Before a California court can impose and enforce California laws on a person,
the Court must have what is known as "personal jurisdiction"
over that person. California courts clearly have jurisdiction over California
residents, but whether California courts have jurisdiction over a non-resident
is a question that must be answered at the outset of any case.
The question is typically answered by looking at the facts of the situation
and analyzing whether the non-resident person has purposely directed himself
to the state and/or had sufficient contacts within the state. This issue
came up in a recent case where a California Plaintiff purchased a car
from a Wisconsin Defendant over the popular auction website, eBay. Needless
to say, the car was not as advertised, so the Plaintiff buyer sued the
Defendant seller in federal court for violations of California's consumer
The United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, ruling
that a single eBay transaction, without anything more, is an insufficient
"contact" to establish personal jurisdiction over a non-resident
defendant. The Court relied on the fact that the Defendant seller did
not specifically direct his eBay auction toward California or California
purchasers, but that the auction was broadcast to the entire world. The
Court further noted that the Defendant seller was not the owner of eBay
and therefore was not specifically doing business in California, nor did
he have any further or continuing obligation toward the California purchaser.
Ultimately, the Court dismissed the case for "want of personal jurisdiction"
(i.e., lack of personal jurisdiction) over the Defendant seller.
However, the Court was careful to point out that this case was limited
to it's facts and if the non-resident eBay seller had a continuing
eBay operation that regularly sold to California consumers, the Court
could easily find sufficient contacts to establish personal jurisdiction over him.
What's the lesson for eBay users? Just be careful who you buy from
on eBay. If it's not a regular seller with sufficient contacts in
California, you may not be able to use the California courts to enforce
or cancel your agreement.