April 20, 2015 – An Illinois man who broke his collarbone while boarding a chairlift at Devil’s Head Ski Resort in Merrimac, Wisconsin, can’t sue the ski resort in Illinois federal district court because the court lacks personal jurisdiction over the ski resort.
That’s what a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in Kipp v. Ski Enterprise Corporation of Wisconsin Inc., No. 14-2527 (April 15, 2015), affirming the Illinois federal district court’s decision to dismiss the case.
William Kipp, an Illinois resident, alleged the ski resort was negligent for operating an “unreasonably fast” chairlift, which caused him to break his collarbone when boarding the chairlift on a winter day in January 2012. He sued in the Northern District of Illinois.
The district court had subject matter jurisdiction based on diversity, but granted Ski Enterprise Corporation of Wisconsin’s motion to dismiss. It said the ski resort’s contacts in Illinois were too minimal to trigger personal jurisdiction over the ski resort.
The federal appeals panel agreed, even though Ski Enterprise attended a trade show in Chicago, sent marketing emails to Illinois residents, and targeted Illinois customers with a “Chicagoland Express” package to draw Windy City skiers and snowboarders.
“Ski Enterprise does solicit business in Illinois, but no case has ever held that solicitation alone is sufficient for general jurisdiction,” wrote Judge Diane Wood.
The panel noted that Ski Enterprise has no employees in Illinois and is not registered to do business there. It also noted that Ski Enterprise does not advertise in Illinois, besides attending the trade show, and Illinois residents cannot purchase lift tickets from Illinois.
Kipp had argued that 60 to 75 percent of Devil’s Head customers are from Illinois, evidence that solicitation efforts are enough to trigger personal jurisdiction.
“[T]hough the percentage of customers from Illinois is substantial, it is unclear whether that figure is caused by Ski Enterprise’s Illinois solicitation or is simply a result of the close proximity of Illinois to the resort and the high population density of Chicago,” wrote Judge Wood, also noting that not all Devil’s Head visitors from Illinois are necessarily skiing.
The panel also rejected Kipp’s argument that the Devil’s Head Ski Resort website triggers personal jurisdiction. “We have been clear that maintaining a public website is not sufficient, by itself, to establish general jurisdiction,” Judge Wood explained.
“There is nothing wrong with taking the website into account, even though it does not even allow customers to purchase lift tickets. But doing so does not help Kipp.”