Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Harper v. BioLife Energy Systems, Inc.

Supreme Court of Alaska

September 14, 2018

PAULETTE HARPER, Appellant,
v.
BIOLIFE ENERGY SYSTEMS, INC., and LINKUP MEDIA GROUP OF COMPANIES, INC., Appellees.

          Appeal from the Superior Court No. 3VA-15-00059 CI of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Valdez, Daniel Schally, Judge pro tem.

          Eric Auten, Law Office of Eric Auten, Valdez, for Appellant.

          Brad S. Kane, Kane Law Firm, Los Angeles, California, for Appellees.

          Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and Carney, Justices.

          OPINION

          STOWERS, Chief Justice.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A woman sued two New York corporations in the superior court in Valdez, alleging violations of her right of publicity and right of privacy. Her claims related to an allegedly false account regarding her recovery from cancer; she discovered the account in a brochure promoting products by BioLife Energy Systems, Inc., while working for BioLife's distributor in Colorado. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction, claiming that neither of them has the minimum contacts with Alaska necessary to satisfy due process. The superior court granted the motion, reasoning that although BioLife arguably had some contacts in Alaska, the woman's claims did not relate to those contacts, and the defendants' contacts were insufficient to establish all-purpose jurisdiction. The woman appeals. We affirm.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         Around May and June 2012, Paulette Harper, who had recently moved from Alaska to Montrose, Colorado, worked for HoneyCombs Herbs and Vitamins for approximately four weeks. HoneyCombs manufactured and distributed herbal and vitamin products on behalf of other companies, including BioLife. While working at HoneyCombs, Harper alleged she saw a brochure from BioLife that included a section entitled "The Herbalist Behind BioLife: Michael Combs"; Combs is Harper's brother, and the write-up about him included an allegedly false account of his organic herb research leading to Harper recovering from cancer.[1] All parties agreed that the brochure was available on BioLife's website. Harper moved back to Alaska in October 2012, and in June 2015 she filed a lawsuit against BioLife and Linkup Media Group of Companies, Inc., [2] in the superior court in Valdez, alleging violations of her right of publicity and right of privacy and seeking damages for unjust enrichment and punitive damages.

         In January 2016 defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. They argued that they had "no significant contacts with Alaska" and that "the closest [they] ha[d] come to doing business in Alaska" was when BioLife "sen[t] supplements ordered by a Connecticut resident to a person in Alaska" in 2012. They also argued that the fact that the brochure was posted on BioLife's New York-based website did not subject them to either specific or general personal jurisdiction in Alaska.

         Harper opposed the motion. She argued that BioLife's website was highly commercial in nature, allowing customers to purchase products online, and that the dropdown menu for shipping included Alaska as an option, along with the other 49 states "and a long list of nations from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe." In her accompanying affidavit, she alleged that HoneyCombs "place[d] at least several dozen Bio[L]ife orders [on an average day], and some days more than one hundred," and that "[b]ased on the large quantity of orders [she] place[d] during just [her] brief period there, and considering that Bio[L]ife ha[d] been in business for approximately five years, it seem[ed] highly plausible that one or more order[s] could have originated in Alaska." She suggested that jurisdictional discovery was appropriate. She later filed a supplemental affidavit, alleging that she saw "several orders from Alaska." She stated that "[c]onsidering the number of BioLife packages [she] saw destined for Alaska during [her] short time working there, [she assumed] that there were many more before and after [her] time there."

         In their reply the defendants argued that Harper was not credible because of the inconsistency between the two affidavits and because Harper's assertions were contradicted by Crystal Combs, the owner of HoneyCombs, who stated that Harper "only taped [boxes] . . . and labels were later applied in the shipping department" and that according to Honey Combs's records "[t]he only shipment to Alaska was for an order from a Connecticut customer for delivery in Alaska." They opposed the "undeveloped discovery request."

         The superior court issued an order granting the motion to dismiss the lawsuit without prejudice. The court found that the website was "clearly commercial in nature" but seemed to credit the defendants' position that BioLife shipped only one order to Alaska. The court concluded that it lacked general personal jurisdiction over the defendants; it also concluded that it lacked specific personal jurisdiction because "[a]lthough Bio[L]ife arguably did at one time purposefully direct its activities to Alaska residents, the claims at issue in this case do not relate to or arise from those activities."

         Harper moved for reconsideration and also filed a formal motion for additional jurisdictional discovery. She argued that "she [was] and ha[d] been an Alaska resident for all periods [of] time relevant to her complaint"[3] and that Alaska was therefore the place of injury. She also argued that she "made specific and credible allegations regarding BioLife's contacts with Alaska" and "clearly provide[d] a good faith basis to believe that there is discoverable information on this question." She included a second supplemental affidavit.

         The defendants opposed the motions, arguing among other things that the second supplemental affidavit constituted newly introduced evidence that should not be considered. They argued that Harper failed to explain how the court allegedly misconstrued or misapplied the law of personal jurisdiction and that her affidavits were contradictory.

          The court denied the motions for reconsideration and for jurisdictional discovery. Harper appeals.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "We review questions regarding personal jurisdiction de novo because '[j]urisdictional issues are questions of law subject to this court's independent judgment.' We adopt 'the rule of law that is most persuasive in light of precedent, reason, and policy' when it comes to jurisdictional questions."[4]

         "When considering the appeal of a motion to dismiss we 'presume all factual allegations of the complaint to be true and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.' "[5]

         "We will not overturn an order denying a motion for reconsideration unless there has been an abuse of discretion."[6] Abuse of discretion will be found "when the decision on review is manifestly unreasonable."[7]

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. The Superior Court Did Not Err In Dismissing The Action For Lack Of Personal Jurisdiction.

         Alaska courts may exercise jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants pursuant to Alaska's "long-arm statute," AS 09.05.015.[8] This statute lists several specific grounds for jurisdiction and includes a broad catch-all provision.[9] We have explained that the long-arm statute ultimately "authorizes Alaska's courts 'to assert jurisdiction to the maximum extent permitted by due process.' "[10]

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment "limits the personal jurisdiction of state courts."[11] For a court to exercise jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, "the nonresident generally must have 'certain minimum contacts... such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice."' "[12] The United States Supreme Court has recognized two types of personal jurisdiction: "general" (or "all-purpose") jurisdiction and "specific" (or "case- linked") jurisdiction.[13] The superior court concluded that Alaska does not have either form of personal jurisdiction over BioLife or Linkup, and Harper appeals this determination.

         1. The superior court did not err in concluding that it did not have general jurisdiction over the defendants.

         "A court with general jurisdiction may hear any claim against [a] defendant, even if all the incidents underlying the claim occurred in a different State."[14] Harper suggests that general jurisdiction may exist "if the [defendant] company's contact with the forum is substantial - for example, if a significant number of sales are made through [its] website in the forum." But this significantly understates the level of contact required to establish general jurisdiction.[15]

         "A court may assert general jurisdiction over [out-of-state] corporations to hear any and all claims against them when their affiliations with the State are so 'continuous and systematic' as to render them essentially at home in the forum State."[16]This is a high standard, as "only a limited set of affiliations with a forum will render a defendant amenable to all-purpose jurisdiction there"[17]:

"For an individual, the paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction is the individual's domicile; for a corporation, it is an equivalent place, one in which the corporation is fairly regarded as at home." With respect to a corporation, the place of incorporation and principal place of business are "paradig[m] . . . bases for general jurisdiction."[18]

         In Daimler AG v. Bauman, the Supreme Court explicitly rejected the notion that a corporation is subject to general jurisdiction "in every State in which [it] 'engages in a substantial, continuous, and systematic course of business.' "[19]

         In 1987weaddressed general personal jurisdiction in Glover v. Western Air Lines, Inc.[20] Glover, which predated the Supreme Court's decision in Daimler, presented the question whether Alaska courts had jurisdiction over various Avis car rental subsidiaries for a cause of action that arose in Mexico.[21] We noted that Avis's U.S. branch was "not licensed to do business in Alaska, ha[d] no business agents or employees in Alaska, own[ed] no property in Alaska and maintain[ed] no bank accounts in Alaska," but that it was, "however, a franchisor of the 'Avis' name, ha[d] licensed that name to several Alaskan franchisees, maintain[ed] considerable control over the day-to-day operations of the franchisees, and receive[d] substantial income from its licensing activities in Alaska."[22] Considering these facts in light of then-current Supreme Court case law, we concluded that "Avis U.S.'[s] contacts with Alaska [were] of a continuing, systematic, routine and substantial nature" and that general jurisdiction therefore was appropriate.[23] After Glover was decided, the Supreme Court clarified the law of general jurisdiction in Daimler.[24] In light of the Supreme Court's more recent discussion, Glover is no longer good law; had Glover come before us after the Supreme Court's decision in Daimler, we would have reached a different result. It is clear from Daimler that exercising general jurisdiction requires contacts that are substantially equivalent to incorporation or maintaining its principal place of business in the forum state.[25]

         In this case Harper has not alleged facts that would establish a prima facie case of general jurisdiction. Harper's superior court filings make the following allegations: both BioLife and Linkup are New York corporations, and Linkup's headquarters are in New York City; BioLife's products are manufactured and distributed by HoneyCombs, which is based in Colorado; BioLife maintains an online presence through its website, through which consumers can place orders for herbal products; previously, the website's form for submitting shipping information included a drop-down menu that listed all 50 states, including Alaska; BioLife has made at least one product shipment to Alaska, and possibly several more; BioLife published a brochure containing an allegedly false account regarding Harper, who claims she was an Alaska resident at all times relevant to this action, although she was living and working in Colorado when she discovered the brochure; and while living in Alaska, Harper received several samples of BioLife products from her family (not directly from BioLife).

         From these allegations, it is clear that New York would have general jurisdiction over both BioLife and Linkup, as both are incorporated there and maintain headquarters there. BioLife may arguably be subject to general jurisdiction in Colorado because its products are manufactured there and distributed from there, which could make Colorado BioLife's "principal place of business."[26] But none of these allegations, even if taken as true and considered in the light most favorable to Harper, establish contacts with Alaska approaching a level that would make either company "essentially at home" in this state.[27] Accordingly, it was not error for the superior court to rule that it had no general jurisdiction in this case.

         2. The superior court did not err in concluding that it did not have specific jurisdiction over BioLife.

         A forum state without general jurisdiction may nonetheless exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant if the defendant has "certain minimum contacts with [the forum state] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.' "[28] Specific jurisdiction is appropriate where a suit "aris[es] out of or relate[s] to the defendant's contacts with the forum."[29] The Supreme Court has emphasized that "[i]n order for a court to exercise specific jurisdiction over a claim, there must be an 'affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State.' When there is no such connection, specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of a defendant's unconnected activities in the State."[30] "[E]ven regularly occurring sales of a product in a State do not justify the exercise of jurisdiction over a claim unrelated to those sales."[31]

         In this case Harper makes numerous allegations regarding BioLife's commercial contacts with Alaska. These allegations are disputed, but because the case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction without an evidentiary hearing, they must be taken as true.[32] These allegations may well be sufficient to support specific jurisdiction over a claim such as breach of contract or product liability brought by an Alaskan BioLife customer.[33] But Harper brought claims for right of publicity, right of privacy, and unjust enrichment. These claims do not arise out of any commercial ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.