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Andra v. Left Gate Prop. Holding, Inc.

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

February 24, 2015

ISSIAH ANDRA, Appellant,
v.
LEFT GATE PROPERTY HOLDING, INC., Respondent

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APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF ST. LOUIS COUNTY. The Honorable Barbara W. Wallace, Judge.

Andra was represented bye Bryan E. Brody of the Gusdorf Law Firm LLC in St. Louis.

Left Gate was represented by Bharat Varadachari and Katherine E. Jacobi of HeplerBroom LLC in St. Louis.

The attorney general, who filed a brief as a friend of the Court, was represented by Solicitor General James R. Layton and Nathan J. Aquino of the attorney general's office in Jefferson City.

OPINION

Patricia Breckenridge, Judge

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Issiah Andra, a Missouri resident, appeals the circuit court's dismissal of his petition against Texas-based Left Gate Property Holding, Inc., for lack of personal jurisdiction. Mr. Andra contends that the trial court erred in dismissing the petition because Left Gate's conduct falls under Missouri's long-arm statute and Missouri's exercise of personal jurisdiction satisfies the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Mr. Andra maintains that Missouri has jurisdiction over Left Gate because: (1) the nature, quality, and quantity of Left Gate's contacts with Missouri constitute sufficient minimum contacts to establish personal jurisdiction under a traditional analysis of specific personal jurisdiction; (2) Left Gate engaged in sufficient interactive contact with customers through the eBay auction website to establish personal jurisdiction under the specific personal jurisdiction test in Zippo Manufacturing Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F.Supp. 1119 (W.D. Pa. 1997); and, (3) Left Gate had substantial systematic and continuous contacts in Missouri to establish personal jurisdiction under an analysis of general jurisdiction.

The parties do not dispute that Left Gate's conduct satisfies Missouri's long-arm statute. This Court finds that Left Gate purposefully availed itself of the privilege of doing business in Missouri. Left Gates's substantial, long-term business transactions in Missouri as well as its alleged fraudulent misrepresentations, telephone and mail correspondence, and continuing warranty obligations directed toward a Missouri resident establish sufficient minimum contacts with Missouri to satisfy the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, Missouri may assert personal jurisdiction over Left Gate. The circuit court's judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.

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Factual and Procedural Background

On July 15, 2011, Missouri resident Issiah Andra used the eBay auction website to purchase a 2007 GMC Yukon XL Denali from Left Gate Property Holding, Inc., for the total sale price of $32,639.20.[1] Left Gate is headquartered in Texas and has no physical offices, facilities or employees in Missouri. It is the largest eBay vehicle dealership in the world. The dealership operates out of a 17-acre, 50,000-square-foot facility in Stafford, Texas. At any given time, Left Gate has between 1,800 and 2,100 vehicles listed on eBay and is designated as a top-rated seller on eBay.[2]

Left Gate's eBay sales are a substantial portion of its total business, with 35 to 40 percent of its vehicle sales beginning on eBay.[3] To achieve these sales, Left Gate's eBay website targets a national market. Left Gate does not restrict sales to any state or region. As expressly stated on Left Gate's eBay website, it will deliver a car bought on eBay anywhere within the United States. Left Gate does not, however, use any other form of advertising in Missouri to drive potential customers to its eBay website or its specific eBay auctions. While the exact number or total revenue from cars sold to Missouri residents is not known, Missouri vehicle sales account for approximately 0.86 percent of Left Gate's total transactions.

As one of Left Gate's many out-of-state purchasers, Mr. Andra used the customary process to purchase one of Left Gate's vehicles listed on eBay. On July 15, 2011, Mr. Andra reviewed information about the vehicle on eBay from his computer in Humansville. The eBay listing indicated that the vehicle was in excellent condition, had a rear camera, overhead console, rear door pockets, leather and wood steering trim, in-dash six-CD player, remote start, multi-level heated seats, functional navigation system, functional DVD overhead screen, and no history of accidents. The purchase price of the vehicle included one or more warranties. Like many of Left Gate's eBay customers, Mr. Andra agreed to purchase the vehicle by clicking eBay's " Buy It Now" option before speaking to a Left Gate representative.

On the same day he completed his purchase of the vehicle, Mr. Andra spoke on the telephone to a Left Gate employee in Texas who represented that the vehicle was in excellent condition and had received only minor repairs. Soon thereafter, Left Gate mailed the motor vehicle retail installment sales contract[4] and the required federal buyer's guide to Mr. Andra's physical address in Missouri.[5] The purchase order contained a forum selection clause requiring both parties to adjudicate claims in Ft. Bend County, Texas.[6] On July 18,

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2011, Mr. Andra signed the sales contract and buyer's guide at his home in Missouri. Left Gate then called Mr. Andra at his Missouri telephone number to arrange to have the vehicle transported to Missouri, quoting Mr. Andra a price for this service. On July 21, 2011, Left Gate called Mr. Andra to tell him that it had found a transporter and that the vehicle was ready to be transported to Missouri. Mr. Andra received delivery of the vehicle in Missouri on July 28, 2011, and registered the car in Missouri.

Mr. Andra alleges in his petition that the vehicle was delivered missing many of the represented features. Mr. Andra alleges the vehicle did not have a rear camera, overhead console, rear door pockets, leather and wood steering trim, in-dash six-CD player or multi-level heated rear seats. Moreover, despite representations that the vehicle was in excellent condition, Mr. Andra contends the interior cloth was water stained; the dash was scratched; the remote start, heated seats, windshield fluid sprayer, moon roof, and DVD overhead screen did not functioned properly; and the navigational system did not work. Mr. Andra further contends that the vehicle was delivered with mechanical problems, body work problems, and with various dash warning lights illuminated. Additional problems included that the fuel pump made loud noises; the engine was in poor condition; the vehicle made loud noises when changing gears; the upper and lower ball joints were in bad condition; the rack assembly needed to be replaced; the oil pan skid/splash plate was missing; the front wheel hubs popped; the frame was dented; and the service engine light, the service traction control light, and service stabilitrak light were all illuminated upon delivery. Last, despite representations that the vehicle had no history of accidents, the vehicle purportedly had been involved in an accident in 2009.

On July 29, 2011, Mr. Andra contacted Left Gate about these problems. Left Gate told Mr. Andra it would cover the cost of the repairs. A Missouri GMC dealer attempted to repair the vehicle between July 30, 2011, and August 12, 2011. Due to the vehicle subsequently failing a Missouri inspection, the car underwent three additional repairs on August 25, 2011, September 1, 2011, and September 23, 2011. Left Gate again stated it would cover the costs of these additional repairs, as well as associated towing, taxi, and car rental costs. Left Gate subsequently refused to pay for any of the repairs.

On October 26, 2011, Mr. Andra filed suit in the St. Louis County circuit court against Left Gate. He alleged negligent misrepresentation, negligence per se, and violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA), which prohibits:

The act, use or employment by any person of any deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, unfair practice or the concealment, suppression, or omission of any material fact in connection with the sale or advertisement of any merchandise in trade or commerce . . . in or from the state of Missouri[.]

Section 407.020.1, RSMo Supp. 2008. He also claimed a violation of the Magnuson-Moss Federal Trade Commission Act. Left Gate filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, which the circuit court granted. In support of its motion to dismiss, Left Gate attached the deposition of Ed Williams, Left Gate's corporate representative. Mr. Williams ...


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