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Missouri Law Blog Legal updates, news, and commentary from the attorneys of Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice LLC

The Missouri "Long-Arm" Statute and Fraudulent Conduct by an Out-of-State Defendant

September 18, 2018 | Noemi Donovan

The Missouri long-arm statute provides that an out-of-state defendant can be subject to personal jurisdiction in Missouri when it commits a tortious act within Missouri. See R.S.Mo. §506.500.1(3). The issue of what constitutes a tortious act within Missouri is not always evident, especially when a defendant solely acted outside of the state. A recent case decided by the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District squarely addressed the issue of when alleged out-of-state tortious acts give rise to long-arm jurisdiction in Missouri. In Good World Deals, LLC v. Gallagher, et al., the court held that letters or telephone calls containing fraudulent representations from an out-of-state defendant to a Missouri resident are sufficient to subject the out-of-state defendant to long-arm jurisdiction in Missouri under its tortious act provision.

 In Good World, the plaintiff appealed the trial court’s finding that defendant Xcess was not subject to personal jurisdiction in Missouri. Good World, a Missouri limited liability company located in Kansas City, received an email from Xcess, an Ohio limited liability company with its principal place of business in Wooster, Ohio, regarding merchandise that Xcess had for sale. 

Following the email, defendant Gallagher, on behalf of Xcess, and Good World engaged in telephone communications and text messages regarding the merchandise. Xcess represented that it had approximately 1,500 Xbox games and 200 Fitbits to offer, among other items, and that the items were overstock and could have damaged boxes. Good World informed Xcess it was interested in the merchandise because of the Xbox games and Fitbits. Following an agreement on the price, Good World arranged its own shipping and picked up the merchandise in Ohio.

Upon receipt of the merchandise and after discovering that there were fewer than 700 Xbox games, no Fitbits and many boxes were empty or contained broken items, Good World notified Xcess that the goods were nonconforming and gave them the opportunity to cure. When Xcess refused, Good World filed suit, alleging misrepresentation and breach of contract.

Xcess moved to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming it was not subject to personal jurisdiction in Missouri. The circuit court agreed. The Missouri Court of Appeals, however, reversed and remanded after employing a two-step analysis to determine if personal jurisdiction existed over Xcess. First, it examined whether Xcess’ conduct satisfied the Missouri long-arm statute and, once it determined that it did, it examined whether Xcess had sufficient minimum contacts with Missouri such that asserting personal jurisdiction over it comports with the principles of due process.

The Missouri long-arm statute vests jurisdiction in the Missouri courts when a defendant personally transacts business, makes a contract, or commits a tortious act in the state. See R.S.Mo. §506.500.1(1)-(3). It provides in relevant part as follows:

Any person or firm, whether or not a citizen or resident of this state, or any corporation, who in person or through an agent does any of the acts enumerated in this section, thereby submits such person, firm, or corporation, and, if an individual, his personal representative, to the jurisdiction of the courts of this state as to any cause of action arising from the doing of any of such acts:

(1)   The transaction of any business within this state;

(2)   The making of any contract within this state;

(3)   The commission of a tortious act within this state.

Id.

Plaintiff claimed that personal jurisdiction existed over Xcess because it transacted business within Missouri, it entered into a contract in Missouri and it committed a tortious act within Missouri. Because the conduct of Xcess only needed to satisfy one of these subdivisions, the appellate court found that Good World sufficiently alleged that Xcess committed a tortious act, i.e. making false and material misrepresentations about the conformity of the merchandise, within Missouri. Since it was dispositive, the court only addressed the tortious act provision of the long-arm statute.

While Xcess denied any tortious act, it also argued that if there were alleged misrepresentations, they occurred in Ohio and not in Missouri. The Good World court therefore was faced with the issue of what constitutes the commission of a tort “within the state” for purposes of the long-arm statute. In analyzing this issue, the Good World court rejected Xcess’ argument that any such acts did not occur in Missouri because of well-established precedent holding that “‘[e]xtraterritorial acts that produce consequences in the state’ such as fraud, are subsumed under the tortious act section of the long-arm statute.” Because Good World alleged fraudulent acts of Xcess that created consequences in Missouri, the long-arm statute was satisfied and Missouri courts could exercise jurisdiction over Xcess. 

Having decided that the long-arm statute was satisfied, the court turned to the second prong of the analysis, which is whether Xcess had sufficient minimum contacts with Missouri such that asserting personal jurisdiction over it comports with due process. The court recognized that the focus of such an evaluation is “whether ‘there be some act by which the defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws.’” The Court of Appeals held that plaintiff established Xcess purposefully engaged plaintiff in Missouri through emails, text messages and phone calls which contained misrepresentations about the merchandise. Citing the Missouri Supreme Court’s earlier ruling in Bryant v. Smith Interior Design Grp., Inc. 310 S.W.3d 227, 235 (Mo. banc 2010), the Court reasoned that when the actual content of communications in a forum gives rise to intentional tort causes of action, i.e. when the communications contain fraudulent content, there is purposeful availment. 

The Good World holding does not limit Missouri precedent holding that communications from an out-of-state defendant to a Missouri resident alone do not amount to transacting business in the state for purposes of the long-arm statute. To the contrary, the court did not address whether Xcess transacted business in Missouri. Instead, this holding is limited to cases in which a plaintiff alleges that an out-of-state defendant sent communications into Missouri that were false and misleading, therefore satisfying the tortious act section of the Missouri long-arm statute. 

Related Services: Commercial

Attorneys: Noemi Donovan

Enactment of Senate Bill 608 Affords Missouri Businesses Greater Protection

August 31, 2018 | Kara Stubbs

Governor Parson has signed Senate Bill 608, which enacts three new sections relating to civil liability due to criminal conduct. The Bill affords Missouri business owners greater protection against liability for criminal conduct that occurs on their property. 

Senate Bill 608 repealed part of Section 537.349, RSMo, which provided that a person or business owner could not be found liable for the injury or death of a trespasser if the trespasser is substantially impaired by alcohol or an illegal controlled substance, unless the person or business owner acted with negligence or willful and wanton conduct. Under the revised law, negligence is no longer a basis for liability. Now, a person or business owner may only be liable if their willful and wanton misconduct was the proximate cause of the injury or death of the substantially impaired trespasser.

Senate Bill 608 also creates what is referred to as “The Business Premises Act”, which is comprised of Sections 537.785 and 537.787, RSMo. The Act creates safeguards to businesses for third-party crimes out of the business’s control. It provides that there is no duty to guard against unpreventable criminal and harmful acts of third parties that occur on the business premises unless the business knows or has reason to know that such acts are being committed or are reasonably likely to be committed. The Act codifies three affirmative defenses available to a premises owner, should a duty be found to exist under the Act. The business will not be liable:

  1. if the business has implemented reasonable security measures;
  2. the claimant was on the premises and was a trespasser, attempting to commit a felony, or engaged in the commission of a felony; or
  3. the criminal acts or harmful acts occurred while the business was closed to the public.  

The Act also provides that evidence of subsequent action taken by a business to provide protection to persons shall not be admissible in evidence to show negligence or to establish feasibility of the security measure.  This is consistent with a wide body of Missouri law on subsequent remedial measures. In addition, the Act expressly states that all immunities and defenses to liability available to a business under Missouri law are unaffected, and it shall not be construed to create of increase the liability of a business.  

The safeguards created by Section 537.349, RSMo and the Act provide clarification of the duty of businesses when third-party crimes occur on business premises and the applicable affirmative defenses, neither of which was clear under Missouri case law. We will closely follow the body of case law that develops around this statutory framework, and are optimistic that the intent of Senate Bill 608 will be realized.

The full text of SB 608, and the cited statutory provisions may be found here.

Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District Judges Disagree Regarding Substantial Compliance and Affidavit of Merit Statute in Med Mal Case

August 6, 2018 | John Mahon, Jr. and Rebecca Christensen

In Ferder v. Scott, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District (opinion authored by Judge Robert G. Dowd, Jr.), reversed a trial court’s dismissal of a medical malpractice lawsuit for failure to comply with the affidavit of merit requirement in § 538.225, RSMo.  The appellate court held the plaintiff’s affidavit, which complied with the statute in every way except that it combined related defendants into a single affidavit, substantially complied with the statute and was sufficient to avoid dismissal.   

The plaintiff sued three defendants (a doctor, the doctor’s practice group, and a hospital) but filed only a single affidavit as to all defendants.  The plaintiff’s claims against the corporate defendants were premised solely on vicarious liability for the doctor’s conduct as an alleged employee.  The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her claim against the hospital.  Later, the two remaining defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds that the single affidavit was deficient because it did not strictly comply with the mandatory language contained in § 538.225.4, RSMo, which states: “A separate affidavit shall be filed for each defendant named in the petition . . . .”  The trial court agreed and dismissed the case, without prejudice, pursuant to § 538.225.6.  The plaintiff appealed.  

On appeal, the plaintiff conceded the affidavit was technically deficient and did not strictly comply with the statute because there was only one affidavit and not three separate affidavits.  However, plaintiff argued she substantially complied with the statute because the affidavit was otherwise compliant and timely and verified her claims were not frivolous.  She also argued that because the doctor was an employee of the practice group and because she alleged only a vicarious liability claim against the group, the substance of her single affidavit satisfied the purpose and intent of the statute with respect to both defendants.  In other words, the affidavit complied in all substantive ways but not in form, and a separate affidavit for the group would have been nothing more than a duplicate of the one already filed with no additional information.    

The appellate court reviewed Missouri case law analyzing § 538.225.  The court acknowledged no Missouri court had ever found substantial compliance with the affidavit statute, but Missouri courts had not foreclosed the possibility that a plaintiff could survive a motion to dismiss through substantial compliance under a certain situation.  The court found the plaintiff’s case, under its own unique set of facts, presented that situation.  The court distinguished the various Missouri appellate decisions rejecting substantial compliance arguments as factually dissimilar in that the plaintiffs in those cases failed to file a timely affidavit.  Thus, the court reversed and remanded to the trial court.   

Judge Kurt Odenwald authored a dissent in which he expressed sympathy towards the plaintiff’s position, and agreed the affidavit substantially complied with the statute. But he did not believe the court had the discretion to disregard the express directive of the statute and make a finding of substantial compliance.  That is because the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, and Missouri law permits substantial compliance with a statute only under a statutory directive to construe a statute liberally or under a statute that expressly allows for substantial compliance, neither of which was present.  Further, construing the statute to permit only one affidavit would necessarily render section 538.225.4 meaningless, and Missouri courts are not permitted to interpret a statute in a way that renders any portion meaningless.  Without a direct mandate from the Supreme Court of Missouri, Judge Odenwald was unwilling to diverge from the express language of the statute and thus dissented.       

On July 11, 2018, the defendants filed an Application for Transfer to the Supreme Court of Missouri asking the Court to address the conflict between the appellate court’s novel application of the substantial compliance theory to § 538.225 on the one hand, and the legislative intent of the statute, and all prior Missouri appellate decisions, including one Supreme Court decision, on the other.  The defendants also argue that the ruling destroys the bright-line nature of the statute and creates a test that will inevitably lead to vastly different applications and inconsistent opinions that will cause confusion among the courts and parties.  The application is currently pending. 

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About Missouri Law Blog

The BSCR Missouri Law Blog examines significant developments, trends and changes in Missouri law on a broad range of topics of interest to Missouri practitioners and attorneys and businesses with disputes subject to Missouri law. Learn more about the editor, David Eisenberg.

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