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Todd Ruddy v. Wilmot Mountain

August 12, 2011

TODD RUDDY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILMOT MOUNTAIN, INC., A WISCONSIN CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Todd Ruddy, brought this lawsuit against the defendant, Wilmot Mountain, Inc. ("Wilmot"), for a personal injury that Ruddy received after falling from a chairlift at defendant's ski resort in Wisconsin. Wilmot filed the motion to dismiss now before the Court, challenging personal jurisdiction and claiming improper venue pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(3). Alternatively, Wilmot is seeking to transfer venue to the United States District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1391 and 1404.

Legal Standard

Rule 12(b)(2) states that an action against a party over whom the court lacks jurisdiction must be dismissed. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2). The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction. See, e.g., Cent. States, Southeast & Southwest Areas Pension Fund v. Phencorp Reinsurance Co., 440 F.3d 870, 875 (7th Cir. 2006). The court may look to affidavits and exhibits submitted by the parties to assess the existence of jurisdiction, resolving conflicts in the supporting material in favor of the plaintiff. Purdue Research Foundation v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, S.A., 338 F.3d 773, 782 (7th Cir. 2003). When determining whether the plaintiff has met the burden of establishing jurisdiction, allegations in the complaint are taken as true unless controverted by the defendant's affidavits or exhibits. Id.

Rule 12(b)(3) provides that a party may move to dismiss an action filed in an improper venue. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3). Venue is proper in:

"(1) a judicial district where any defendant resides, if all defendants reside in the same State, (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated, or (3) a judicial district in which any defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction at the time the action is commenced, if there is no district in which the action may otherwise be brought." 28 U.S.C. §1391. "For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

Personal Jurisdiction

In diversity actions, a federal court has personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant only if a court of the state in which the federal court sits would have personal jurisdiction. Dehmlow v. Austin Fireworks, 963 F.2d 941, 945 (7th Cir. 1992). To determine whether an Illinois court would have personal jurisdiction over the defendant involves examining three sources of law: "(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).

Under Illinois law, a court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident through the state's long-arm statute. 735 ILCS 5/2-209. The statute provides for jurisdiction over claims arising out of the enumerated actions, including transacting business in Illinois. See 735 ILCS 5/2-209(a)(1). Personal jurisdiction is also proper against any corporation doing business in Illinois. 735 ILCS 5/2-209(b). The statute contains a catch-all provision authorizing courts to exercise jurisdiction on any basis permitted by the Illinois or federal Constitutions. 735 ILCS 5/2-209(c). Since the Illinois long-arm statute allows personal jurisdiction to the fullest constitutional limit, the three inquiries outlined above "collapse into two constitutional inquiries -- one state and one federal." RAR, 107 F.3d at 1276.

The Illinois Supreme Court has stated that "jurisdiction is to be asserted only when it is fair, just, and reasonable to require a non-resident 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." Rollins v. Ellwood, 141 Ill.2d 244, 565 N.E.2d 1302, 1316, 152 Ill. Dec. 384 (1990). Although the Illinois Supreme Court in Rollins v. Ellwood cautioned that the state and federal standards for due process might not be identical, the Seventh Circuit has opined that "there is no operative difference between the limits imposed by the Illinois Constitution and the federal limitations on personal jurisdiction." Hyatt Int'l Corp. v. Coco, 302 F.3d 707, 715 (7th Cir. 2003). Thus, only a single assessment of due process is required.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal constitution permits a court to exercise jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant only if the defendant has "certain minimum contacts with [the state] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 90 L.Ed. 95, 66 S.Ct. 154 (1954)(quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463, 85 L.Ed. 278, 61 S. Ct. 339 (1940)). There are two types of personal jurisdiction: specific and general. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414-416, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 80 L.Ed.2d 404 (1984). Specific jurisdiction is limited to situations where the controversy arises out of or relates to the defendant's forum contacts. Id. Here, specific jurisdiction is inapplicable because the injury and claim of negligence arise from plaintiff's presence at the ski resort and not from any advertising that defendant may have done in Illinois. Thus, this Court will focus on whether it may exercise general personal jurisdiction over Wilmot. General jurisdiction exists where the defendant has "continuous and systematic" contacts with the forum state. Id. at 416. If the requisite level of forum contacts exist, "the court may exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant even in cases that do not arise out of and are not related to the defendant's forum contacts." Hyatt, 302 F.3d at 713.

The complaint alleges that Wilmot is a Wisconsin corporation with its principal place of business in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. Plaintiff alleges that venue is proper in the Northern District of Illinois because Wilmot is doing business in Illinois. Defendant denies that it is doing business in Illinois and asserts that no personal jurisdiction lies in Illinois because its only offices are in Wisconsin, its registered agent is in Wisconsin, and all of its business is in Wisconsin.

The Illinois courts have held that general jurisdiction based on "doing business" in Illinois is a high standard and generally means "conducting business in Illinois of such character and extent that it may be inferred that the defendant has subjected itself to the jurisdiction and laws of this state and is bound to appear when properly served." Reimer v. KSL Recreation Corp., 348 Ill. App. 3d 26, 35, 807 N.E.2d 1004, 1011, 283 Ill. Dec. 163 (2004).

In opposition to the motion, plaintiff submitted exhibits including printouts from the Wilmot Mountain website and defendant's answers to ...


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