I just called…to say…that this phone call is insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order denying a special appearance and rendered judgment dismissing the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals’ opinion is important because it reaffirms what the Texas Supreme Court and other intermediate appellate court have consistently held that telephone calls, without more, do not establish personal jurisdiction.

Plaintiff Motorwerks Vehicle Sales, a Texas LLC, purchased a 2016 Bentley automobile from Defendant Star Motors, a Florida limited liability company. Motorwerks sued Star Motors for, among other causes of action, fraud and breach of warranty in connection with the sale of the Bentley due to the alleged condition of the car. The trial court conducted a hearing and denied Star Motors’ special appearance challenging personal jurisdiction.

At trial and on appeal, Motorwerks asserted that Star Motors was subject to personal jurisdiction in Texas because: (1) it had an ongoing business relationship with Motorwerks; (2) it initiated the transaction that formed the basis of the lawsuit by calling and soliciting Motorwerks to purchase the Bentley; and (3) it transmitted the purchase agreement to Texas, where Motorwerks signed it, and Motorwerks took delivery of the Bentley in Texas.

In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals addressed Motorwerks’s suggestion that Star Motors directed a tort at Texas during the parties’ phone call. Specifically, MW Carline argued that Star Motors made itself amenable to personal jurisdiction by calling to solicit Motorwerks’s business and by making misrepresentations or omitting information during the phone call. The Court of Appeals rejected Motorwerks’s argument and reasoned that even presuming that Star Motors made the alleged misrepresentations or omissions, “one or two phone calls to Texas regarding the proposed transaction . . . are simply insufficient to confer specific jurisdiction over Star Motors.”

It is worth noting that the Texas Supreme Court, in Michiana Easy Livin’ Country, Inc. v. Holten, expressly rejected the “directed-a-tort” theory as a basis for establishing personal jurisdiction. Michiana Easy Livin’ Country, Inc. v. Holten, 168 S.W.3d 777, 791 (Tex. 2005). Likewise, Dallas and El Paso appellate courts have consistently held that tortious conduct occurring during telephone calls or in emails to a Texas resident is insufficient to prove purposeful availment. These authorities all illustrate the basis for dismissing the “directed-a-tort” argument—simple knowledge that the effects of a nonresident’s actions will be felt by a Texas plaintiff cannot establish personal jurisdiction over the nonresident. 

Alex Adewunmi: LinkedIn

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