In Lafond v. Salomon North America, Inc., C.A. No. 2008- 1383 (Mass. Super. Dec. 19, 2011), plaintiff was injured when one of his ski bindings broke while skiing in Utah. Plaintiff sued the ski manufacturer in Massachusetts Superior Court asserting claims of negligence, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability (the Massachusetts near-equivalent of strict liability) and violation of Mass. Gen. L. ch. 93A (the Massachusetts unfair and deceptive practices statute). The manufacturer, a French corporation with its principal place of business in Annecy, France, moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.
It was undisputed that the French manufacturer did not have any office or employees in Massachusetts, had not entered into any contracts to perform services there, had not visited the state to market, promote or solicit sales of its products, and distributed its products in the United States through an independent distributor in Utah. Defendant did, however, maintain a website, accessible in Massachusetts, which included a search function whereby consumers could locate stores in Massachusetts and elsewhere that sold defendant’s products. Plaintiff utilized that search function to locate a store in Boston where he purchased the skis at issue.
To exercise personal jurisdiction over a foreign defendant, the defendant’s conduct must fall within the limits of both the Massachusetts “long-arm” statute and the due process requirements of the United States Constitution. Addressing the statute first, the court found its exercise of jurisdiction proper under Mass. Gen. L. ch. 223A, § 3(a), which provides for jurisdiction over, among others, “a person, who acts directly or by an agent, as to a cause of action in law or equity arising from the person’s . . . transacting any business in this commonwealth.” The court found defendant’s solicitation of business in Massachusetts through its website, and specifically the search function, was sufficient to satisfy the “transacting business” requirement. Moreover, because plaintiff found his skis through the website, it was clear his claim “arose out of” this business. In so holding, the court distinguished defendant’s website, which intentionally directed buyers to retailers in Massachusetts where they could buy defendant’s products, from passive websites that provided information but did not solicit business.
For similar reasons, the court also found the exercise of personal jurisdiction satisfied the requirements of due process, which are met when: (1) a defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting business in a state; (2) the lawsuit arises out of defendant’s conduct in the state; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction would not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. As to “purposeful availment,” the court found defendant’s operation of its website, which intentionally solicited business from Massachusetts customers, sufficient to meet this requirement. Plaintiff’s claim also was “related” to defendant’s contacts with Massachusetts because, as noted in the court’s analysis under the “long-arm” statute, plaintiff found the product through defendant’s website. Finally, the exercise of personal jurisdiction over defendant was “fair” because: (1) Massachusetts clearly has an interest – at least as strong as France’s – in adjudicating claims of its residents injured by products sold in the state by a company that solicits business there; (2) it is impractical to expect plaintiff to pursue his claim in France; and (3) Massachusetts is as effective a forum as Utah or France, as the relevant evidence and witnesses are scattered among the three locales. The court added it would not comport with traditional notions of fair play and justice to allow a foreign corporation, whose plant is a great distance from a state where it causes its products to be marketed, to insulate itself from liability simply by selling the products through an out-of-state independent distributor.