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Ark. SC rejects attempted tie to slip-and-fall lawsuit against Louisiana's Simmons Sporting Goods

By Tomas Kassahun | Apr 8, 2019

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Legal Newsline) – The Supreme Court of Arkansas has affirmed a lower court’s ruling against a woman who appealed the circuit court’s dismissal of her premises-liability suit against a Louisiana sporting goods store.

In the ruling on March 28, the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of Carolyn Lawson’s lawsuit against Simmons Sporting Goods Inc. for lack of personal jurisdiction.

“We affirm because Arkansas courts do not have jurisdiction to entertain Lawson’s claims against Simmons,” Associate Justice Rhonda K. Wood wrote.

According to the opinion, Simmons operates a retail sporting goods store in Bastrop, Louisiana, and has never operated a store in Arkansas, but advertises in Arkansas through catalogs, newspapers, TV and online ads.

Simmons contracts with an Arkansas printing company to produce its print ads and also hosts a Big Buck Contest, which awards a prize for the largest deer killed in Arkansas, according to the opinion.

Lawson, a resident of Hamburg, Arkansas, traveled from Hamburg to Bastrop in 2012 to attend Simmons’ annual Tent Sale, the opinion stated. 

Lawson broke her arm when she tripped on a rug in the foyer and fell in the store, causing her to file a suit against Simmons in Ashley County Circuit Court in 2015, according to the opinion.   

In determining whether the Circuit Court was authorized to exercise personal jurisdiction over Simmons, the Supreme Court said it must determine “whether the exercise of jurisdiction comports with due-process limits.”

“Due-process requirements are satisfied when personal jurisdiction is asserted over a nonresident corporate defendant that has ‘minimum contacts with the forum such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice,’” the opinion stated.

According to the opinion, personal jurisdiction concerns an “affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum state and is therefore subject to the state’s regulation.”

In this case, the Supreme Court said Simmons advertised and conducted promotional activities in the state, but that alone is not sufficient for personal jurisdiction.

The cause of action did not arise from or relate to Simmons’ contact with Arkansas, according to the opinion.

“Here, the controversy—Lawson’s trip and fall—undisputedly occurred in Louisiana,” the opinion stated. “Any alleged negligence related to this incident in Louisiana did not arise out of or relate to Simmons’s contacts with Arkansas.”

The Supreme Court cited the U.S. Supreme Court's Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. ruling, stating “'what is needed—and what is missing here—is a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue.'” 

“Without this fundamental connection, we cannot exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Simmons in this matter,” the opinion stated. “We therefore affirm the Circuit Court’s dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction.”

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