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Morris v. Helton

January 5, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


An August 2003 vehicular collision is the genesis of this case. The collision took place in St. Charles County, Missouri. While driving a Jeep Cherokee, Larry Morris (an Illinois citizen) was struck by a Ford dump truck. The truck was operated by Ralph Helton (a Missouri citizen) and owned by MJH Hauling (also a Missouri citizen).*fn1 At that time, MJH was working in Missouri as a subcontractor for Robin Lynne, Inc. ("RLI"), another Missouri citizen.

In July 2005, Morris filed suit against Helton, MJH, and RLI in the Circuit Court of Madison County, Illinois. The complaint alleged that Helton was the agent or employee of MJH or RLI and that his negligence resulted in Morris being extensively injured, disabled, and disfigured.

The action was timely removed to this Court in August 2005. After raising a question on threshold review of the case and requiring Morris to file an amended complaint, the Court determined that subject matter jurisdiction lay under the federal diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

By motions to quash and dismiss filed September 30 and October 7, 2005, all three Defendants challenge this Court's personal jurisdiction (see Docs. 14-1, 14-2, 19). Those motions are fully briefed and come now before the Court for resolution.

Due process limits when a state may exercise personal jurisdiction over nonresident defendants. Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Superior Court of California, 480 U.S. 102, 108 (1987); World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 291 (1980). This limitation permits potential defendants to structure their contacts and plan where their business activities will and will not render them liable to suit.See Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472-73 (1985); World-Wide Volkswagen, 444 U.S. at 297.

In diversity cases, personal jurisdiction may not be exercised over nonresident defendants unless "minimum contacts" have been established between the defendants and the particular state in which the court sits (the forum state). Jennings v. AC HydraulicA/S, 383 F.3d 546, 551 (7th Cir. 2004). In Burger King, 471 U.S. at 474, the Supreme Court emphasized that, notwithstanding modern modes of transportation and communication, "the constitutional touchstone remains whether the defendant purposefully established 'minimum contacts' in the forum State."

Stated another way, a federal court's assertion of personal jurisdiction must comport with "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice," to satisfy the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution. International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). Defendants must have "purposely availed" themselves of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, such that they should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there. World-Wide Volkswagen, 444 U.S. at 297. Defendants may not be forced to defend a suit solely "as a result of random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts" with that state. Burger King, 471 U.S. at 476. In addition to examining whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction squares with federal due process requirements, courts must also ascertain whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction offends state statutory or constitutional limits. The Seventh Circuit has stated: "Three distinct obstacles to personal jurisdiction must generally be examined: 1) state statutory law; 2) state constitutional law; and 3) federal constitutional law." RAR, Inc. v. Turner Diesel, Ltd., 107 F.3d 1272, 1276 (7th Cir. 1997). Accord Jennings, 383 F.3d at 548 ("In diversity cases, such as this one, a federal court must determine if a court of the state in which it sits would have personal jurisdiction over the defendant.... Thus, the jurisdictional inquiry begins with an application of the statutory law of the forum state...").

Here, the Court must consider the Illinois long-arm statute. That statute provides 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). Because the Illinois statute authorizes personal jurisdiction to the constitutional limits, the three inquiries mentioned above collapse into two constitutional inquiries -- one state and one federal.

The Illinois Supreme Court has explained that personal jurisdiction may be asserted "only when it is fair, just, and reasonable to require a nonresident defendant to defend an action in Illinois, considering the quality and nature of the defendant's acts which occur in Illinois or which affect interests located in Illinois." RAR, 107 F.3d at 1276, quoting Rollins v. Ellwood, 565 N.E.2d 1302, 1316 (Ill. 1990).

In the case at bar, as to analysis of state and federal requirements, Plaintiff Morris has not demonstrated that any of the three Defendants has sufficient contacts with Illinois to support the exercise of personal jurisdiction in this forum.

Illinois' long-arm statute lists various kinds of conduct in Illinois which allow the exercise of personal jurisdiction. For instance, commission of a tortious act in Illinois subjects a non-resident defendant to suit within this state. But, here, no tort is alleged to have been committed by any of the Defendants in Illinois.

Another portion of the Illinois long-arm statute, 735 ILCS § 5/2-209(b)(4), provides: A court may exercise jurisdiction in any action arising within ... this State against any ... natural person or corporation doing business within this State.

But the record before this Court does not establish that any of the Defendants was doing ...

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