gavel.gif (3462 bytes) Venue issues: Web site

Superior Court: Web site, e-mail
don’t support venue in Philadelphia County

In an important decision that involves venue and Internet web sites, the Pennsylvania Superior Court on Nov. 17, 2000 affirmed a Philadelphia Common Pleas judge’s ruling on a defense motion to transfer venue in a negligence case against a Delaware County restaurant. In Kubik v. Route 252, Inc., the Superior Court directed that the case be transferred to Delaware County, even though the restaurant maintains an interactive web site and e-mail newsletter and offered "on-line gift certificates" to solicit Philadelphia County residents.

In the 12-page opinion written by Judge Peter Paul Olszewski, the court reviewed several issues relating to venue raised by the appellant, Daniel J. Kubik, including one of whether the restaurant engaged in continuous and substantial business in Philadelphia County which is sufficient for the purpose of venue where it maintains its web site that gives driving directions from Philadelphia, and an e-mail newsletter. The court determined, however, that the "restaurant’s driving directions and e-mail do not conduct regularly conducted business."

According to the court’s opinion, Daniel Kubik was allegedly injured on Aug. 30, 1999 at Alberto’s Newtown Squire Restaurant when the chair he was sitting in collapsed. Kubik filed his complaint on Sept. 3, 1999 in Philadelphia County and the restaurant filed preliminary objections on Oct. 12, 1999. On Jan. 20, 2000, the trial court granted the defendant’s preliminary objections as to venue and directed that the case be transferred to Delaware County. An appeal by the plaintiff followed.

In its analysis of the appeal, Olszewski noted that the issue of venue as it related to the restaurant’s web site was one of first impression for the state court. However, Olszewski said that the Eastern District Court had addressed the topic in Blackburn v. Walker Oriental Rug Galleries. According to Olszewski, the Blackburn court identified three types of Internet contacts. The first type is where the defendant clearly does business over the Internet. The second type occurs when a user can exchange information with a host computer. The third type involves the posting of information or advertisements on an Internet web site, which is accessible to users of foreign jurisdictions. Although Olszewski said that the reason in Blackburn is "interesting," there are procedural differences between state and federal cases. Blackburn, he noted, was a copyright action, "and venue was proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. �1400." By contrast, Olszewski said that the state court rules require the defendant company to "regularly conduct business" in the county in which the plaintiff seeks venue" and must examine the quality and quantity of the defendant’s business contacts with the forum. Ulitimately, however, Olszewski said the court did not have to enter into the quality/quantity of contacts approach regarding the web site’s driving directions and e-mail newsletter because both were attempts to solicit business and as such were comparable to advertising in a newspaper or telephone book. "Our Supreme Court has held that ‘it is clear that advertisements in Philadelphia’s phone books and newspapers also fail to meet our standards for exercise of venue. Mere solicitations of business in a particular county does not amount to conducting business,’ Olszewski wrote.

Olszewski said that the restaurant’s sale of on-line gift certificates counted as more than a mere solicitation of business and had to be analyzed by the quality/quantity of contacts approach. Olszewski determined that the sale of gift certificates is merely incidental to its regular business and are a collateral act that is not enough to constitute regularly conducted business.

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