Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Summary 2008 WY 153

Summary of Decision issued December 23, 2008

Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Case Name: Meyer v. Hatto; Hatto v. Meyer

Citation: 2008 WY 153

Docket Number: S-07-0223; S-07-0224

Appeal from the District Court of Teton County, the Honorable Dennis L. Sanderson, Judge.

Representing the Meyers: Robert N. Williams and Pamela T. Harvey of Meyer & Williams, Attorneys at Law, PC, Jackson, Wyoming.

Representing Hatto and Sullivan: Mark Diehl Sullivan of Levy Coleman LLP, Jackson, Wyoming.

Facts/Discussion: These two consolidated appeals arise from the dismissal of a complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Meyers reside in Teton County, Wyoming. They own real property in Hawaii. Hatto and Sullivan, partners in the business Design Workshop, reside in Hawaii and were hired to design a residence for the Meyers.

Lack of Evidentiary Hearing: A district court possesses extreme latitude in determining whether personal jurisdiction exists. It may be decided on the basis of pleadings and other materials; it may require discovery; or it may conduct an evidentiary hearing to resolve any apparent factual questions. After reviewing the parties’ briefs and documentary submissions the district court sent a letter imparting its preliminary determination of the pertinent undisputed basic facts. The district court determined there was no dispute as to any material, basic fact. An evidentiary hearing was unnecessary to resolve factual disputes.
Existence of Personal Jurisdiction: Wyoming’s long-arm statute requires three conditions: the defendant must purposefully avail himself of the privilege of acting in Wyoming or of causing important consequences in Wyoming; the cause of action must arise from the consequences in Wyoming of the defendant’s activities; and the activities of the defendant or the consequences of those activities must have a substantial enough connection with Wyoming to make the exercise of jurisdiction reasonable. The constitutional right to exercise personal jurisdiction hinges upon a sufficient contact initiated by the defendant. Affiliations with Wyoming that involve Design Workshop but were instituted by the Meyers do not meet the constitutional minimum. The analysis revolves around the quality and nature and not the quantity of Design Workshop’s contacts. The fact that Design Workshop knew it would have to communicate with people in Wyoming in order to fulfill its contractual obligations does not qualify as purposeful availment of the privilege of doing business in Wyoming.
Submission to Jurisdiction: The Meyers argue that Design Workshop voluntarily submitted itself to jurisdiction in Wyoming by requesting attorneys’ fees and costs. Courts in other jurisdictions have gone both ways on the issue of whether a party submits to personal jurisdiction by filing a motion for attorneys’ fees. The Court concluded that a motion for attorneys’ fees is not an affirmative action that involves personal jurisdiction. Holding otherwise would allow on contracting party to force the other party to subject itself to a foreign jurisdiction or forgo its contractual right to attorneys’ fees. Such a result does not further the parties’ intent, as expressed in the contract, that litigation over the contract be undertaken at the risk of having to pay the successful party’s attorneys’ fees.

Conclusion for Appeal S-07-0223: Design Workshop is a Hawaiian firm hired in Hawaii to design a residence to be built in Hawaii. It did not solicit the contract in Wyoming. Its only connection to Wyoming is through the Meyers. Under the circumstances, the Court found Design Workshop did not purposely avail itself of the privilege of acting in Wyoming. Affirmed.
Conclusion for Appeal S-07-0224: The Meyers ignored the arbitration clause in the Agreement at their own peril. The clause was meant to avoid litigation. The Meyers cannot use their attempt to litigate instead of arbitrate as a shield against the attorneys’ fees and other expenses provision of the arbitration clause. Reversed, remanded.

J. Golden delivered the decision.

Link: http://tinyurl.com/78sr2o.

[SPECIAL NOTE: This opinion uses the "Universal Citation." It was given an "official" citation when it was issued. You should use this citation whenever you cite the opinion, with a P.3d parallel citation. Please note when you look at the opinion that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you pinpoint cite to a quote, you should cite to this paragraph number rather than to any page number. If you need assistance in putting together a citation using the Universal Citation form, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library.]

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