Civil Cases – Opinions Released in Calendar Year 2023
Style: Roger Baskin v. Pierce & Allred Construction Inc
TSC Docket Number: M2021-00144-SC-R11-CV
Date of TSC Opinion: September 28, 2023
Opinion of the TSC: Click here.
TSC Summary of the Opinion:
In this appeal, we address whether a Tennessee resident may sue an Alabama corporation in a Tennessee court for alleged breach of contract and breach of warranty pertaining to its construction of a custom lake house in Alabama. Tennessee resident Roger Baskin hired Pierce & Allred Construction, an Alabama corporation with its principal place of business in Alabama, to build a house on a parcel of land in Alabama. Mr. Baskin supplied the architectural plans and some of the materials, all sourced from Tennessee, and the parties communicated throughout the project from their respective states. However, all of Pierce & Allred Construction’s activities on the project occurred in Alabama. Mr. Baskin ultimately became dissatisfied with the quality and expense of the construction work, and he filed suit in the Davidson County Chancery Court. Pierce & Allred Construction moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that the corporation lacked the “minimum contacts” with Tennessee that due process protections require. Int’l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). The trial court granted the motion, finding that the events relevant to the claims occurred in Alabama and that the corporation’s contacts with Tennessee were minor and attenuated. The Court of Appeals reversed, looking to recent decisions from this Court, see Crouch Ry. Consulting, LLC v. LS Energy Fabrication, LLC, 610 S.W.3d 460 (Tenn. 2020), and the United States Supreme Court, see Ford Motor Co. v. Mont. Eighth Jud. Dist. Ct., 141 S. Ct. 1017 (2021) (explaining that the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction requires that a plaintiff’s claim arise out of or relate to the defendant’s forum contacts). We granted permission to appeal. Based on our review, we have determined that Pierce & Allred Construction’s contacts with Tennessee were not such that the corporation reasonably should have anticipated being haled into a Tennessee court to answer this suit. In making this determination, we conclude that certain contacts with Tennessee did not reflect that the corporation purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting business activities in Tennessee, while certain other contacts were not sufficiently related to Mr. Baskin’s claims to support the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction. Thus, we hold that Mr. Baskin failed to establish a prima facie case of the minimum contacts necessary for a Tennessee court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over the Alabama corporation. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the trial court dismissing Mr. Baskin’s complaint.
Court of Appeals Opinion: https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/roger.baskin.opn_.pdf
Summary by the Court of Appeals:
Plaintiff Roger Baskin sued Pierce & Allred Construction, Inc. (“Defendant”) for breach of contract and breach of warranty, alleging Defendant failed to construct a house in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in accordance with the parties’ contract. Plaintiff alleged that although he “paid construction costs totaling more than $1,700,000, [Defendant] failed to complete construction of the house and has left Plaintiff with a home riddled with construction defects that affect every major system of the home.” Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(2) and (3), asserting that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over it, and that venue was improper in Davidson County. The trial court dismissed the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. We hold that Defendant’s contacts with Tennessee, including its purposeful applications for a certificate of authority to transact business and for a contractor’s license in Tennessee, are such that Defendant should reasonably anticipate being haled into court in this state. Consequently, Tennessee courts may exercise personal jurisdiction over Defendant. We further find that Davidson County is a proper venue for this action, and therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court.
Issues the Court Will Consider:
1. The out-of-state Defendant intentionally directed its business activities in Tennessee. It then contracted with a Tennessee resident to engage in the same business in Alabama. Did the Court of Appeals err, in a suit over that contract, by finding personal jurisdiction over the Defendant in Tennessee and refusing to confine the United State Supreme Court’s decision in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, 141 S. Ct. 1017 (2021), to its precise facts?
If the Court were to accept review, the following issues would be implicated:
2. Defendant seeks this Court’s review of the Court of Appeals’ application of Crouch Railway Consulting LLC v. LS Energy Fabrication LLC, 610 S.W.3d 460 (Tenn. 2020). But the Defendant made no reference to Crouch in its brief in the Court of Appeals. Has Defendant forfeited an argument concerning Crouch by not advancing it in the Court of Appeals as required by, inter alia, State v. Hannah, 259 S.W.3d 716 (Tenn. 2008)?
3. In the trial court, the Defendant urged the trial court to measure its contacts with Tennessee as of the filing date in September 2020. In its Application, Defendant insists they should have been measured as of January 2018. Has the Defendant forfeited this issue by failing to raise, or inviting error on it, in the trial court?
Permission to Appeal Granted: July 15, 2022
Appellants’ Briefs Filed: August 15, 2022
Appellees’ Briefs Filed: September 30, 2022
Appellants’ Reply Brief Filed: October 25, 2022
Appellees’ Reply Brief Filed:
Amicus Briefs Permitted:
Oral Argument Date: November 9, 2022
Link to Oral Argument Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1HJF0FICyw