Sorrells v. R & R Custom Coach Works, Inc.

Decision Date28 April 1994
Docket NumberNo. 91-CA-00538,91-CA-00538
Citation636 So.2d 668
PartiesDon SORRELLS and Bettie Sorrells v. R & R CUSTOM COACH WORKS, INC., d/b/a Suncrest Motor Homes. R & R CUSTOM COACH WORKS, INC., d/b/a Suncrest Motor Homes v. LA MESA RV CENTER, INC.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

J.B. Van Slyke, Jr., Hattiesburg, Barbara Bond Parker, Purvis, for appellant.

Michael V. Ratliff, Ingram Matthews & Stroud, Hattiesburg, for appellee.

Before DAN M. LEE, P.J., and BANKS and JAMES L. ROBERTS, Jr., JJ.

DAN M. LEE, Presiding Justice, for the Court:

This case was appealed from the Lamar County Circuit Court. That court dismissed the complaint of Don Sorrells and Bettie Sorrells against R & R Custom Coach Works, Inc., as well as the third-party complaint of R & R Custom Coach Works, Inc., filed against La Mesa RV Center, Inc., on complex jurisdictional grounds. We affirm, finding that the lower court correctly concluded that an exercise of in personam jurisdiction which comported with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment could not be properly maintained.

By our decision today, we reiterate certain limitations placed upon our long-arm statute, Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 13-3-57 (1972), by the Due Process Clause. We also write to emphasize the requirement that a nonresident defendant do more than merely place its product in the "stream of commerce" before its actions will be deemed "purposefully directed" at Mississippi for purposes of Due Process analysis.

I.

Don Sorrells' occupation required him to travel throughout the United States. His business travel included extensive durations of stay in Texas, California, Nevada, Washington, D.C., Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. Although Don and Bettie Sorrells ("Sorrells") purchased a condominium in Texas, they preserved their home in Mississippi, regarding it as their permanent address.

While on a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, the Sorrells purchased a motor home from La Mesa RV Center, Inc. ("La Mesa"), a Nevada corporation. 1 The motor home had been manufactured by R & R Custom Coach Works, Inc. ("R & R"), a California corporation.

Subsequently, after returning to Mississippi, the Sorrells filed a complaint in the Forrest County Circuit Court naming Suncrest Motor Homes, Inc. ("Suncrest"), R & R, and La Mesa as defendants. 2 The complaint asserted that the Sorrells were Mississippi residents, and it sought damages in the amount of $9,720.00, alleging that La Mesa had sold the Sorrells a defective motor home in Las Vegas, Nevada, which had been manufactured by R & R. 3 In brief, the Sorrells alleged that the motor home was a "lemon" because it had numerous defects. As the basis for their complaint, the Sorrells alleged that La Mesa and/or R & R were culpable because their actions constituted either negligent manufacture and/or breach of express and/or implied warranties.

The two defendants, R & R and La Mesa, initially entered special appearances for the purpose of objecting to personal jurisdiction. It was uncontroverted that neither company was authorized to do business in Mississippi, had never done any business in Mississippi, and had never had any contact with the State of Mississippi.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, or on grounds of forum non conveniens, which was overruled by the Forrest County Circuit Court. Nevertheless, on September 8, 1988, upon joint motion of the Sorrells and La Mesa, the Sorrells' complaint against La Mesa was dismissed with prejudice. Apparently, that motion was made to effectuate the release of La Mesa as a defendant in the lawsuit in compliance with the terms of a release which the Sorrells executed in favor of La Mesa during the pendency of the litigation.

Shortly after La Mesa was dismissed from the case, on January 11, 1989, R & R filed another motion. That motion requested that the order dismissing La Mesa from the lawsuit be set aside so that R & R could state a cross-claim against La Mesa, or in the alternative, that R & R be allowed to bring in La Mesa as a third-party defendant. Simultaneous to the filing of that motion, R & R answered the Sorrells' complaint, asserting affirmative defenses therein, including the lack of personal jurisdiction.

Thereafter, on June 14, 1989, the circuit court granted R & R's motion to bring La Mesa back into the lawsuit as a third-party defendant. R & R promptly filed its third-party complaint against La Mesa, claiming that La Mesa should indemnify R & R against any damages which might be recovered from R & R by the Sorrells. R & R claimed that this right of indemnification arose out of an implied contract or course of conduct between R & R and La Mesa.

Discovery was conducted, and R & R eventually learned that the residence of the Sorrells was located in Lamar County, Mississippi, although the Sorrells had filed their complaint in Forrest County, Mississippi. Based upon the Sorrells' residence, venue was changed to the Lamar County Circuit Court on November 8, 1989.

Unwavering in its contention that personal jurisdiction over it was improper, R & R filed a motion requesting consideration of its previous motion to dismiss which had been overruled. That motion was followed by La Mesa's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. On May 15, 1991, the lower court judge sustained the motions to dismiss the Sorrells' complaint and the third-party complaint of R & R, based upon his findings of lack of personal jurisdiction, and, apparently, because of forum non conveniens.

The Sorrells appealed the dismissal of their complaint against R & R, framing the issue on appeal as follows:

Whether the lower court had in personam jurisdiction and should adjudicate the cause of action under Forum Non Conveniens.

R & R appealed the dismissal of its third-party complaint against La Mesa. The issue presented by R & R was stated as a contingency issue to be considered only if this Court found that the Sorrells' complaint against R & R was incorrectly dismissed--that personal jurisdiction over R & R was proper. That issue is stated as follows:

Whether R & R's third-party complaint against La Mesa, based entirely upon principles of indemnification, was properly dismissed for lack of in personam jurisdiction if the underlying action against R & R (Sorrells' complaint) was improperly dismissed for lack of in personam jurisdiction.

The contingent nature of R & R's appeal makes consideration of the issue submitted by R & R necessary only if the Sorrells' complaint was improperly dismissed by the lower court.

The primary issues presented by the Sorrells for determination are: 1) whether personal jurisdiction over R & R could be obtained under the Mississippi Long-Arm Statute and the requirements of the Due Process Clause; and, 2) whether the exercise of jurisdiction over the case sub judice could be denied under the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

Because we find that the lower court could not properly exercise in personam jurisdiction over R & R, the Sorrells' complaint was correctly dismissed, and we determine it unnecessary to confront the dismissal of R & R's third-party complaint against La Mesa or the issue of forum non conveniens.

II.

WHETHER THE LOWER COURT HAD IN PERSONAM JURISDICTION AND SHOULD ADJUDICATE THE CAUSE OF ACTION.

A.

This Court employs de novo review of jurisdictional questions. In a prior case, we stated that, "[o]ur review of jurisdictional issues is essential de novo: 'In making this determination, this Court is in the same position as the trial court, since all facts are set out in the pleadings or exhibits, and the chancellor may be reversed if he erred whether the error was manifest or not.' " McDaniel v. Ritter, 556 So.2d 303, 308 (Miss.1989) (quoting Miss Cal 204, Ltd. v. Upchurch, 465 So.2d 326, 330 (Miss.1985)).

B.

The exercise of in personam jurisdiction over a nonresident business which is not qualified to do business in Mississippi may be accomplished pursuant to the Mississippi Long-Arm Statute. Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 13-3-57 (1972), as amended. The long-arm statute requires the satisfaction of at least one of its self-contained conditions before it may be utilized. However, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment serves as a limitation on the power of a state's long-arm statute in the exercise of in personam jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 413-14, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 1871-72, 80 L.Ed.2d 404 (1984). One court has succinctly phrased the dual considerations as follows:

There are two components of the state standard. First, the state's long-arm statute, as interpreted by the state courts, must apply. Second, its application in the particular case must comport with the due process requirements of the fourteenth amendment [sic]. Brown [v. Flowers Industries, Inc.], 688 F.2d at 331-32 [ (5th Cir.1982) ]; Terry [v. Raymond International, Inc.], 658 F.2d at 401 [ (5th Cir.1981) ]. Thus, the state standard, in referring to the power of state courts, incorporates elements of both state and federal law.

DeMelo v. Toche Marine, Inc., 711 F.2d 1260, 1264-65 (5th Cir.1983).

The threshold condition for application of the long-arm statute is the requirement that the nonresident corporation, over which personal jurisdiction is sought, is not a corporation qualified to do business in this state.

Once that condition is satisfied, the statute may be properly utilized in three situations: (1) where the nonresident made a contract with a resident of this state to be performed in whole or in part in this state; (2) where the nonresident committed a tort in whole or in part in this state against a resident or nonresident of this state; or (3) where the nonresident did business or performed any character of work or service in this state. Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 13-3-57 (Supp.1992). If the nonresident's conduct can be characterized as fitting any one of the...

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