Hepler Broom, LLC

Missouri Court Refuses to Extend Personal Jurisdiction to Truck Driver Driving for Missouri Company

January 13, 2022

by Meg L. Fowler

In Babb v. Bartlett, ED 109479, 2021 WL 5894626 (Mo.App. E.D. Dec. 14, 2021), the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri recently affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of an action for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Case Background

This case involved a commercial truck driver. The defendant, Oklahoma resident Tiffany Bartlett, was driving for Meier Environmental Services and Associates, Inc. d/b/a Mesa, Inc. (“Mesa”), a Missouri corporation. As she was driving her truck in California, she struck the vehicle of the plaintiff, Charles Babb, also an Oklahoma resident[1]. Despite the fact that none of the parties were residents of Missouri and despite the fact that the accident occurred in California, Babb filed suit in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri.

Babb believed personal jurisdiction existed on the basis of Missouri’s long-arm statute, Section 506.500 RSMo. 2018. Specifically, Babb told the court that (1) Bartlett contracted with Mesa in Missouri to lease her tractor to Mesa and work as an over-the-road truck driver carrying loads for Mesa’s customers; (2) under Bartlett’s agreement with Mesa, she agreed to venue and personal jurisdiction in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County for claims relating to her work for Mesa; (3) Bartlett agreed to indemnify and hold Mesa harmless for liability arising from claims arising from her work for Mesa; (4) Bartlett agreed she would fully assist in the investigation and documentation of any accidents or legal action involving her work for Mesa (including this action), and that upon request by Mesa, she would attend hearings, trials, and depositions under her agreement with Mesa; and (5) Bartlett worked “extensively” in Missouri picking up and delivering loads for Mesa customers. In other words, Bartlett transacted business in Missouri, entered into a contract in Missouri, and contracted to insure a risk in Missouri. § 506.500.1(1), (2) and (5).

The Ruling

First, in regard to the agreement between Bartlett and Mesa (which was the primary jurisdictional basis asserted by Babb), the Babb court noted that Missouri’s long-arm statute requires that only actions arising from the acts set forth in the statute can trigger jurisdiction. The court found that it defied reason that the tort claim against Bartlett could “arise from” her agreement with Mesa since it had nothing to do with the tort claim against Bartlett. Even though it is conceivable that the accident would not have happened “but for” Bartlett’s work carried out under the agreement, the negligence claim itself did not arise out of the agreement. In terms of the forum selection clause of the agreement, Babb was not a party to the agreement, so the tort claim could not be controlled by the agreement, nor would the forum clause apply.

Second, in regard to transacting business in Missouri, the court found this, too, to be insufficient to establish jurisdiction. Although Bartlett had carried many loads in Missouri for a Missouri company, she was not carrying a load for the company at the time of the accident. Even if she had been, the tort claim did not arise out of her carrying that load but rather her purportedly negligent driving in general.

Finally, in terms of insurance, Babb’s claim against Bartlett did not arise from a contract to insure. Even the indemnity provision that existed was not related to the claim Babb was making. Accordingly, this provision of Missouri’s long-arm statute would not apply.

The Takeaway

The Babb case clearly illustrates the necessary nexus between the claim at hand and the elements of Missouri’s long-arm statute. The key takeaway from this case is that the cause of action must arise out of the defendant’s contacts with the State of Missouri. Had Babb’s theory of liability related to Bartlett’s employment relationship with Mesa, certainly the outcome would have been different. Even more simply, had Babb also sued Mesa for vicarious liability or on other grounds, there would have been no issue. But, with both litigants and the accident being foreign to Missouri, the court had no other choice but to deny jurisdiction.

[1] Charles Babb died, and his daughter, Autumn Babb, took over the role as the plaintiff.

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