According to a recent opinion of the North Carolina Supreme Court, reversing a unanimous panel at the North Carolina Court of Appeals, a phone call to someone in North Carolina, when you were unaware that person was in North Carolina, and had no reason to know they were in North Carolina, is not sufficient to subject you to the jurisdiction of North Carolina Courts.
The Supreme Court of North Carolina recently issued an opinion in the case of Mucha v. Wagner. That case arose out of a troubled domestic relationship. When Mucha and Wagner stopped dating, Mucha, then residing in South Carolina told Wagner, a Connecticut resident, never to contact her again. Wagner did not adhere to this request. Mucha moved to North Carolina on May 15, 2018. Wagner, according to the Court’s opinion, was unaware of this. On the evening of May 15, 2018, Mucha received 28 phone calls from Wagner. This prompted Mucha to go to court in Wake County to seek a domestic violence protective order. That order was issued against Wagner, despite his attorney’s objection to the court having jurisdiction. Following the entry of the Order, Wagner appealed the jurisdiction issue to the Court of Appeals, which concluded that his phone calls to Mucha, while she was located in North Carolina, were sufficient to confer jurisdiction over Wagner upon the Wake County District Court. Justice Earls, writing for the Supreme Court of North Carolina, reversed the Court of Appeals reasoning that in the age of cellular phones where anyone can speak to anyone by phone without knowing exactly where the other person is physically located, a phone call without more, and without knowledge of the other parties’ location, is not sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction.
It is well settled law that in order for a court to exercise jurisdiction over a person, that person must have sufficient minimum contacts with the jurisdiction where the court is located. As technology continues to improve, and as we continue to engage in many activities remotely, what constitutes sufficient minimum contacts will likely evolve. Courts look at whether the party which is sued purposefully availed itself to the benefits and protections of the laws of the state where they have been sued. Justice Earls in her opinion in Mucha v. Wagner pointed out that, for instance, entering into a contract with a North Carolina Resident, alone, is not sufficient to establish necessary minimum contacts with North Carolina to create jurisdiction. Instead, she pointed out that a critical fact would be whether a party entered into a contract with a North Carolina resident when the party knew they were located in North Carolina. Thus, it appears that knowledge of the other parties location is a critical prong of a jurisdictional analysis in North Carolina.
Justice Earls made it clear, “conduct directed at a person is not necessarily the same as conduct directed at a forum state. Second, a defendant’s knowledge that a plaintiff could be somewhere other than the state in which the plaintiff typically resides is not sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction in any state where the plaintiff happens to be.” Justice Earls also made it clear that Mucha v. Wagner is very unique. She stated, “Our decision in this case addresses a unique situation characterized by a crucial fact: Wagner lacked any reason to know or suspect that Mucha had moved to and was present in North Carolina. Further, it also appears from the record that neither Mucha nor Wagner had any ties to North Carolina at all prior to Mucha moving to the state. In another case, it would likely alter the jurisdictional analysis if the defendant had called the plaintiff in North Carolina on a phone number linked to a physical address in North Carolina.”
What should be apparent from this blog post is that jurisdictional challenges are very fact specific. Had Mucha been a North Carolina resident, and had Wagner known that at the time he made his 28 phone calls, he would likely have been subjected to jurisdiction in North Carolina. What is important to consider though, is in the event you have been sued in North Carolina, you should consult with a North Carolina lawyer regarding all of your available defenses, including, and especially, procedural defenses such as a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.
If you, or your business, are located outside of North Carolina, but you have been sued in North Carolina, and you would like to discuss your options and possible jurisdictional issues in your case, one of our attorneys would be happy to speak with you.