Judge: Iowa couple's suit vs Apple Vacations over Mexico airport shuttle crash doesn't belong in IL court

By Jonathan Bilyk | Nov 7, 2017

A Chicago federal judge has tossed an Iowa couple’s lawsuit against travel agencies over injuries they suffered in a car crash while on vacation in Mexico, saying the case has no business being in a courtroom in Chicago.

On Nov. 3, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall dismissed the action brought by plaintiffs Brian and Lisa Congdon against travel agency Apple Vacations, vacation package seller CheapCaribbean.com and Dominican Republic-based airport shuttle company, Amstar DMC.

“…This Court cannot conclude that Defendants have purposefully availed themselves of the privilege of conducting activities within Illinois and invoked the protections and benefits of its laws such that hailing Defendants into an Illinois court would be both fair and reasonable,” Kendall wrote in her decision. “Maintaining this suit would offend due process, and the Court concludes that it lacks personal jurisdiction over the Defendants in this action.”

The case stems from the crash of an airport shuttle in Cancun. According to the court documents, the Congdons purchased an all-inclusive Apple Vacations package through CheapCaribbean.com. They then traveled to Mexico on June 10, 2015, where they were greeted by “representatives” of Apple Vacations and CheapCaribbean, and were put onto an Amstar shuttle, which would then take them from the airport to their resort.

However, the Congdons alleged the vehicle was driven “negligently in inclement weather” and then “crashed … into a building.” The Congdons were allegedly injured in the crash.

In 2017, the couple filed suit in Cook County, asserting the companies should be made to pay for the incident and their injuries.

In that complaint, they asserted the companies could be sued in Chicago because the companies “engaged in business of selling all-inclusive travel packages … in all 50 states.”

The companies, however, asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Daimler AG v Bauman, in which the court significantly pared back the concept of “general jurisdiction,” or the ability of courts to exercise jurisdiction over companies not actually based in a particular state or region.

The Apple Vacation defendants noted the plaintiffs are not from Illinois, nor are any of the defendant companies based in Illinois, or have any real physical presence in the state, beyond selling vacation packages to Illinois residents online or by phone.

The Congdons argued the defendants’ sales in Illinois should be enough to allow them to be sued in Chicago.

Kendall, however, sided with the companies, saying under Daimler – and particularly, under Aspen American Insurance Co. v Interstate Warehousing, a recent Illinois Supreme Court decision which applied the Daimler decision to Illinois law -  she could not allow the Congdons’ lawsuit to continue.

“These contacts are insufficient, and Illinois cannot exercise general jurisdiction over any Defendant in this case,” Kendall wrote. “Put differently, none of the activities alleged are sufficient for the Court to conclude that any of the Defendants are ‘essentially at home’ in (Illinois), which again has supplanted the generic ‘doing business’ standard for general jurisdiction in Illinois.”

The lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it could still be reintroduced if the plaintiffs wish to try again.

The Congdons were represented in the action by attorney Steven A. Sigmond, of Chicago.

The Apple Vacations defendants were defended by attorneys with the firm of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, of Chicago and Edwardsville.

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