LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Arkansas Court of Appeals has ruled that an Arkansas woman can sue a Louisiana sporting goods store for damages in Arkansas court.
Ashley County resident Carolyn Lawson filed a lawsuit against Simmons Sporting Goods Inc. of Bastrop in Ashley County Circuit Court for damages after she fell in the store on Aug. 3, 2013, and broke her arm.
Lawson argued that Simmons was subject to Arkansas court jurisdiction.
Simmons Sporting Goods is located near Ashley County, is owned by Louisiana residents, and does not operate stores in Arkansas. Simmons advertises in Arkansas, which includes promotional catalogs and display ads in Arkansas newspapers, ads on television, online ads with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and a website that states that customers can get the same deals by “shopping from home.” Simmons also hosts a contest that targets Arkansas residents in which the store awards a prize for the largest deer harvested in Arkansas.
Lawson visited the Simmons store in Louisiana from her home in Arkansas to shop at the Annual Tent Sale event, which she claims she had heard of by "word of mouth," court records state.
Upon entering the store, she fell on a rug located in the foyer and broke an arm.
In response to Lawson’s lawsuit, Simmons filed a motion to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that it is not subject to Arkansas court jurisdiction.
A hearing was held in Ashley County Circuit Court. Judge Don Glover dismissed the case. Lawson appealed, contending that she had personal jurisdiction over Simmons. The Arkansas Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court’s order.
“Essentially, the circuit court found the plaintiff failed to meet the legal burden of demonstrating that the lawsuit was filed in the proper venue – but the appellate court disagreed,” Melissa Landry, executive director of the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, told the Louisiana Record. “At issue here is the court’s power to exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant.”
In his opinion, Appeals Court Judge Mike Murphy wrote that the case requires the court to determine whether Simmons had the minimum contacts necessary with Arkansas to create specific jurisdiction.
“Simmons actively pursues marketing campaigns directed at Arkansas residents for the purpose of attracting customers to patronize the store,” Murphy wrote.
Murphy ruled that contacts between Lawson and Simmons were sufficient to warrant personal jurisdiction over Simmons and reversed the circuit court’s order dismissing the case.
“Generally, due process protects non-resident defendants from being hauled into out-of-state courts and being subjected to their laws,” Landry said. “However, when the court finds the defendant has had a certain number of ‘minimum contacts’ with the forum state, plaintiffs can assert personal jurisdiction.
“In this case, the appellate court concluded that because Simmons advertised in Arkansas and invited residents to patronize, their store they made the ‘minimum contacts’ necessary to create specific jurisdiction.”
The case was remanded back to the circuit court in Arkansas and will continue for further proceedings.
“But the impact of this ruling could extend far beyond the Simmons case,” said Landry. “If the appellate court ruling is allowed to stand, it could mean any Louisiana businesses that advertise significantly in Arkansas could be hauled into court there.”