Vernon and Bonnie Rambo, plaintiffs below, appeal the dismissal of their action against American Southern Insurance Company, Mid South Claim Services, Inc., and W.T.R. Inc., for lack of personal jurisdiction. We affirm.
In November 1984, the Rambos insured their 1976 International tractor-trailer truck with defendant American Southern Insurance Company ("American"). American is a Georgia corporation. The Rambos were residents of Alabama at the time the insurance contract was executed. The truck was leased to an Alabama freight company for cross-country hauling. Shortly thereafter, the Rambos moved to Texas. In December 1984, while the Rambos were living in Texas, the truck was stolen in California. The Rambos reported the theft to American. American employed defendant Mid South Claim Services, Inc. ("Mid South") to investigate and settle the claim. Mid South is also a Georgia corporation. After the truck was stolen and the claim filed, the Rambos moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Subsequently, the truck was recovered, but it was damaged. According to the Rambos, Mid South agreed to deliver the truck to Oklahoma City for repairs. However, Mid South hired defendant W.T.R., Inc. ("WTR"), a Texas corporation, to make the repairs and had the truck taken to Texas for the repair work. During this period, Mid South wrote several letters to the Rambos and also discussed the claim with the Rambos over the telephone. The Rambos were unhappy that the truck was repaired in Texas, and when they picked it up, the repairs were neither satisfactory nor complete.
The Rambos filed this action against American, Mid South and WTR in the federal district court for the Western District of Oklahoma alleging breach of contract and failure to deal in good faith. All three defendants appeared specially, objecting to the court's jurisdiction over them and filing motions to quash and dismiss. Each defendant filed an affidavit asserting that it had no business relationship with the state of Oklahoma: no office, no employees, no property, in short, nothing constituting a presence or contact in the forum state. In response, the Rambos offered the letters written to them in Oklahoma City by Mid South and an affidavit alleging "eight or ten telephone conversations with American Southern and/or Mid South after we moved to Oklahoma." R.Supp. Vol. I.
This appeal presents only one issue: could the district court in Oklahoma exercise personal jurisdiction over the nonresident corporate defendants?
"Whether a federal court has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant in a diversity action is determined by the law of the forum state." Yarbrough v. Elmer Bunker & Assocs., 669 F.2d 614, 616 (10th Cir.1982); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(e). "The test for exercising long-arm jurisdiction in Oklahoma is to determine first whether the exercise of jurisdiction is authorized by statute and, if so, whether such exercise of jurisdiction is consistent with the constitutional requirements of due process." Yarbrough, 669 F.2d at 616 (quoting Luckett v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 618 F.2d 1373, 1385-86 (10th Cir.1980)). In Oklahoma, this two-part inquiry collapses into a single due process analysis, as the current Oklahoma long-arm statute provides that "A court of this state may exercise jurisdiction on any basis consistent with the Constitution of this state and the Constitution of the United States." Okla.Stat. tit. 12,
We have outlined the general test for personal jurisdiction under the federal Constitution many times.
First City Bank, 820 F.2d at 1130-31; see also Jones v. 3M Co., 107 F.R.D. 202, 205-06 (D.N.M.1984).
Appellate review of district court decisions on questions of jurisdiction was explained in Behagen v. Amateur Basketball Ass'n of the United States, 744 F.2d 731, 733 (10th Cir.1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1010, 105 S.Ct. 1879, 85 L.Ed.2d 171 (1985):
(citations omitted); see also Ten Mile Indus. Park v. Western Plains Service Corp., 810 F.2d 1518, 1524 (10th Cir.1987). We review a district court's ruling on a jurisdictional question de novo. Ten Mile Indus. Park, 810 F.2d at 1524. Thus, our task is to determine whether the plaintiffs' allegations, as supported by affidavits, make a prima facie showing of the minimum contacts necessary to establish jurisdiction over each defendant.
The district court's decision to dismiss the claim against WTR may be summarily affirmed. WTR had no contact with Oklahoma relating to the Rambos' cause of action. According to the complaint and allegations of the plaintiffs, there was no contact with WTR until the Rambos went to Texas to reclaim the truck. The mere fact that WTR was employed by an insurance company to repair the property of Oklahoma residents will not support jurisdiction.
The decision to dismiss American and Mid South requires more scrutiny. Rambo argues that the telephone and written contacts with Mid South can be used to exercise jurisdiction over both Mid South and American because Mid South was acting as American's agent to settle the claim. We note initially that the record does not establish the relationship between American and Mid South. However, because American does not deny the allegation, we will assume, without deciding, that the actions of Mid South may be considered in analyzing jurisdiction over American as well.
Certainly, telephone calls and letters may provide sufficient contacts for the exercise of personal jurisdiction. See Continental Am. Corp. v. Camera Controls Corp., 692 F.2d 1309, 1313-14 (10th Cir.1982). In proper circumstances, even a single letter or telephone call to the forum state may meet due process standards. See Burger King, 471 U.S. at 475 n. 18, 105 S.Ct. at 2184 n. 18 ("So long as it creates a `substantial connection' with the forum, even a single act can support jurisdiction."); see also Anselmi v. Denver Post, Inc., 552 F.2d 316, 323 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 432 U.S. 911, 97 S.Ct. 2960, 53 L.Ed.2d 1084 (1977); Berrett v. Life Ins. Co. of the Southwest, 623 F.Supp. 946, 950-51 (D.Utah 1985). However, the exercise of jurisdiction depends on the nature of those contacts. The existence of letters or telephone calls to the forum state related to the plaintiff's action will not necessarily meet due process standards. See Nicholas v. Buchanan, 806 F.2d 305, 307 (1st Cir.1986) (plaintiff's "generalized reference to inter-state contacts `via telephone communications' and `via U.S. mail,' without more," did not satisfy due process requirements), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 107 S.Ct. 2466, 95 L.Ed.2d 875 (1987); Peterson v. Kennedy, 771 F.2d 1244, 1262 (9th Cir.1985) ("ordinarily `use of the mails, telephone, or other international communications simply do not qualify as purposeful
The proper focus for analyzing these contacts is whether they represent an effort by the defendant to "purposefully avail itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State."
Burger King, 471 U.S. at 474-75, 105 S.Ct. at 2183-84 (emphasis in original);
In similar circumstances, where the insurance company's contacts with the forum were driven by the plaintiff's choice of residence after the claim arose, the Ninth Circuit failed to find the requisite minimum contacts. In Hunt v. Erie Ins. Group, 728 F.2d 1244 (9th Cir.1984), the plaintiff, a resident of Virginia, was severely injured in an automobile accident in Colorado while en route to visit her mother in California. She was hospitalized in Colorado and a dispute arose with the other party's insurance company (Erie) which was licensed to do business in several eastern states but had no offices or contacts in the West. Before the claim was settled, Hunt's mother moved her to California for treatment and rehabilitation. Subsequently, Hunt brought suit in California for breach of contract and various torts. The appellate court found that Erie's contacts with California were insufficient to support the exercise of personal jurisdiction. The parallel with the Rambos' claim here is striking, as the court found that:
Id. at 1248. We find the Ninth Circuit's reasoning persuasive and agree that minimum contacts are not necessarily established simply because a plaintiff's move into a state requires the defendant to send communications into that forum. Id.
Even more illuminating is a comparison with McGee v. Int'l Life Ins. Co., 355 U.S. 220, 78 S.Ct. 199, 2 L.Ed.2d 223 (1957). In McGee, the Supreme Court found due process requirements satisfied where a Texas insurance company's single contact with California was the solicitation of a reinsurance agreement in California and the acceptance of premiums mailed from California.
The Rambos also argue that when Mid South agreed to return the truck to Oklahoma for repairs, an oral contract to be performed in Oklahoma was created. We can find no contract in these allegations. Any statement by Mid South in these circumstances was a mere accommodation and did not represent a modification of the insurance contract. The insurance contract provided: "At our [insurance company's] option we may: a. Pay for, repair or replace damaged or stolen property; or b. Return the stolen property, at our expense." Brief of Appellant at 14. We find no jurisdictional significance in discussions as to where the repairs might be made and the mere assertion that a contract was formed or modified will not support jurisdiction. See American Land Program, Inc. v. Bonaventura Uitgevers Maatschappij, N.V., 710 F.2d 1449, 1454 (10th Cir.1983). In addition, even if we were to recognize an oral contract between Mid South and the Rambos to repair the truck in Oklahoma, the absence of "purposeful availment" still remains a jurisdictional barrier, for "an individual's contract with an out-of-state party alone can[not] automatically establish sufficient minimum contacts in the other party's home forum." Burger King, 471 U.S. at 478, 105 S.Ct. at 2185 (emphasis in original).
Finally, the Rambos assert that jurisdiction is proper because Oklahoma is the most convenient place to litigate this case. While the convenience of the forum is relevant to due process analysis, it is not a controlling factor. "[E]ven if the forum State is the most convenient location for the litigation, the Due Process Clause, ... may sometimes act to divest the State of its power to render a valid judgment." World-Wide Volkswagen, 444 U.S. at 294, 100 S.Ct. at 566.
The order of the district court is AFFIRMED.
Because Okla.Stat. tit. 12, § 2004 F is all-encompassing, extending jurisdiction in Oklahoma to the limits of due process, there is no need for a separate analysis under the insurance statute. Any contacts sufficient to confer jurisdiction under the broader provision would also be sufficient under this provision.
The Ninth Circuit has set forth these requirements in a three-part test for specific jurisdiction:
Data Disc, Inc. v. Systems Tech. Assocs., Inc., 557 F.2d 1280, 1287 (9th Cir.1977); see Ins. Co. of North Am. v. Marina Salina Cruz, 649 F.2d 1266, 1270 (9th Cir.1981) (jurisdiction over Mexican shipyard held unreasonable).
We need not reach the question of reasonableness here, but note that it would not be unreasonable to require a domestic insurance company that has insured a truck leased for interstate travel to defend itself in an Oklahoma forum. It would certainly be as reasonable, we suppose, as defending itself in Texas.