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New York’s Highest Court Provides Important Jurisdictional Guidance In Case Involving Ohio Firearm Merchant

New York courts will continue to scrutinize the factual basis for personal jurisdiction over non-New York defendants with a fact-intensive inquiry.

In Williams et al., v. Beemiller, Inc. et al., the New York Court of Appeals ruled that an Ohio firearm merchant was not subject to long-arm personal jurisdiction in New York based on his sale of a gun in Ohio to an Ohio resident. The gun was subsequently resold on the black market and used in a New York shooting.

A New York court may not exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-domiciliary unless two requirements are satisfied: (i) the action is permissible under the long-arm statute (CPLR 302); and (ii) the exercise of jurisdiction comports with due process. Here, the court, undertaking a careful review of the facts, held that personal jurisdiction could not be exercised over defendant Brown, an Ohio firearm merchant.

The court found Brown lacked minimum contacts because he "cannot be said to have 'forged [constitutionally sufficient] ties with New York' as there was no evidence he 'took purposeful action … to sell [his] products here' such that he availed himself 'of the privilege of conducting activities' within New York." The individual who sold the gun used to shoot the plaintiff on the black market in New York, sidelining the plaintiff's college basketball career, told Brown he "wouldn't mind" someday having a shop in Buffalo. However, that was not enough to prove that Brown intended to serve the New York market, a factual point on which a dissenting opinion viewed the evidence differently.

The concurrence argued that CPLR 302 was likewise not met, because "Brown, a local Ohio firearms retailer, 'did not maintain a website [in New York], had no retail store or business telephone listing [in New York], and did no advertising of any kind' in New York."

Although the increase in interstate commerce and the internet may have significantly reduced the list of non-New York commercial defendants who can credibly claim no New York jurisdictional nexus, the Williams decision provides useful guidance for any defendant considering asserting a personal jurisdiction defense, and for businesses outside New York attempting to remain beyond New York's jurisdictional reach.

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