The Court of Appeals of Nebraska has affirmed the dismissal of a claim under a reinsurance participation agreement based on lack of personal jurisdiction.
Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assurance Co., an Iowa corporation with its principal place of business in Nebraska, entered into a reinsurance participation agreement with Doyle Signs Inc., an Illinois corporation based in Illinois. The agreement contained a choice-of-law clause and a forum selection clause providing that the agreement would be governed by Nebraska law and that disputes regarding the agreement would be heard by the “courts of Nebraska.” Applied Underwriters later sued in Nebraska state court alleging that Doyle owed it nearly $380,000 under the agreement.
Doyle moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction claiming it did not have sufficient contacts with Nebraska to be hauled into court there and, in the alternative, that Nebraska was not a reasonably convenient forum. The trial court granted Doyle’s motion and Applied Underwriters appealed.
The Court of Appeals affirmed. It found the case largely on point with its prior decision in Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assurance Co. v. E.M. Pizza, Inc., 26 Neb. App. 906, 923 N.W.2d 789 (2019). In that case, the court concluded that the defendant had sufficient minimum contacts with Nebraska for specific jurisdiction but that Nebraska was nevertheless not a reasonably convenient forum.
Attempting to distinguish E.M. Pizza, Applied Underwriters argued that Doyle did business in Nebraska and was subject to general personal jurisdiction there. The court rejected that argument. It concluded that Doyle did not have systematic and continuous general business contacts with Nebraska based on the fact that it had bid for and had been awarded eight contracts by corporate offices outside Nebraska to make signs for Nebraska stores when the signs were manufactured outside Nebraska, transported to Nebraska by third parties, and there was no evidence that, among other things, Doyle had any employees in Nebraska, made sales there, or solicited business there.
In the alternative, the court noted that even if Doyle had sufficient minimum contacts with the state, it was not fair or reasonable for Nebraska courts to exercise jurisdiction over Doyle.
The court also rejected Applied Underwriters’ argument that the forum selection clause conferred jurisdiction on Nebraska’s courts, noting that it had rejected a similar argument in E.M. Pizza.
Finally, the court rejected Applied Underwriters’ contention that Doyle did not challenge service upon it, explaining that courts are still entitled to determine whether Nebraska courts are a convenient forum notwithstanding the apparent lack of challenge to service of process.
Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assurance Co. v. Doyle Signs, Inc., No. A-19-464, 2019 WL 7425406 (Neb. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2019) (copy of opinion available from Nebraska court website with a subscription).