Williams v. Beemiller, Inc., No. 25

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtChief Judge DiFIORE.
Parties Daniel WILLIAMS et al., Appellants, v. BEEMILLER, INC. Doing Business as Hi-Point, et al., Defendants, Charles Brown, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 25
Decision Date09 May 2019

33 N.Y.3d 523
130 N.E.3d 833
106 N.Y.S.3d 237

Daniel WILLIAMS et al., Appellants,
v.
BEEMILLER, INC.
Doing Business as Hi-Point, et al., Defendants,

Charles Brown, Respondent.

No. 25

Court of Appeals of New York.

May 9, 2019


OPINION OF THE COURT

Chief Judge DiFIORE.

130 N.E.3d 835
106 N.Y.S.3d 239
33 N.Y.3d 526

This case involves the propriety of New York's exercise of

33 N.Y.3d 527

long-arm jurisdiction over defendant Charles Brown, an Ohio firearm merchant who sold a gun to an Ohio resident in Ohio which was subsequently resold on the black market and used in a shooting in New York. We agree with the Appellate Division that, under the circumstances presented in this case, jurisdiction cannot be exercised over Brown under well-established due process precedent because he lacks minimum contacts with this state.

Defendant Charles Brown, a federal firearm licensee, was authorized to sell handguns only in Ohio and only to Ohio residents, which he primarily accomplished through retail sales at gun shows held in various locations in Ohio. Brown did not maintain a website, had no retail store or business telephone listing, and did no advertising of any kind, except by posting a sign at his booth when participating in a gun show. In a series of transactions in 2000, Brown sold handguns to James Nigel Bostic and his associates. Prior to the transaction involving the gun at issue here, Brown consulted with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to ensure its legality. For each transaction, the necessary forms required by the ATF were properly completed and submitted, the purchaser passed the required Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) background check before the firearms were transferred, Brown verified that the purchaser had government-issued identification demonstrating Ohio residency, and notification of the purchases was timely sent to local law enforcement and the ATF as required by the federal Gun Control Act (see 18 USC § 922 ). During the transactions, Bostic indicated he was in the process of becoming a federal firearms licensee and was acquiring inventory for the eventual opening of a gun shop. Instead of opening a shop, Bostic brought the firearms to New York, illegally reselling one of the handguns to a Buffalo gang member. That gang member then used the handgun in a shooting that caused injury to plaintiff.

Plaintiffs commenced this personal injury action against, among others, Beemiller, Inc., an Ohio corporation and federally licensed firearms manufacturer, MKS Supply, Inc., an Ohio corporation and a federally licensed wholesale distributor of firearms, and Brown. Only Brown contested personal jurisdiction. Supreme Court, among other things, initially granted Brown's motion to dismiss the action (2011 N.Y. Slip Op. 34303[U], 2011 WL 13286044 [Sup. Ct., Erie County 2011] ) but the Appellate Division reversed, holding in relevant part that plaintiffs made a

33 N.Y.3d 528

sufficient showing of personal jurisdiction to warrant further disclosure ( 100 A.D.3d 143, 952 N.Y.S.2d 333 [4th Dept. 2012] ). After extensive discovery, Brown moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, again asserting a defense of lack of personal jurisdiction. Supreme Court denied the motion. The Appellate Division reversed, granted the motion for summary judgment, and dismissed the complaint as against Brown ( 159 A.D.3d 148, 72 N.Y.S.3d 276 [4th Dept. 2018] ). Although the Appellate Division credited plaintiffs' argument that jurisdiction could be exercised under CPLR 302, New York's long-arm statute, it nonetheless reversed based on its conclusion that plaintiffs

130 N.E.3d 836
106 N.Y.S.3d 240

failed to establish the requisite minimum contacts under the due process clause. Plaintiffs appealed to this Court as of right on that substantial constitutional question and we now affirm.

When the defense is timely asserted, a New York court may not exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-domiciliary unless two requirements are satisfied: the action is permissible under the long-arm statute ( CPLR 302 ) and the exercise of jurisdiction comports with due process (see LaMarca v. Pak–Mor Mfg. Co. , 95 N.Y.2d 210, 214, 713 N.Y.S.2d 304, 735 N.E.2d 883 [2000] ). If either the statutory or constitutional prerequisite is lacking, the action may not proceed. Due process requires that a nondomiciliary have "certain minimum contacts" with the forum and "that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice" ( International Shoe Co. v. Washington , 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 90 L.Ed. 95 [1945] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted] ). Thus, this constitutional mandate likewise encompasses two requirements and jurisdiction may not be exercised unless both are present.

With respect to due process, "[a] non-domiciliary tortfeasor has minimum contacts with the forum State ... if it purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State" ( LaMarca, 95 N.Y.2d at 216, 713 N.Y.S.2d 304, 735 N.E.2d 883 [internal quotations marks and citations omitted] )," thus invoking the benefits and protections of [the forum state's] laws" ( Hanson v. Denckla , 357 U.S. 235, 253, 78 S.Ct. 1228, 2 L.Ed.2d 1283 [1958] ). This test envisions something more than the "fortuitous circumstance" that a product sold in another state later makes its way into the forum jurisdiction through no marketing or other effort of defendant ( World–Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson , 444 U.S. 286, 295, 100 S.Ct. 559, 62 L.Ed.2d 490 [1980] ; see J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro , 564 U.S. 873, 888–889, 131 S.Ct. 2780, 180 L.Ed.2d 765 [2011] [Breyer, J., concurring] ). Put another way, "the mere likelihood that a product will find its way into the forum" cannot

33 N.Y.3d 529

establish the requisite connection between defendant and the forum "such that [defendant] should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there" ( World–Wide Volkswagen , 444 U.S. at 297, 100 S.Ct. 580 ).

The constitutional inquiry "focuses on ‘the relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation’ " ( Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, Inc. , 465 U.S. 770, 775, 104 S.Ct. 1473, 79 L.Ed.2d 790 [1984], quoting Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186, 204, 97 S.Ct. 2569, 53 L.Ed.2d 683 [1977] ). Significantly, "it is the defendant's conduct that must form the necessary connection with the forum State that is the basis for its jurisdiction" ( Walden v. Fiore , 571 U.S. 277, 285, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 188 L.Ed.2d 12 [2014] ). Thus, the United States Supreme Court has "upheld the assertion of jurisdiction over defendants who have purposefully ‘reach[ed] out beyond’ their State and into another" ( Walden , 571 U.S. at 285, 134 S.Ct. 1115 ; see e.g. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz , 471 U.S. 462, 480, 105 S.Ct. 2174, 85 L.Ed.2d 528 [1985] ), while clarifying that the relationship between defendant and the forum state must arise out of defendant's own contacts with the forum and not "contacts between the plaintiff (or third parties) and the forum State" ( Walden , 571 U.S. at 284, 134 S.Ct. 1115, citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall , 466 U.S. 408, 417, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 80 L.Ed.2d 404 [1984] ; Hanson , 357 U.S. at 253–254, 78 S.Ct. 1228 ; World–Wide Volkswagen , 444 U.S. at 298, 100 S.Ct. 580 ).

106 N.Y.S.3d 241
130 N.E.3d 837

In Walden , the United States Supreme Court held that jurisdiction was not properly exercised where a defendant committed allegedly tortious conduct in Georgia against Nevada residents, despite knowing that the conduct would continue to affect them after their return to Nevada. The Supreme Court explained that, "when viewed through the proper lens—whether the defendant's actions connect him to the forum—[defendant] formed no jurisdictionally relevant contacts with Nevada," because the defendant "never traveled to, conducted activities within, contacted anyone in, or sent anything or anyone to Nevada" ( Walden , 571 U.S. at 289, 134 S.Ct. 1115 [emphasis omitted] ). Ultimately, "[d]ue process requires that a defendant be haled into court in a forum State based on [defendant's] own affiliation with the State, not based on the ‘random, fortuitous, or attenuated’ contacts [defendant] makes by interacting with other persons affiliated with the State" ( Walden , 571 U.S. at 286, 134 S.Ct. 1115, quoting Burger King , 471 U.S. at 475, 105 S.Ct. 2174 ; see Siegel, N.Y. Prac § 88 [6th ed] [observing that the Supreme Court has "tighten[ed] ... the reins on the application of longarm jurisdiction"] ).

Here, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, we agree with the Appellate Division that the

33 N.Y.3d 530

requisite showing of minimum contacts with New York is lacking. In asserting...

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