Southern District of Indiana Rules that Property Manager is Subject to Personal Jurisdiction Based on Text Messages Sent to the Forum State
The Southern District of Indiana recently held that it had personal jurisdiction over a company that had sent text messages marketing its Ohio properties to students in Indiana. Weiss v. Grand Campus Living, Inc., No. 18-0434, 2019 WL 1206167 (S.D. Ind. Mar. 14, 2019).
The plaintiff, a student at the University of Akron, alleged that defendants had violated the TCPA by sending text messages promoting student rental properties near the university. Id. Her phone was registered in Indiana where she resided, and she received one of the two texts while in Indiana. Id. Both defendants were incorporated and headquartered in Texas, and neither had offices or employees in Indiana. Id.
The defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that they had not “purposefully directed” their activities at Indiana. Id. at *2. When considering whether a defendant’s conduct is “purposefully directed,” the Seventh Circuit requires “(1) intentional conduct…; (2) expressly aimed at the forum state; (3) with the defendant’s knowledge that the effects would be felt—that is, the plaintiff would be injured—in the forum state.” Id. The court explained that sending a text message to a forum-state’s phone is a “significant, but not dispositive, factor” in determining if there has been purposeful direction. Id.
The court found that it had personal jurisdiction over one defendant but not the other. Id. at *4. One defendant managed the rental properties and directly engaged with the entity that sent the texts, while the other did not. Id. at *3-4. In light of the managing defendant’s business and the content of the text messages, the court found that its conduct showed an intent to market apartments to out-of-state and prospective students, including those in Indiana. Id. at *3. Importantly, the court noted that “[a]lthough a text message would be a thin reed to lean on for personal jurisdiction in a typical breach-of-contract matter, it constitutes purposeful direction in this TCPA suit, where the text messages are themselves the gravamen of the complaint.” Id. The court therefore denied the managing defendant’s motion to dismiss. Id.
The court dismissed the claims against the non-managing defendant, however. Id. at *4. It found that the non-managing defendant had not “purposefully directed” any conduct at Indiana because it had no control over the rental properties or contact with the entity that sent the text messages. Id at *3-4.