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Robertsson v. Misetic

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

June 27, 2018

JOAKIM ROBERTSSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
LUKA MISETIC, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 16 L 6663 The Honorable William E. Gomolinski, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE LAVIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Fitzgerald Smith and Howse concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          LAVIN JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff Joakim Robertsson[1] appeals from the circuit court's order dismissing, for lack of personal jurisdiction, his two-count complaint wherein he alleged defamation and false-light invasion of privacy against defendant Luka Misetic. Robertsson now appeals, contending he had sufficient minimum contacts with Illinois to establish personal jurisdiction, or the authority of the circuit court in Illinois to bring Misetic into its adjudicative process. See Campbell v. Acme Insulations, Inc., 2018 IL App (1st) 173051, ¶ 11. For the reasons to follow, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 The following operative facts are taken from the pleadings and documentary evidence presented to the trial court. Misetic, who is a New York resident, was a lead attorney in a case before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (Tribunal); Robertsson, who is a Swedish citizen and resident, was a lead investigator in the case. In 1995 and 1996, Robertsson was assigned to the prosecutor's office for the Tribunal and led an investigation into alleged war crimes and human rights violations by senior leaders of the Croatian government, including general Ante Gotovina. Based in part on this investigation, the prosecutor's office indicted Gotovina on multiple counts. Gotovina retained Misetic as his defense counsel before the Tribunal and, in April 2011, was convicted. Over a year later, in November 2012, however, an appeals panel overturned the conviction.

         ¶ 4 In July 2016, Robertsson filed the present complaint in the circuit court of Cook County, alleging that Misetic was a "citizen of Illinois" who, as part of his legal practice, had a blog called "Misetic Law." He further alleged that in blog postings from 2013 and 2015, Misetic wrote that Robertsson had falsified evidence in the Gotovina trial and should have been criminally prosecuted for obstruction of justice. Robertsson alleged that Misetic drafted and posted these untrue, defamatory attacks from Chicago, Illinois.

         ¶ 5 In count I of Robertsson's complaint, he alleged that Misetic's statements were defamatory per se under Illinois law because they falsely accused Robertsson of professional misconduct and criminal activity, thus injuring his reputation. Count II alleged that Misetic's statements placed Robertsson in a false light to the public. In support, Robertsson attached an Illinois Attorney Registration and Public Disciplinary record search of Misetic, showing that he was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1996, that he maintained an active Illinois law license, and that he had a registered business address at the firm, Squire Patton Boggs, LLP, in New York, New York.

         ¶ 6 Misetic moved to dismiss the complaint, in relevant part, for lack of personal jurisdiction because the allegations in the complaint failed to set forth that he had any systematic and continuous contacts with Illinois. Misetic asserted the case had "no connection" with Illinois in that Robertsson, a Swedish resident, sued Misetic, a New York resident, regarding statements that Misetic "made while in New York about events that occurred before an international criminal tribunal in The Hague, The Netherlands." Misetic argued that he did not reside in Illinois and that his Illinois law license was an insufficient basis for personal jurisdiction. He also asserted that he did not direct the blog post to any Illinois residents, and there was no allegation that Robertsson felt the defamatory effects of the statements in Illinois. Misetic stated that haling him into Illinois courts would offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. In support, Misetic submitted an affidavit, wherein he attested that he was a Florida resident between 2005 and 2012 and he had been a continuous resident of New York since 2012. He had not resided in Illinois or owned any real property in Illinois since 1999, but he was licensed to practice law in both Illinois and New York, and he practiced from his office at Squire Patton Boggs in New York City. Although Misetic had a professional office in Illinois before 2002, he had not maintained one in the state since then. Since 2008, he had represented only one client in Illinois, a California corporation and resident, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. However, because he was not an Illinois resident, or physically present in Illinois, he engaged another attorney to act as his local counsel, and he was no longer counsel in that case. In fact, he had not provided legal services to any resident of Illinois or company headquartered or incorporated in Illinois in the last 10 years. Furthermore, Misetic wrote and posted his blog from New York. Finally, he attested that his blogging was not directed at Illinois or at any Illinois resident, and he was unaware of any connection that Robertsson had with Illinois.

         ¶ 7 Robertsson responded to this motion by claiming that the court had general jurisdiction over Misetic because he was licensed to practice law in Illinois, he based his solo law firm out of Chicago, and had listed a Chicago business address on numerous forms, even as recently as 2015. Robertsson maintained that Misetic had a law office at 207 E. Ohio Street, Suite 217, in Chicago for numerous years and up until 2015, when Misetic moved it to New York. In support, Robertsson attached Misetic's listing in Sullivan's Law Directory between 2009 and 2016, identifying Misetic's Ohio Street address in Chicago, and Misetic's Illinois ARDC lawyer search form, including a certification that Misetic had listed his Chicago address from 2013 to 2015. Robertsson then attached Misetic's appearance form in the Northern District case, referenced in Misetic's affidavit, and also another 2013 appearance form filed in a second case before the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, both of which identified the Chicago address. In addition, Misetic also identified his practice as located in Chicago, according to excerpts from 2014 proceedings in the International Court of Justice. Robertsson asserted that Misetic had continuous and systematic business contacts permitting him to be sued in Illinois.

         ¶ 8 Misetic remained opposed to personal jurisdiction and therefore filed a second supporting affidavit, wherein he attested that he represented Gotovina from December 2005 until November 2012, and his law practice was focused almost exclusively on representing Gotovina before the Tribunal. In fact, the overwhelming majority of his law practice since 2005 was dedicated to serving international clients before the international courts and tribunals. During this period, Misetic and his family lived full-time for several years in the Netherlands. From December 2005 until the present, he did not provide any legal services to an Illinois resident or entity incorporated or headquartered in Illinois. He retained local counsel for his northern district case because he was living in The Hague and not physically present in Illinois. The Seattle case was a pro bono case about The Hague Convention and Child Abduction.

         ¶ 9 Misetic attested that the Ohio Street address in Chicago was a UPS store, with the suite number being his mail box number. He asserted the Chicago mailing address "served only as a place to receive mail in the U.S. without risk of being accused of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in the states where he actually resided but did not hold a bar license." He did not list an address in Florida, in New York, or in the Netherlands as his professional address because he did not want to present the appearance of engaging in the unauthorized law practice. He asserted that he never physically retrieved mail in Chicago. He did not become licensed in New York until May 2014 and was never licensed in either Florida or the Netherlands. Similarly, he used a Chicago telephone, obtained through Vonage, so as to avoid any appearance of an unauthorized legal practice in Florida, New York, or the Netherlands. Misetic likewise argued that a listing in a Chicago phone directory, which did not result in any business transaction, was insufficient to satisfy minimum contacts.

         ¶ 10 In March 2017, the trial court granted Misetic's motion to dismiss, concluding that Robertsson failed to establish that Misetic's Illinois law license, mailbox, or phone number satisfied the minimum contacts needed for general jurisdiction. Likewise, Misetic's alleged statements did not target Robertsson in Illinois, nor could Misetic anticipate that the effect of the statements would be felt in Illinois. As a result, Robertsson also failed to establish specific personal jurisdiction.

         ¶ 11 Robertsson filed a motion to reconsider, which the trial court rejected. This appeal followed with the parties raising ...

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