Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reported Maryland Court of Special Appeals Case on Personal Jurisdiction: Owning Unimproved Real Estate is not Sufficient Minimum Contacts

An issue that often is litigated is personal jurisdiction, or “can we sue the defendant here?” Last week, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals rendered a published opinion on the issue in the case of Cappel v. RIASO, LLC. A copy of the opinion is here. In this case, the court was asked to determine whether, in an action to enforce a confession of judgment clause in a guarantee of a promissory note that was signed outside of the State of Maryland, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland had personal jurisdiction over the guarantors (Mr. & Mrs. Cappel) by virtue of their owning unimproved real estate in Maryland that was unrelated to the issues in the case. The Circuit Court had found that it did have jurisdiction over the Cappels because by owning the land the Cappels were “transacting business” in Maryland and they had sufficient “minimum contacts” with the State of Maryland to allow personal jurisdiction.

The Court of Special Appeals reversed and vacated judgments against the Cappels for $2,938,312.51. The Court found that owning unimproved real estate in the State of Maryland was not sufficient to allow for personal jurisdiction in Maryland where the real estate in question had nothing to do with the dispute between the parties.

This means that the Plaintiff will now need to start over and sue the Cappels in either D.C. or Virginia, and that the lien on the Cappel’s Maryland real estate that was created by the judgment will be vacated. One wonders whether the Cappels will be able to sell the property before the creditor is able to obtain a new judgment in D.C. or Virginia and then record it as a lien against the Cappels’ Maryland property.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Fourth Circuit Opinion on Arbitration -- Appeal of Arbitrability Decision Divests Trial Court of Jurisdiction

I have addressed arbitration issues many times before on this Business Law Blog. They are important because so many agreements now contain mandatory arbitration clauses. On February 10, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an opinion in the case of Levin v. Alms and Associates, Inc. A copy of the decision can be found here. In this case, the appellate court held that when a trial court order regarding arbitrability of a dispute was appealed, the trial court is divested of jurisdiction and cannot continue on to handle the case until the appeal is resolved. The appellate court reversed the trial court which had allowed what it believed was the “non-arbitrable” portion of the case to go forward while the appeal was pending.

The appellate court also went on to decide that the trial court was wrong on the merits. That is, the appellate court held that the trial court was wrong to decide that certain claims were not subject to arbitration.

Before including an arbitration provision in your business agreements, you should be sure to consult with counsel to determine whether such a provision is in your interest and to discuss the scope and effect of such a provision.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dan Snyder v. The Washington City Paper -- Why Didn't Snyder Choose Home Field Advantage?

In a case of note, local businessman Daniel Snyder of Rockville/Potomac, MD brought a libel suit in New York against local free newspaper The City Paper. A link to the lawsuit is here.

There is obviously a lot being written about this case now. One issue that I have not seen any information on is the choice of forum/venue. Snyder sued in New York, when he is a Montgomery County, Maryland resident, and would presumably have "home field advantage" here in Rockville. Or, maybe he thought that his reputation locally was so bad that he had to seek a venue where fewer people (Judges and Jurors alike) have formed an opinion of him.

I will wait and hope that the issue of venue/jurisdiction is litigated and that the case comes home to Rockville where it belongs.