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Dixon v. GAA Classic Cars, LLC

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

September 30, 2019

JOHN DIXON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
GAA CLASSIC CARS, LLC, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court Of Cook County. No. 18 L 005429 The Honorable Daniel J. Kubasiak, Judge Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: Craig R. Annuziata, of Fisher & Phillips, LLP of Chicago, for appellant.

          Attorneys for Appellee:Marc C. Smith, of Fox Rothschild LLP., of Chicago, for appellee.

          JUSTICE WALKER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Griffin and Justice Hyman concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 John Dixon sued GAA Classic Cars, LLC (GAA) for fraudulent misrepresentations in connection with the sale of an automobile at an auction livestreamed over the internet from North Carolina. The circuit court granted GAA's motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. We hold Dixon's allegations that GAA sent fraudulent advertisements, emails, and phone calls to Illinois, and made fraudulent misrepresentations on its website, suffice to give Illinois courts personal jurisdiction over GAA. We reverse the circuit court's judgment.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On January 25, 2018, plaintiff John Dixon saw an advertisement posted by GAA on a car-related website. The advertisement listed a 1973 Ford Bronco for sale at auction. Dixon responded to the advertisement by sending an email to GAA requesting more information about the Bronco including how to bid for it. GAA responded with an email to Dixon, inviting Dixon to bid on the Bronco at the auction scheduled for March 2, 2018. GAA's email told Dixon he could participate "via live simulcast bidding or on the telephone via phone bidding." GAA added that Dixon could find more information about the Bronco at GAA's website. Dixon, via email, asked for pictures of the Bronco's engine. GAA again responded by email that it would send him pictures of the engine once GAA received the Bronco from its owner. GAA told Dixon that the auction price for the Bronco should "run around $30,000.00 - $40,000.00."

         ¶ 4 Dixon spoke telephonically with an agent of GAA on February 6, 2018. They discussed registration for the March auction, and the agent offered to email the forms that Dixon needed to return for participation in the auction. In a subsequent phone conversation, GAA reaffirmed the representations it made in the advertisement, that the owner had the Bronco "Frame Off Restored in 2017" with "New Brakes & Tires," and the Bronco was "Garage Kept & Frequently Driven Since Restoration." GAA's agent added that the Bronco was rated "4.5 out of 5." Dixon returned the signed registration form to GAA, and GAA forwarded a photograph of the Bronco via text message to Dixon's cellphone. On February 27, 2018, GAA sent Dixon two photographs of the Bronco's engine.

         ¶ 5 GAA telephoned Dixon on March 2, 2018, at his Illinois telephone number, to obtain Dixon's bids on the Bronco. Dixon watched GAA's simulcast of the auction, and in the simulcast, GAA again said the Bronco was "frame off restored." Dixon bid $37,000 for the Bronco, and he was the highest bidder. GAA emailed a bill of sale to Dixon, along with payment instructions. Dixon hired the shipping transport company GAA recommended to ship the Bronco to Illinois. On March 13, 2018, Dixon received the Bronco, and he immediately recognized that it had significant problems because GAA had misrepresented the Bronco's condition.

         ¶ 6 Dixon had the Bronco towed to a mechanic "well-versed in the repair, building, and restoration of 1973 Ford Broncos." The mechanic determined that the Bronco:

"(1) was not 'frame off restored; (2) was in a mechanically and electrically unsafe condition; (3) contained significant material defects that were purposefully hidden to conceal their discovery and identity; (4) had significant safety issues that were hidden to conceal their discovery and identity; (5) was inoperable and could not have been 'frequently drive[n]' as represented by Defendant; (6) did not have 'new brakes' as represented by Defendant; (7) had a steering stabilizer that was worn out and leaking; (8) did not have an operable heating system; (9) had an illegally oversized right rear drum; (10) had cut electrical wires controlling the turn signal connector, windshield wiper, and interior lights; (11) contained an engine that was not original and had been improperly modified; and (12) was not, by any means, in a condition where it would receive a '4.5/5' rating."

         ¶ 7 In May 2018, Dixon filed a complaint against GAA. The complaint, as amended, alleged negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent misrepresentation, deceptive practices, and fraudulent concealment. GAA filed a motion to dismiss the first amended complaint for lack of jurisdiction. GAA, a North Carolina corporation with its principal place of business in Greensboro, North Carolina, argued it did not have on-going activity in Illinois and never purposely availed itself of the privilege of conducting business in Illinois.

         ¶ 8 The circuit court granted GAA's motion, finding that the circuit court lacked specific personal jurisdiction over GAA because GAA did not have sufficient ...

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