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CT: Client argues two letters mailed into state by law firm subjects them to jurisdiction; court says no.

Green v. Simmons, 919 A.2d 482 (Conn. App. 2007)

CT: Underlying premises liability: Long Arm Jurisdiction

Student Contributor: Eric B. Kang

Facts: In 2001, Albert Green hired Reginald D. Simmons & Associates, a law firm based in South Carolina, to represent him in a personal injury action in which Green was injured while he slipped on ice while making a delivery to Sam’s Wholesale Club in Manchester, Connecticut. The law firm sent two letters to Sam’s Club in Connecticut but received no responses. The law firm took no further action until two years later in 2003, when the law firm notified Green that it would no longer represent him. The following year, Green filed a malpractice action against the law firm in Connecticut, alleging that they were negligent for their failure to file suit against Sam’s Club in a timely fashion and for failing to properly pursue his claim. The law firm did not respond to Green’s complaint. The trial court granted Green’s motion for default for failure to appear against the law firm. The law firm showed up at the hearing for damages, but only for the purpose of contesting personal jurisdiction and to file a motion to dismiss on that ground. The court denied the motion and held for Green. The law firm appealed.

Issue: Whether the court properly asserted jurisdiction over the law firm pursuant to the state’s long arm statute?

Ruling: No. Connecticut’s long arm statute provides that jurisdiction may be exercised over a nonresident who “transacts any business within the state.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-59b (a)(1). Since Connecticut’s long arm statute is modeled after New York’s long arm statute, the court held that New York case law provides guidance on the issue. In NY, an appellate court has held that “written communications, which generally are held not to provide a sufficient basis for personal jurisdiction under the long-arm statute, must be shown to have been used by the defendant to actively participate in business transactions in New York.” Liberatore v. Calvino, 742 N.Y.S.2d 291 (2002). Further,

 “mail contacts are…insufficient unless the defendant projected himself by those means into New York in such a manner that he purposefully availed himself … of the benefits and protections of its laws.”  

The court also noted another NY case that applied this principle and held the attorney not subject to jurisdiction where the non-resident attorney sent three faxes to NY medical care providers, attempted to obtain records from the state police, and sent two letters to the plaintiff, who lived in NY. The court in that case held that the attorney’s actions “did not amount to her projecting herself into NY or purposefully availing herself of the benefits and protections of its laws.” Green v. Simmons, 919 A.2d 482, 486. Similarly, the court here held that the two letters sent by the law firm to Sam’s Club in Connecticut did not subject them to jurisdiction in Connecticut under the state’s long arm statute.

Lesson: No matter what the result of this case, the boundaries of long arm jurisdiction vary from state to state. If a client matter requires that you become involved in the law of a different state, be familiar with those laws as they affect your client, and your prospective liability. 

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Posted in: Connecticut, New York, Torts/Personal Injury