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A Connecticut Auto Dealer in Pennsylvania’s Court: Personal Jurisdiction over the Internet (PA)

March 12, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">Does the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have personal jurisdiction over an auto dealer in Connecticut? This was the question recently examined by the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas in <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/DS-Auto-Sales-v.-Commercial-Sales-Marketing.pdf">D&amp;S Auto Sales v. Commercial Sales &amp; Marketing</a>.</em></p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Defendant, a Ford dealership located in Mystic, Connecticut filed a preliminary objection to a claim of faulty service and repair of a vehicle filed in Lackawanna County, PA arguing that there can be no showing of personal jurisdiction over their business with only one location, several sates away. The Plaintiff argued that the dealership, “advertises through national media outlets, including the internet, for the sale of its vehicles to Pennsylvania residents” and “shipped merchandise, including vehicles and parts, directly or indirectly into Pennsylvania.” Defendant responded that less than 1% of their business involved Pennsylvania residents and that “[s]uch figures fall substantially below the continuous and systematic contacts required” t5o establish jurisdiction.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Court looked to Pennsylvania’s “sliding scale” test of jurisdiction that is used to examine the degree and type of interactivity of a website to determine whether there are sufficient contacts with Pennsylvania to establish jurisdiction. The Court found that “Valente's website, at a minimum, falls within the ‘middle ground’ where a user can exchange information with the host computer. It is also markedly interactive.” The Court pointed to the ability to schedule maintenance, order parts, request test drives to demonstrate interactivity and also pointed to a page on their website that specifically explained the process for out of state purchasers. The Court held that personal jurisdiction was proper under these circumstances.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">This case demonstrates that in the age of the internet, even one location businesses could be subject to suit several states away. A business knowingly doing business with customers outside of the state they physically operate in can open themselves up to the risk of suit across the country, even if this business is an insignificant percentage of their sales.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Ryan Geib for his contribution to this post.  Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact <a href="mailto:tbracken@wcmlaw.com">Tom Bracken.</a></p>

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