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Geoff Trachtenberg
Geoff Trachtenberg
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No Personal Jurisdiction Over Across-the-Border Bar That Overserves Patron Killing Arizona Pedestrian

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Interesting and disappointing personal jurisdiction memo opinion from Division One, Womack v. KC Arena. In short, KC operates a bar on the Nevada side of the Arizona-Nevada border, over served a patron who then drove across the state line and killed an Arizona pedestrian. Moreover, plaintiffs asserted that KC employees knew the patron lived in Bullhead City and that he would return there after he left the facility.

KC filed a motion to dismiss based upon a lack of personal jurisdiction. The plaintiffs opposed the motion, asserted general and specific personal jurisdiction, and (smartly) requested the opportunity to conduct discovery on the issue of personal jurisdiction. The trial court, however, granted KC’s motion and Division One affirmed!

General personal jurisdiction over any claim against a defendant arises when the defendant has “substantial” or “continuous and systematic” contacts with the state. Though the record contained evidence that KC (1) advertises on television broadcasts in Arizona; (2) lists its establishment in various Arizona telephone directories; (3) employs Arizona residents; and (4) maintained an interactive website that has a “chat room” and solicits email, the Court of Appeals determined that these contacts were insufficient for general personal jurisdiction (they claimed to ignore the website since it was not, apparently, raised in the trial court).

Specific personal jurisdiction over a related claim against a defendant arises when (1) the defendant performed some act or consummated some transaction with the state by which it “purposefully availed” itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum state; (2) the claim “arises out of or relates to” the defendant’s forum-related activities; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction would be reasonable. KC argued that there was not a sufficient nexus between the plaintiffs’ claim and KC’s contacts with Arizona – namely, its local television advertising and telephone directory listings – to support the exercise of specific jurisdiction because those contacts are unrelated to the events giving rise to the plaintiffs’ claims. The Court essentially agreed, focusing particularly on the fact that the events giving rise to the liability occurred in Nevada and that the location of the “injury causing event” in Arizona was irrelevant.

The Court also affirmed the trial court’s exercise of discretion in denying the plaintiffs an opportunity to conduct discovery because, in essence, the Court concluded that the additional discovery would not have made a difference in the analysis. Don’t you love that kind of logic – speculating on the outcome of the appeal based upon discovery that was not allowed?

Personally, Judge Barker’s concurrence makes the most sense to me:

KC runs a bar that is immediately across the river from Arizona. Certainly, the business of the bar, and plaintiffs’ claim, “relate[] to” the steady stream of patrons that come to the bar from Arizona and re-enter Arizona after frequenting the bar’s premises. KC chose to locate its bar in that location. It initiated those contacts. It should not be jurisdictionally immune from the impact that it is having on Arizona residents when it sends intoxicated drivers onto Arizona highways.

But, alas, it is so immune.