Butler v. Beer Across America
83 F. Supp. 2d 1261; 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1322

Summary prepared by Devashish Bharuka
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The complaint asserts a claim arising from teh sale of beer to plaintiff's son by the defendants via the Internet. Plaintiffs are in Alabama. Plaintiff's minor son placed order for beer with defendants through Beer Across America's Internet site on the Internet. The beer was then shipped to plaintiff's son in Alabama and delivered to teh Butler residence by the carrier acting, the entire time, as the agent of the plaintiff's son.

The immediate question is whether personal jurisdiction properly may be asserted by a federal court sitting in diversity in Alabama over a non-resident Illinois defendant in an action arising from a sale made in Illinois solely in response to an order placed by an Alabama resident via the Internet.

The court concluded that the sale was completed in Illinois. The beer was essentially sold with the carrier acting as the buyer's agent. The sales invoice and shipping documents also correctly note that ownership of the goods passed to plaintiff's son upon tender to the carrier, which is consisten with both Alabama's and Illinois's versions of the UCC, providing that title passes at the time and place of shipment when the contract does not require the seller to make delivery at the destination.

Regarding the minimum contacts between the defendant and the jurisdiction, it is essential in each case that there be some act by which the defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of the conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protection of its laws and maintenance of the suit should not offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice". Plaintiff cited not only the sale of her son but also the defendants' sales (in Illinois) to other Alabama residents as well as teh sale of beer to defendants by two Alabama brewers through a non-party Illinois wholesaler. The Court observed that plaintiff has not offered any competent evidence to seriously controvert the defendants' averments that:
1) they are not registered to do business in Alabama;
2) they own no property in the state;
3) they maintain no offices in the state;
4) they have no agents in Alabama;
5) their key personnel have never even visited the state;
6) they do not place advertisement with Alabama media outlets (except what the nationally placed advertisements may reach the state which cannot be said to target any particular market) or engage in any other significant promotions targeting the stat, which would give rise to such a level as would justify an exercise of general jurisdiction by this state's courts.

Further, Beer Across America did not enter into any continuing relationship with plaintiff's son, but rather made a single sale amounting to $24.95. The defendants' total sales, including non-alcoholic merchandise, to Alabama residents for use in the state represent, on average, only a few hundred orders per year, which combined are worth significantly less than $100,000.00, with Internet orders, such as plaintiff's son's, accouting for a mere three to four percent of that total.

Applying the Zippo rule, the Court held that Beer Across America's site does not even anticipate the regular exchange of information across the Internet, much less provide for such interaction. Rather, it is closer to an electronic version of a postal reply card; the limited degree of interactivity available on the defendant's website is certainly insufficient to satisfy the minimum contacts requirement of due process for this Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over these defendants.

Held, there is no personal jurisdiction.