MOBILE ANESTHESIOLOGISTS CHICAGO v. ANESTHESIA ASSOCIATES OF HOUSTON METROPLEX (October 1, 2010)

Mobile Anesthesiologists Chicago ("Chicago") provides on-site anesthesia services, is based in Chicago, has been in business for 15 years, registered the website www.mobileanesthesiologists.com, registered Mobile Anesthesiologists as a federal trademark, and has affiliate offices in other U.S. cities, including Houston. Anesthesia Associates of Houston Metroplex ("Houston") was founded by Dr. Eric Chan. Dr. Chan is its sole member and it operates only in the Houston area. Chan registered the website www.mobileanesthesia.com, where he advertises his practice to the greater Houston area. Dr. Chan is a licensed anesthesiologist in Texas but in no other state, and he has never conducted business in Illinois or visited Illinois for business. Chicago brought suit in Illinois federal court alleging that Houston violated federal law by registering a confusingly similar domain name. Judge Norgle (N.D. Ill.) dismissed the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. Chicago appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Flaum, Wood, and Hamilton affirmed. The Court first rejected Chicago's argument that Houston waived its personal jurisdiction defense when it asked for a continuance of the preliminary injunction hearing and for discovery. Waiver of personal jurisdiction requires much more than that, said the Court. The Court proceeded to the merits of the personal jurisdiction defense under the familiar federal due process and International Shoe rubric. General jurisdiction was not alleged, so it proceeded to analyze specific jurisdiction. Chicago relied on the Calder "expressly aimed" test. The Florida defendants in Calder were required to appear in California on a libel charge because the allegedly libelous story was about a California resident and the "brunt of the harm" was felt in California. The Court reviewed its “not . . . entirely consistent” application of Calder in Wallace, Indianapolis Colts, and Janmark. It concluded that Wallace, and its rejection of the notion that a defendant with no contacts in a forum could be forced to defend there simply by alleging an intentional tort, was the proper application of Calder (while rejecting the notion that Indianapolis Colts or Janmark actually conflicted with Calder). Here, Chicago's only evidence is that Houston maintained a website, accessible in Illinois, under a confusingly similar name and therefore caused injury in Illinois. The Court concluded that that was insufficient "express aiming" to establish personal jurisdiction. The Court also rejected Chicago's alternative theories that its federal trademark registration somehow established personal jurisdiction in Illinois and that Houston's actions were "expressly aimed" at Illinois after its receipt of Chicago's cease-and-desist letter.