Zippo “sliding scale” approach to personal jurisdiction rejected

Howard v. Missouri Bone and Joint Center, Inc., No. 05-476, — N.E.2d —-, 2007 WL 1217855 (Ill.App. 5th Dist. April 24, 2007)

Plaintiff Howard filed suit in Illinois against defendant Missouri Bone and Joint Center, alleging personal injury arising from “athletic training services” that defendant provided to plaintiff at its Missouri facility. Defendant moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that its contacts with Illinois were insufficient: it had no facilities and did not transact business there, and owned no property located in the state. Further, defendant argued it was not registered to do business in Illinois, and all its activities took place at its Missouri location.

Responding to the motion to dismiss, plaintiff argued that the court could exercise general jurisdiction over defendant due to its “continuous and systematic general business contacts” in Illinois. Relying on the Zippo sliding scale test [Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F.Supp. 1119 (W.D. Pa. 1997)], plaintiff claimed these contacts arose through defendant’s website which allowed its visitors to make appointments, fill out surveys, and ask questions.

The court initially denied the motion to dismiss, and the case proceeded to trial. After the court awarded a substantial judgment to the plaintiff, the defendant moved for reconsideration of the question of personal jurisdiction. This time the court found that it lacked personal jurisdiction, and it vacated the judgment. Plaintiff sought review with the Appellate Court of Illinois. On appeal, the court affirmed.

The appellate court rejected the Zippo test:

Instead, we find that the web page’s level of interactivity is irrelevant. In reality, an interactive website is similar to telephone or mail communications. A passive website is much the same as advertising on the radio or in a magazine. An ad on the Internet is no different than an ad in any other medium that provides a telephone number or other means to contact a potential defendant. It is mere advertisement or solicitation of business. Illinois courts have long held that a mere advertisement or solicitation is not enough to sustain personal jurisdiction in Illinois.

In this case, the court held that the defendant had done nothing more that advertise and solicit business in Illinois. That conduct, in and of itself, was insufficient to give rise to personal jurisdiction. The court compared the facts of the case to two previous Illinois appellate cases, Pilipauskas v. Yakel, 258 Ill.App.3d 47 (1994), and Excel Energy Co. v. Pittman, 239 Ill.App.3d 160 (1992) to support its holding. The nature and quality of the acts occurring in Illlinois were insubstantial. The plaintiff had chosen to contact the defendant, and had chosen to travel to Missouri for treatment. Accordingly, the court held that exercising jurisdiction over the defendant “would not be fair, just, or reasonable.”