Fort Worth Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Trainer's Claims in APHA Case

The Fort Worth Court of Appeals has affirmed the 348th District Court of Tarrant County’s dismissal of horse trainer Rebecca “Becky” George’s lawsuit against Adam Deardorff and Lana Wirsig, holding that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over Wirsig and Deardorff.

Becky George of Tomball, Texas alleged that statements by Deardorff and Wirsig were submitted to the American Paint Horse Association (APHA), which caused the APHA to revoke George’s status as an official APHA judge and suspend her from APHA competitions for six months. George alleged that the suspension caused her to lose more than half of her clients.

All parties agreed that Deardorff was a resident of Pennsylvania, and Wirsig was a resident of Missouri. The trial court dismissed George's claims against Deardorff and Wirsig on jurisdictional grounds. According to the Court of Appeals, George did not meet her burden to allege facts sufficient to give the trial court personal jurisdiction over Deardorff and Wirsig, because:

1) George asserted in her pleadings that another defendant named Harlan Hall (and not Deardorff or Wirsig) submitted Deardorff and Wirsig’s statement to the APHA (which is based in Fort Worth). 

2) George alleged that Deardorff had engaged in negotiations with Hall regarding the possibility of Hall hiring Deardorff to become the Hall family’s horse trainer in Texas. But George did not allege where these negotiations occurred or allege any other facts about these negotiations.

3) Even if Deardorff and/or Wirsig had submitted their statements to the APHA, this allegation is not sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction because it “was too is too random or isolated to constitute purposeful availment and does not show that Deardorff or Wirsig sought some benefit, advantage, or profit by availing themselves of Texas.”

 4) George’s claim asserting a civil conspiracy among Deardorff, Wirsig, and Hall (a Texas resident) did not impute Hall’s acts to Deardorff and Wirsig. The court held that George had to establish jurisdiction over Deardorff and Wirsig individually and not based on the acts of another person as part of a conspiracy.

5) George argued that Deardorff and Wirsig attended APHA events and that Wirsig competed in APHA-sponsored events, and because the APHA is headquartered in Texas, these acts constitute doing business in Texas. The Court of Appeals overruled this argument because George did not allege that Deardorff and Wirsig attended any of these events in Texas, much less that their contacts with Texas in connection with these events constituted purposeful availment of the laws of Texas.

6) George claimed that Wirsig was a customer of George, and George’s business is located in Texas. But George never alleged that Wirsig ever did business with George in Texas or other facts showing that Wirsig purposefully invoked the benefits of Texas laws by using George’s services.

As you can see, a defendant's isolated or indirect contacts with Texas do not always give rise to jurisdition in Texas.  The defendant must usually be shown to have committed a tort in Texas, to have done busniess in Texas, or to have otherwise purposefully availed himself of the protections of Texas law to in order to submit to the jurisdiction of Texas courts.  Plaintiffs should always plead jurisdictional facts against out-of-state defendants in a detailed manner to demonstrate the defendant's specific acts undertaken in Texas.

Plaintiffs to litigation against defendants who reside in other states should carefully consider jurisdictional factors before deciding where to bring suit. Filing suit in the correct forum to begin with can expedite the litigation process and save attorneys’ fees and court costs. Typically, jurisdiction is proper in the state and county were the defendant resides. If a defendant has a possible “quick way out” of a lawsuit by challenging personal jurisdiction, a defendant will usually take advantage of this.  If a defendant's suit is dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, the plaintiff must then sue them again in a proper forum.  But the plaintiff must act expediently in doing so to ensure that the statute of limitations does not expire before the new suit is filed.

Case informationGeorge v. Deardorff, No. 02-11-00173-CV, 2012 WL 335854, (Tex. App.—Fort Worth, Feb. 2, 2012).

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