Holland v. Hurley (CA2 5/19/09)


This is a personal-jurisdiction case involving eBay.

Holland, an Arizona resident, bought a car on eBay from Hurley, a Michigan resident. When Holland got the car he was dissatisfied. He sued Hurley in Pima County. Hurley argued that Arizona had no personal jurisdiction over him; the trial court agreed.

So did the Court of Appeals. In a labored analysis, the court held that putting something up for sale on eBay does not itself constitute purposeful contact with Arizona.  This is consistent with earlier cases about interstate sales, of which – except for the eBay angle – this is a fairly typical example.

The court did have to distinguish Uberti v Leonardo, 181 Ariz. 565 (1995), which held that a foreign manufacturer’s extensive nationwide marketing justified jurisdiction in Arizona because the manufacturer otherwise wouldn’t be subject to American law (or so said our Supreme Court). That concern didn’t apply here because Holland could sue Hurley in Michigan.

That is enough to dispose of the case but the court also wanted to write about cases involving eBay and other web sites. There are cases (in other jurisdictions) that draw distinctions based on how much interactivity a site’s owners set it up to offer. They don’t apply here, even if they were the law of Arizona, because Hurley doesn’t own or control eBay.

The mere fact of selling on eBay, then, does not produce jurisdiction. The opinion makes allowances for other cases in which a seller does additional things that show purposeful contacts with Arizona.

In a very brief concurring opinion, Judge Espinoza suggests that Uberti could indeed apply to a domestic seller who uses eBay to sell to all States. “[T]hat would appear to be the whole point of utilizing the boundless eBay cyber marketplace.” He joins because, he says, that conclusion can’t be drawn from the “skeletal facts” available on this appeal. But if that’s the “whole point” of using eBay, what other facts need there be? If the concurrence doesn’t mean that it is basically a dissent, its hard to know what it does mean.

At the end of the opinion the court upheld the trial court’s ruling preventing Holland from doing discovery to supplement those “skeletal facts.” This is not publishable stuff, so it must be proof that the court reads us and agrees that it shouldn’t really be splitting one appeal into more than one opinion.