This was a relatively small case, but it was particularly satisfying because we obtained a complete victory at a very low cost to the client.
Our client lived in Michigan and owned a very high-end motorhome that he wanted to sell. This was no camper shell; it was a motor coach you might expect to see Willie Nelson using for tours. Our client put it up for sale on the Internet, on a Michigan website, and it was soon seen by a prospective buyer in California.
The buyer and our client corresponded many times by email, and eventually agreed on a price. The buyer never traveled to Michigan to see the motor home, but our client had provided innumerable photos. The buyer transferred the funds to our client for the purchase, and arranged for a shipping company to pick up the motor home in Michigan and deliver it to him in California.
The buyer was thrilled with what he received. Over the next year, he sent repeated emails to our client, just to tell him how happy he was with the purchase.
But then a problem developed. Apparently there is a hierarchy in the high-end motor coach world, like you might find among those with private jets. While giving a tour of the motor home to another owner, that person told the buyer that this wasn’t a “real” QR3, but rather was a QR2 with the upgraded kitchen option, giving the appearance that it was a QR3 (I’m just making up these model numbers). And apparently in the motor coach world, owning a QR2 is looked down upon.
This was an outrage to the buyer. He had seen the photos of the kitchen, and that was why he thought he was buying a QR3. He never would have purchased a QR2. Never mind that our client had never represented the motor home was a QR3, or that the buyer had never communicated that he had some special need for a QR3. He argued that our client should have known that someone looking at the upgraded kitchen might think it was the QR3, and he should have warned our client that he was actually buying a QR2.
Utter nonsense, of course, but that did not prevent the buyer from serving our client with a summons for an action in Orange County Superior Court. After using the motorhome for nearly two years, the buyer was claiming fraud and demanding the return of the entire purchase price. The client contacted us, asking us to represent him in the action. He was surprised when we asked only for a small retainer, but I suspected we could dispose of this action pretty quickly.
I brought a motion to quash the summons for lack of personal jurisdiction. Such motions are tough to win, because jurisdiction is very broad. Clearly our client had sold the vehicle to a resident of California, and under normal circumstances that could have subjected him to jurisdiction here. But the key was method of delivery. The buyer had arranged for delivery of the motor home. If our client had shipped the vehicle to California, then likely there would have been jurisdiction because he would have been targeting this State. But since the buyer had traveled to Michigan (through his shipping company) to make the purchase, our client had never directly targeted the state or “availed himself” of the laws of California.
The court agreed, and the case was dismissed.
[UPDATE:] Something made me think of this case, and I wondered if the plaintiff had ever tried again, this time back in Michigan where there would be no problem with jurisdiction. I had assumed the client would call if such was the case, but I wanted to confirm. He was happy to report that after we got the case dismissed in California, the plaintiff took no further action.