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eBay suit presents issue of first impression

March 13, 2009

In an issue of first impression in Indiana - and possibly in the United States - the Indiana Court of Appeals addressed specific jurisdiction questions in a suit filed by sellers on the online auction site, eBay.

In Richard and Marlene Attaway v. Llexcyiss Omega and D. Dale York, No. 11A01-0712-CV-608, the Attaways brought an interlocutory appeal of the trial court's denial of their motion to dismiss a suit filed by Llexcyiss Omega and Dale York. They claimed the trial court erred in denying the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, that Clay County wasn't a proper venue, and eBay and PayPal user agreements prohibited the parties from litigating the dispute.

The Attaways, who live in Idaho, purchased a Porsche on eBay using PayPal from Llexcyiss Omega and York, who are in Indiana. The Attaways arranged for a transportation company to deliver the car to Iowa. Once they received it, they filed a claim with PayPal for a refund because they said the car wasn't as described on eBay. PayPal denied the refund, but the Attaways managed to have their credit card company remove the charges and rescind payment.

Llexcyiss Omega and York filed suit in small claims court in Clay County, demanding $5,900 in damages.

The Court of Appeals determined the Attaways weren't subject to general jurisdiction in Indiana and had to decide whether they were subject to specific jurisdiction. This brings up the issue of first impression because the appellate court couldn't find any cases in which an eBay seller had sued a buyer for rescission of payment after the buyer picked up the item in the seller's state.

The Court of Appeals looked to similar cases involving buyers filing suits in U.S. District Courts in Michigan, California, and New Jersey, and a case out of New York state courts to rule the Attaways' actions surrounding the purchase tip the scale in favor of personal jurisdiction.

The Indiana sellers filed suit against the Attaways after they took delivery of the car and rescinded payment. The Attaways were able to see the car was in Indiana before buying it and agreed to pick up the vehicle. During the course of the transaction, there was more than just a single online purchase to satisfy the personal jurisdiction requirements of the federal due process clause, wrote Judge Terry Crone. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the Attaways' motion to dismiss.

"In weighing the interests of the states, it is certainly within the bounds of fair play and substantial justice to allow Indiana to exercise personal jurisdiction over individuals who have entered into a contract with an Indiana resident for the purchase of property located in Indiana, have removed that property from the state of Indiana, and then rescinded payment," he wrote.

The Court of Appeals also affirmed Clay County was a proper venue and that there was no language in the PayPal user agreement and eBay dispute resolution procedures posted online to suggest the online dispute resolution process is a buyer or seller's sole recourse in the event of a dispute.

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