearing argument, the trial court denied defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Thereafter, defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds of forum non conveniens, based on the proposition that another forum, New York, better served the convenience of the parties and the ends of justice. After hearing argument, the trial court also denied that motion.

Both parties thereafter sought and were granted leave to supplement the record with certain affidavits. Defendants introduced the affidavit of Weisberg, president of PSC, wherein he stated neither he nor his corporation entered into an agreement with De Almeida the intent or effect of which was to authorize De Almeida to act as defendants' agent. On the basis of this new information before the trial court, defendants renewed their motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and on the ground of forum non conveniens. After hearing argument, the trial court on April 12, 1984, denied defendants' renewed motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, but granted defendants' renewed motion to dismiss on the ground of forum non conveniens and therefore dismissed this action. On May 9, 1984, plaintiffs filed a timely notice of appeal from the trial court's order granting defendants' motion to dismiss on the ground of forum non conveniens and defendants thereafter filed a timely cross-appeal from the court's order denying their motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

In their cross-appeal, defendants argue that the trial court erred in denying their motion to dismiss plaintiffs' cause of action based upon the absence of in personam jurisdiction. Defendants predicated their motion on the Illinois long-arm statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 2-209(a)(2)), which provides:

"(a) Any person, whether or not a citizen or resident of this State, who in person or through an agent does any of the acts hereinafter enumerated, thereby submits such person, and, if an individual, his or her personal representative, to the jurisdiction of the courts of this State as to any cause of action arising from the doing of any of such acts:

(2) The commission of a tortious act within this ...


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