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AL: No Personal Jurisdiction for an Arkansas Attorney

Elliott v. Van Kleef, 830 So.2d 726 (2002).

AL: Underlying personal injury action

Student Contributor: Farah Shahidpour

Facts: Client was injured when he was exposed to hazardous chemicals while working in Arkansas. Client hired an Alabama attorney to represent him in a personal injury action in Arkansas. Attorney was not licensed to practice law in Arkansas, so he contacted an Arkansas Attorney by telephone and requested that he serve as local counsel in Arkansas. This action was voluntarily dismissed. Attorney filed a second action, arising from the same injury. This action was involuntarily dismissed because Attorney allegedly failed to serve the defendant in that action within the time allowed by the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure. Client filed an action under the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act §6-5-570 in the Jefferson Circuit Court alleging that the Attorney failed to properly represent him in a personal-injury action filed in Arkansas, resulting in the action being dismissed with prejudice. Attorney made a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Client appeals, stressing his belief that Arkansas attorney would travel to Alabama to represent him.

Issue: Whether the trial court correctly dismissed Client’s action for lack of personal jurisdiction?

Ruling: Yes. Attorney is licensed to practice law in Arkansas and Texas. He is not licensed to practice law in Alabama and has never applied for a license to practice law in Alabama. Exercise of either general or specific in personam jurisdiction over the Arkansas attorney would violate the Due Process Clause, Rule 4.2, Ala. R. Civ. P. and it does not permit the extension of Alabama’s in personam jurisdiction over the Arkansas Attorney. Telephone calls, fax transmissions, and letters sent from the Alabama attorney & client to the Arkansas attorney are not relevant since they were the, “unilateral activity of another person.” Burger King v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985). The Arkansas Attorney did not purposefully avail himself of jurisdiction in Alabama merely by receiving telephone calls, fax transmissions, or by opening mail sent from Alabama.

Lesson: The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment permits a forum state to subject a nonresident defendant to its courts only when that defendant has sufficient “minimum contact” with the forum state. If an Attorney merely receives telephone calls and fax transmissions or opens mail from another jurisdiction, he is not “purposely availing himself of jurisdiction from that State.”


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Posted in: Torts/Personal Injury