U.S. Court of Appeals Finds That Wrongful Death Case Belongs in Mexico — Not Illinois

Vanessa Noboa used Orbitz to book and pay for a room at the Barceló Los Cabos Palace Hotel on the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

She signed up for an all-terrain vehicle tour with Rancho Carisuva. During the tour, the all-terrain vehicle overturned and killed Noboa. Her family brought a lawsuit against Rancho Carisuva and Barceló Corporación Empresarial, a Spanish corporation. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The presiding judge granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss for lack of specific personal jurisdiction. Neither of the defendants had personal contact with Illinois.

On appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 7th Circuit in an opinion written by Judge Frank H. Easterbrook, the appeals panel affirmed the district court’s decision dismissing the case. It was held that only intentional contacts by the defendants with the forum state are sufficient to confer specific personal jurisdiction over the defendants and that there were none in this instance.

Judge Easterbrook began the opinion by distinguishing the difference between general and specific personal jurisdiction.

“Neither defendant conducts business in Illinois, nor the executors of Noboa’s estate (the plaintiffs in this lawsuit) concedes that neither defendant is subject to the state’s general jurisdiction. [In diversity suits, state law provides the basis of personal jurisdiction, and Illinois exercises jurisdiction to the limit set by the due process clauses or the Constitution. See 735 ILCS 5/2-209(c).] So plaintiffs rely on specific jurisdiction. See Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations S.A. v. Brown, 131 S.Ct. 2846 (2011) [discussing the difference between general and specific jurisdiction].”

A court may claim general jurisdiction over a foreign corporation, which could be a sister state corporation or a foreign-country corporation when it or its affiliates are so “continuous and systemic” as to render them essentially at home in the forum state.

“Specific jurisdiction, on the other hand, depends on an ‘affiliatio[n] between the forum and the underlying controversy,’ principally, activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum state and is therefore, subject to the state’s regulation.”

The plaintiff argued that her death was connected to Illinois through a causal chain beginning with the use of Orbitz’s website. The trip was booked and paid for from a computer in Illinois. Then Noboa went to Los Cabos, took an offer extended by a different business, had an accident and died. That causal chain suffices for personal jurisdiction in Illinois, plaintiff insisted, even though Rancho Carisuva has no connection at all with Illinois. The district court judge was not persuaded and neither was the court of appeals.

Jurisdiction is conferred by the defendants’ contact with Illinois, not the plaintiff’s, the court explained. Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115 (2014). The Walden case shows that the pertinent question is whether the defendant has links to the jurisdiction in which the suit was filed not whether the plaintiff has such links – or whether the loss flowed through a causal chain from the plaintiff’s contacts with the jurisdiction of suit. Only intentional contacts by the defendant with the forum jurisdiction can support specific jurisdiction. Plaintiffs’ complaint does not allege that Rancho Carisuva, the supposedly culpable party, had any accident-related contacts with Illinois.

In conclusion, the court of appeals stated that the plaintiffs can sue the defendants in Mexico or maybe in Spain, but Illinois is not an available place for this lawsuit. Thus, the dismissal of the lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois was affirmed.

The Estate of Vanessa Noboa v. Barceló Corporación Empresarial S.A., No. 15-2001 (7th Cir. February 4, 2016).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling wrongful death lawsuits, automobile accident cases, truck accident cases, motorcycle accident cases, bicycle accident cases and nursing home abuse cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Blue Island, Bannockburn, Rosemont, Bolingbrook, Romeoville, Joliet, Wheaton, Westchester, Frankfurt, Evanston, Elmhurst and Flossmoor, Ill.

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