Law School Case Brief
PKWare, Inc. v. Timothy L. Meade & Ascent Sols. - 79 F. Supp. 2d 1007 (E.D. Wis. 2000)
The Wisconsin long-arm statute provides for personal jurisdiction in any action over a defendant who, when the action is commenced, is engaged in substantial and not isolated activities within the state, whether such activities are wholly interstate, intrastate, or otherwise. Wis. Stat. § 801.05(1)(d). The statute is to be liberally construed in favor of exercising jurisdiction and is intended to confer jurisdiction to the extent allowed by due process.
Plaintiff PKWare, Inc. was a Wisconsin company which develops and licenses various software products. Plaintiff was the originator of certain software known as PKZIP software, and owns a patent, trademarks and copyrights on some of the technology related to the software. Defendant Timothy L. Meade was an Ohio resident in the business of translating and reselling software. In September 1992 plaintiff and Meade entered into a contract under which Meade would convert some of plaintiff's software. At this time, Meade was a sole proprietor doing business under the name "Ascent Solutions." In 1993 Meade incorporated his business in Ohio under the name Ascent Solutions, Inc. ("ASI") and became ASI's majority shareholder, president and CEO. Plaintiff commenced this action against both defendants alleging a variety of claims under both state and federal law. Relying on copyright and trademark law and state common law, plaintiff sued defendants for allegedly breaching a the contract. Defendants moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, to transfer venue.
Were Ohio defendants Meade and ASI subject to personal jurisdiction under Wisconsin's long-arm statute and, if so, whether exercising jurisdiction under the statute was consistent with the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment?
The United States District Court granted only the motion to dismiss the copyright infringement claim against individual defendant Meade. The Court denied the remaining motions. The Court held that personal jurisdiction in the Wisconsin court existed over both defendants on all claims; that the state long-arm statute authorized jurisdiction; and that due process requirements were satisfied. The Court also found that venue was proper for all claims except the one copyright infringement claim.
The Wisconsin long-arm statute provides for personal jurisdiction in any action over "a defendant who when the action is commenced . . . is engaged in substantial and not isolated activities within this state, whether such activities are wholly interstate, intrastate or otherwise." The quality of defendants' contacts was also high for personal jurisdiction purposes. The contacts included one in-person visit, and numerous personal contacts via telephone, e-mail and other writing. With respect to the third Nagel factor, the source of the cause of action, plaintiff's lawsuit arises directly from defendants' Wisconsin contacts. Plaintiff alleges that defendants breached the agreement that resulted from and was maintained through defendants' Wisconsin contacts. It is also significant that defendants agreed that Wisconsin law would govern their contract with plaintiff. The invocation of forum law to govern a contract is a strong connection with the forum. Wisconsin courts presume that compliance with the Wisconsin long-arm statute satisfies the requirements of due process as well. Due process permits a Wisconsin court to exercise jurisdiction over a defendant who has "minimum contacts" with this state such that maintenance of a lawsuit here "does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'"
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