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Corporate Flight Management, Inc. v. Tal Aviation, S.A.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

August 28, 2019

CORPORATE FLIGHT MANAGEMENT, INC.
v.
TAL AVIATION, S.A. ET AL.

          Session February 26, 2019

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Rutherford County No. 17CV-1549 Barry R. Tidwell, Judge

         The issue in this appeal is whether the Tennessee court had personal jurisdiction over the Defendant. A Luxemburg company contracted with a French citizen to provide the citizen with a certain number of flight hours on the company's private jets; the contract provided that, if the company did not have a jet available, it would procure a private jet from a third party. After providing a jet for the citizen to travel from Luxemburg to Turks and Caicos, the company did not have a jet available to return the citizen to his home, so the company engaged a charter aircraft company based in Tennessee to fly the citizen home in one of the Tennessee company's jets. When the Luxemburg company did not pay for the flight, the Tennessee company filed this breach of contract action against the Luxemburg company and the French citizen in Rutherford County Chancery Court. The French citizen moved to dismiss the action against him on the ground that the Tennessee court lacked personal jurisdiction over him; the motion was granted. The Tennessee company appeals, contending that the court had personal jurisdiction over the French citizen because the Luxemburg company acted as the citizen's agent and its contacts with Tennessee were thereby imputed to him for jurisdictional purposes. We conclude that the trial court correctly determined that it did not have personal jurisdiction over the French citizen and accordingly affirm the judgment granting the motion to dismiss.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed

          Ron Pursell, Edward A. Hadley, and Brent A. Kinney, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Corporate Flight Management, Inc.

          George H. Cate, III, Edmund S. Sauer, and Kayleigh E. Butterfield, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Patrice Charles-Louis Mourruau, Ta l Av iation, S.A., and NOAFLY Aviation, S.A.

          Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and W. Neal McBrayer, J., joined.

          OPINION

          RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         NOAFLY Aviation, S.A., a company organized under the laws of Luxembourg and with its principal place of business there, provides charter aircraft services. On November 10, 2016, NOAFLY entered into a contract ("the NOAFLY Contract") with Patrice Charles-Louis Mourruau, in which NOAFLY agreed to provide Mr. Mourruau 55 flight hours on a "Legacy 650 type aircraft." Under the contract, if Mr. Mourruau requested a flight and a Legacy 650 was unavailable, NOAFLY would provide a Global 6000 aircraft. If neither a Legacy 650 nor a Global 6000 was available, NOAFLY was "required to provide a replacement aircraft of the same type or a higher category than the [Legacy 650]." The contract allowed NOAFLY to obtain an aircraft and charter services from a third party, if necessary.

         On May 7, 2017, Mr. Mourruau flew from Luxembourg to Turks and Caicos on an aircraft which NOAFLY procured for Mr. Mourruau's use from a third party. Mr. Mourruau was scheduled to return to Luxembourg on May 13 on the same aircraft; however, that aircraft was not available for his return. On May 12, NOAFLY asked Corporate Flight Management, Inc. ("CFM")[1] for a quote on an aircraft to fly Mr. Mourruau from Turks and Caicos to Luxembourg; CFM quoted $137, 823.67 for the flight and provided NOAFLY with a contract that day. The Complaint alleges that NOAFLY "purported to attempt to pay CFM through wire transfer on May 12"; payment was not successful.[2] CFM provided the flight on May 13, and representatives of NOALFY and CFM signed the contract ("the CFM contract") on May 17.

         Sometime after May 17, [3] CFM filed this action in Rutherford County Circuit Court; CFM filed a Second Amended Complaint against NOAFLY and Mr. Mourruau on February 26, 2018, asserting, inter alia, that NOAFLY had breached the CFM Contract by failing to pay any of the amount due under the Agreement and that NOAFLY had acted as Mr. Mourruau's agent in executing the Agreement.[4] Mr. Mourruau moved the court to dismiss him from the suit pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(2), asserting that the trial court did not have personal jurisdiction over him; in support of the motion, Mr. Mourruau attached his declaration and a copy of the contract he entered into with NOAFLY. CFM responded, contending that the court had specific personal jurisdiction over Mr. Mourruau because NOAFLY was acting as his agent and NOAFLY's contacts with Tennessee "bound Mr. Mourruau to the jurisdiction of" the court; in support of the argument, CFM filed the affidavit of its sales manager, Sybilla Slavin.

         In an order entered May 25, 2018, the trial court ruled it could not exercise general or specific personal jurisdiction over Mr. Mourruau and dismissed him from the suit. CFM appeals, contending that the trial court erred in holding that Mr. Mourruau was not subject to personal jurisdiction in Rutherford County.

         II. Analysis

         '"The authority of courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over nonresident defendants is circumscribed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, '" which is co-extensive with the due process protections of the Tennessee Constitution. First Community Bank, N.A. v. First Tennessee Bank, N.A., 489 S.W.3d 369, 383 (Tenn. 2015) (quoting Gordon v. Greenview Hosp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 635, 646 (Tenn. 2009)). "Our General Assembly has passed long-arm statutes[5] which expand the jurisdictional reach of Tennessee courts "'as far as constitutionally permissible.'" Id. (quoting State v. NV Sumatra Tobacco Trading Co., 403 S.W.3d 726, 740 (Tenn. 2013)).

         There are two general categories of personal jurisdiction: general[6] and specific. [S]pecific jurisdiction:

exists when a defendant has minimum contacts with the forum state and the cause of action arises out of those contacts.
***
Determining whether a forum state may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant is a two-step analysis which requires a court to analyze first whether the defendant's activities in the state that gave rise to the cause of action constitute sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state to support specific jurisdiction and, if so, whether the exercise of jurisdiction over the nonresident defendant is fair.
***
[I]n order for a nonresident defendant's contacts with the forum state to be sufficient to give rise to personal jurisdiction there, those contacts must arise out of the defendant's own purposeful, deliberate actions directed toward the forum state.
***
In other words, "minimum contacts must have a basis in 'some act by which the defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the ...

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