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Klump v. Duffus

December 18, 1995

LORETTA KLUMP,

PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

J. DAVID DUFFUS, JR., LAW OFFICES OF DIXON, DUFFUS & DOUB, A PARTNERSHIP, AND ACCIDENT AND INJURY REFERRAL SERVICE,

DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

No. 90-C-3772--William D. Stiehl, Chief Judge.

Before CUMMINGS, H. WOOD, JR., and EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judges.

CUMMINGS, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED NOVEMBER 9, 1995

DECIDED DECEMBER 18, 1995

Loretta Klump retained J. David Duffus, Jr., a Greenville, North Carolina lawyer, to represent her in an Illinois lawsuit against the driver of the car that injured her. Mr. Duffus, however, did not file Klump's suit prior to the lapsing of the Illinois Statute of Limitations. *fn1 Klump subsequently sued Duffus, the Law Offices of Dixon, Duffus & Doub, and the Accident and Injury Referral Service *fn2 for legal malpractice. The jury awarded Klump $474,000: the amount it determined that she would have been awarded if Duffus had filed her claim against the driver in a timely manner. The defendants appeal that verdict, claiming inter alia that the district court erred in precluding the introduction of evidence as to Klump's ability to collect the hypothetical judgment. For the reasons discussed below, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case for a new trial.

BACKGROUND

Loretta Klump was injured in an automobile accident that occurred on January 26, 1987, near Troy, Illinois, when her vehicle was struck by a station wagon driven by Curt Eaves. Following the accident, the employment of Klump's husband required that the couple move to North Carolina. While there, Klump retained Duffus to represent her in an Illinois lawsuit against Eaves. Shortly thereafter, Klump and her husband moved to California and then returned to Troy, Illinois, where they still reside. Duffus failed to file Klump's lawsuit prior to the lapsing of the Illinois Statute of Limitations and as a result was sued by Klump for legal malpractice. The defendants admitted liability for all damages that were proximately caused by the automobile accident and Duffus's failure to timely file suit against Eaves.

Prior to trial, the district court granted Klump's motion in limine, deciding that no evidence could be presented to the jury regarding Eaves's ability to pay the hypothetical judgment. Defendants' offer of proof on the issue established that Eaves was unemployed, had no assets with which to satisfy a judgment against him, and had only a $25,000 insurance policy with respect to the accident. The action proceeded to trial on February 14, 1994, and a jury awarded Klump a judgment against the defendants in the amount of $424,000. The defendants appeal that judgment and we have jurisdiction over their appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. sec. 1291.

DISCUSSION

1. Personal Jurisdiction

The defendants initially challenge the judgment below on the ground that the district court did not properly have personal jurisdiction over them. The determination of personal jurisdiction is a question of law that we review de novo. McIlwee v. ADM Indus., Inc., 17 F.3d 222, 223 (7th Cir. 1994). A federal district court exercising diversity jurisdiction has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident "only if a court of the state in which it sits would have such jurisdiction." Wilson v. Humphreys (Cayman) Ltd., 916 F.2d 1239, 1243 (7th Cir. 1990), certiorari denied, 499 U.S. 947.

The Illinois long-arm statute was amended in 1989 to provide that an Illinois court "may . . . exercise jurisdiction on any . . . basis now or hereafter permitted by the Illinois Constitution and the Constitution of the United States." 735 ILCS 5/2-209(c). Paragraph 2-209(c) is now coextensive with the due process requirements of the United States Constitution. FMC v. Varonos, 892 F.2d 1308, 1310 n.5 (7th Cir. 1990). Thus "if the contacts between the defendant and Illinois are sufficient to satisfy the requirements of due process, then the requirements of both the Illinois long-arm statute and the United States Constitution have been met, and no other inquiry is necessary." L.B. Foster Co. v. Railroad Serv., Inc., 734 F. Supp. 818, 822 (N.D. Ill. 1990).

The defendants do not challenge the fact that Duffus's negligence caused harm to Klump. Instead, they focus upon the fact that the action against them is largely based upon Duffus's negligent failure to act, which they argue "occurred" in North Carolina. Therefore, they argue that Duffus committed no tort within Illinois boundaries and cannot be subject to jurisdiction there. In support of this position, they cite Yates v. Muir, 112 Ill.2d 205, 492 N.E.2d 1267 (1986). The court in Yates held that the allegedly negligent action of a Kentucky attorney ...


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