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Lawson v. Simmons Sporting Goods, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

January 25, 2017




          Gibson & Keith, PLLC, by: Paul W. Keith, for appellant.

          Hudson, Potts & Bernstein, LLP, by: G. Adam Cossey¸ for appellee.

          MIKE MURPHY, Judge

         Appellant Carolyn Lawson ("Lawson") appeals from the Ashley County Circuit Court's order granting appellee Simmons Sporting Goods, Inc.'s ("Simmons") motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. On appeal, Lawson contends that Simmons's contacts with Arkansas are sufficient to subject it to personal jurisdiction in Arkansas. We agree and therefore reverse and remand.

         This lawsuit stems from a premises-liability suit. The relevant parties are Lawson and Simmons. Lawson is a resident of Ashley County, Arkansas. Simmons operates a retail sporting-goods store located in Bastrop, Louisiana. This is the corporation's only store, and it has never operated a store in Arkansas. It is a Louisiana corporation with its principal place of business, registered office, and registered agent in Bastrop, Louisiana. The corporation has only two shareholders, both of whom are Louisiana residents.

         Notably, however, Simmons advertises in Arkansas to draw Arkansas residents to its store. Its advertising efforts include inserting promotional catalogs and display ads into various Arkansas newspapers, running promotional ads on television, and running ads online with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The advertisements state that customers can get the same deals by "shopping from home" on its website. Of particular interest, Simmons hosts a "Big Buck Contest" in which the store awards a prize for the largest deer harvested in Arkansas. To qualify, one must bring the deer to the store in Louisiana and must live within 200 miles of Bastrop, Louisiana.

         On August 3, 2013, Lawson traveled from her home in Arkansas to the Simmons store in Louisiana to shop at the "Annual Tent Sale" event. Upon entering the store, she fell on a rug located in the foyer and broke her arm. Lawson filed suit against Simmons in the Ashley County Circuit Court seeking damages for her pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses associated with care and treatment of the injuries sustained, and current and future restrictions upon her activities imposed by her injuries. In response, Simmons filed its motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. A hearing was held on the matter, and the court issued an order granting the motion to dismiss. From that order, Lawson has timely appealed and presents one issue: the circuit court erred in granting Simmons's motion to dismiss based on personal jurisdiction.

         When matters outside the pleadings are presented and not excluded by the circuit court in connection with a Rule 12(b) motion, we treat the motion as one for summary judgment. Ark. R. Civ. P. 12(b); Hotfoot Logistics, LLC v. Shipping Point Mktg., Inc., 2013 Ark. 130, at 4, 426 S.W.3d 448, 451. The circuit court's order of dismissal states that the court's findings were based on "the facts, law, record, briefs, and arguments of counsel." Because it is clear to this court that the circuit court considered exhibits outside the pleadings in making its ruling, the court's dismissal is converted to one for summary judgment.

         The law is well settled regarding the standard of review used by this court in reviewing a grant of summary judgment. Hotfoot Logistics, LLC v. Shipping Point Mktg., Inc., 2014 Ark. 460, at 4, 447 S.W.3d 592, 595. A circuit court will grant summary judgment only when it is apparent that no genuine issues of material fact exist requiring litigation and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. The burden of proof shifts to the opposing party once the moving party establishes a prima facie entitlement to summary judgment, and the opposing party must demonstrate the existence of a material issue of fact. Id. This court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion was filed, resolving all doubts and inferences against the moving party. Id. After reviewing the undisputed facts, the circuit court should deny summary judgment if, under the evidence, reasonable minds might reach different conclusions from the same undisputed facts. Id. This review is not limited to the pleadings but also includes the affidavits and other documents filed by the parties. Id.

         Here, there are no disputed facts as the parties agree on the essential facts surrounding Simmons's contacts with Arkansas. Thus, the question before this court is not whether there were material facts in dispute concerning Simmons's contacts with Arkansas, but whether the facts asserted form a sufficient basis to subject Simmons to the personal jurisdiction of Arkansas courts as a matter of law. Because this is an issue of law, our review is de novo. Pritchett v. Evans, 2013 Ark.App. 679, at 4, 430 S.W.3d 223, 226.

         Lawson contends that personal jurisdiction over Simmons exists. We begin our analysis with our long-arm statute, which provides in pertinent part, "The courts of this state shall have personal jurisdiction of all persons, and all causes of action or claims for relief, to the maximum extent permitted by the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution." Ark. Code Ann. § 16-4-101(b) (Repl. 2010).

         Accordingly, "the exercise of personal jurisdiction is limited only by federal constitutional law." Hotfoot, 2014 Ark. 460, at 5, 447 S.W.3d at 595. In accordance with the statute, we look to the Fourteenth Amendment due-process jurisprudence when deciding an issue of personal jurisdiction. Id. The seminal case on personal jurisdiction and the Due Process Clause is International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945). International Shoe provides that state courts may exercise personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant who has "certain minimum contacts with [the State] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 923 ...

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