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National Gun Victims Action Council v. Schecter

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

December 5, 2016

NATIONAL GUN VICTIMS ACTION COUNCIL, an Illinois not-for-profit corporation and ELLIOT FINEMAN, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
CLIFFORD D. SCHECTER and LIBERTAS LLC, an Ohio limited liability company, Defendants-Appellees, AARON MINTER a/k/a AARON BLACK, Defendant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 15 L 01798 Honorable Patrick J. Sherlock, Judge Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE CONNORS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Harris and Justice Simon concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          CONNORS PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Plaintiffs, an Illinois resident and an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, appeal the order of the trial court that granted the motion of defendants, an Ohio resident and an Ohio limited liability corporation, to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Plaintiffs contend that sufficient minimum contacts exist to bring defendants within the jurisdiction of Illinois due to the ongoing business relationship between plaintiffs and defendants that was conducted via Internet-based communications and document exchanges. We disagree and find that defendants' contacts with this state are too attenuated. Requiring defendants to litigate here would offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 The lawsuit from which this appeal stems was filed by plaintiffs, National Gun Victims Action Council (Council), an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, and Elliot Fineman, an Illinois resident, against defendants, Clifford D. Schecter, an Ohio resident, Aaron Minter, [1] a New York resident, and Libertas LLC (Libertas), an Ohio-based limited liability corporation. Fineman is the president and CEO of the Council, which is a not-for-profit corporation consisting of a network of gun victims, survivors, the faith community, and others whose purpose is to change the United States's gun laws through the leverage of economic power. Fineman created the Council after his son was shot and killed in 2006. Schecter is the president of Libertas, whose work encompasses public relations and political strategy.

         ¶ 4 We have gleaned the operative facts in this matter from plaintiffs' verified complaint, which was filed on February 20, 2015. In their complaint, plaintiffs alleged that they first came into contact with Schecter in May 2013, when the Council retained Schecter to handle public relations and other media support on a matter unrelated to the event from which this litigation stems. For this unrelated matter, Schecter approached plaintiffs regarding services he could provide. In or around Mary 2014, Fineman approached Schecter to handle public relations for the event at issue here, known as the Kansas City event.[2] Plaintiffs alleged that in June 2014, they orally retained Schecter to handle all the public relations aspects of the Kansas City event for a fee of $3, 500 per month. The Kansas City event was to be a "newsworthy" gathering of people outside the headquarters of Hallmark Cards, Inc. (Hallmark) in Kansas City, Missouri, demanding that Hallmark meet with the Council and other similar organizations to discuss Hallmark's refusal to support and join anti-gun initiatives. It was originally scheduled to take place in August 2014. The complaint stated that Schecter reassured Fineman he could successfully handle all the public relations work, and that he had handled similar events in the past.

         ¶ 5 The complaint alleges that the Kansas City event resulted from Hallmark's unwillingness to meet with the Council and other similarly-aligned entities to discuss its stance on gun laws. In or around April 2014, the Council and these other philosophically similar organizations sent a letter to Hallmark's CEO requesting a meeting to discuss "the disconnect between (a) statements on the Hallmark website regarding concerns for the welfare of families, children, and community, and (b) Hallmark's public statement that it did not intend to be involved with any anti-gun initiatives." After the letter was sent, Fineman had three conversations with Hallmark's vice president of public affairs and communication, during which Fineman was allegedly told that Hallmark did not get involved in "divisive issues, " and that Hallmark would not meet with the Council and others to discuss the issues set forth above. As a result of Hallmark's refusal to meet, the Council called for a boycott of Hallmark products and published free gun violence prevention-focused Father's Day cards on the Council's website, urging people to use those cards instead of Hallmark's cards. Additionally, the Council intended to hold the Kansas City event in order to bring media attention to Hallmark's refusal to meet.

         ¶ 6 After Schecter was allegedly retained to handle the Kansas City event, he and Fineman engaged in email correspondence. The record contains the following email exchanges:

• May 5, 2014: Email from Schecter to Fineman regarding issues unrelated to the Kansas City event;
• June 1, 2014: Email from Fineman to Schecter regarding an op-ed for a boycott of Hallmark products;
• June 4, 2014 Email from Schecter/Libertas to Fineman/the Council regarding Libertas's June invoice for $3, 500;
• June 9, 2014: Email exchange between Fineman and Schecter regarding starting a Hallmark-focused petition and beginning of a discussion of the Kansas City event in which Schecter states:
"If we do Hallmark event, you either need to hire someone to do the whole thing or you need me to do it. If I do it, organizing is a ton of time, as we need a) props b) an organizer on the ground who we have to likely fly in and pay for c) press d) permits taken care ...

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