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Personal Jurisdiction Not Established by Alabama Contacts of Independent Contractor

Ex parte TitleMax of Georgia, Inc., et al., [Ms. 1200128, May 21, 2021], ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2021). On mandamus review, the Court (Bolin, J.; Parker, C.J., and Shaw, Wise, Bryan, Sellers, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur) determines the Talladega Circuit Court lacked personal jurisdiction over TitleMax of Georgia, Inc. and its affiliate TMX Finance, LLC in an action filed by Billingsley alleging wrongful repossession of a vehicle. Phallon Billingsley, an Alabama resident, had purchased the vehicle in Georgia and received a certificate of good title. Ms. *2. Following a “perceived” default on the “pawn ticket” agreement executed by a former owner of the vehicle, TitleMax of Georgia authorized a vehicle-repossession company to repossess the vehicle when it was located in Virginia. Ms. **2-3.

The Court first rejects Billingsley’s contention that TMX Finance was subject to general jurisdiction in Alabama and explains

We cannot equate TMX’s control of the Web site that its subsidiary, TitleMax of Alabama, used in its business operations with TMX’s control of TitleMax of Alabama, for the purpose of determining whether the trial court had general personal jurisdiction over TMX. The evidence before the trial court did not show that TMX controlled the internal business operations and decision-making of TitleMax of Alabama such that TitleMax of Alabama’s operations in Alabama should be imputed to TMX for the purpose of determining whether the trial court had general personal jurisdiction over TMX.

Ms. **16-17.

The Court also rejects judicial estoppel as a basis to find that TMX was subject to personal jurisdiction, and reasons “[w]e cannot say that TMX’s waiving a challenge to personal jurisdiction in the Etowah Circuit Court [workers’ compensation] case is inconsistent with its position in this case when the circumstances out of which the Etowah Circuit Court case arose are indisputably distinct from those that form the basis of this action.” Ms. **19-20.

The Court also rejects Billingsley’s reliance on specific jurisdiction arising from the activities of the companies which stored and then transported the repossessed vehicle back to Alabama where it was ultimately returned to Billingsley with extensive damage. The Court concludes “there is no evidence to support a finding that an agency relationship exists between either TitleMax of Georgia or TMX and IAA or Attention to Detail. There is no evidence suggesting that either TitleMax of Georgia or TMX controlled the means or methods of IAA’s storage of the vehicle or Attention to Detail’s transportation of the vehicle. Instead, it appears that IAA and Attention to Detail are independent contractors.” Ms. **22-23. The Court acknowledges the recent specific jurisdiction decision in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, 592 U.S. ___, 141 S. Ct. 1017 (2021), but notes “[t]he present case is distinguishable from Ford Motor because Ford Motor did not involve the issue of agency.” Ms. **23-24, n. 2.

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