Friday, August 7, 2020

It's Business Not Personal

The Nebraska Supreme Court has overturned a garnishment order against an attorney's personal bank account. 

Meister, an attorney in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, represented Alejandra Garza (Alejandra), a minor, in a personal injury matter. During the course of that representation, it was determined that Alejandra needed surgery. The doctor treating Alejandra recommended that the surgery be performed by Gem City in Laramie, Wyoming. Alejandra’s father signed an authorization for treatment and an assignment from any potential settlement proceeds to ensure payment of Alejandra’s surgery.

Following the surgery, but before settlement occurred, Alejandra’s father passed away and Alejandra obtained the age of majority. Upon settlement, Gem City requested the full amount billed for the treatment, $15,337. Meister disputed this billing, claiming that Gem City should have billed Medicaid and that Nebraska law did not permit Gem City to charge above the Medicaid reimbursement rate of $5,112.33.

A settlement was not reached, and Gem City pursued, in Wyoming, a breach of contract action against Meister and his professional corporation to recover the portion of the settlement assigned to them.

The attorney moved to dismiss the Wyoming action on jurisdictional grounds 

There was a hearing on the jurisdiction issue in Wyoming, but the record does not show that any evidence was produced. The district court in Wyoming denied Meister and his professional corporation’s motion and proceeded to trial. Neither Meister nor his professional corporation appeared, and the Wyoming court entered default judgment against Meister and his professional corporation, jointly and severally. The Wyoming judgment was not appealed.

The medical provider sought to enforce the judgment in Nebraska

the district court rejected Meister and his professional corporation’s argument and found that they had failed to rebut the presumption that the Wyoming court had personal jurisdiction.

Before the court

We find that Meister is not barred from litigating in this appeal the question of whether the Wyoming judgment is void for lack of jurisdiction.

The merits

On the record before us, we are unable to identify any actions in the pleadings or at subsequent hearings that can be attributed to Meister as an individual, which would lead us to find that the Wyoming court had jurisdiction over Meister as an individual. All of the actions by Meister identified by the pleadings constitute actions by Meister’s professional corporation in the course of representing Alejandra. Neither Gem City nor the Wyoming court provides any precedent that imputes actions done in a professional capacity to an individual personally for jurisdictional purposes..

Without any actions taken by Meister as an individual that can satisfy the minimum contacts requirements for jurisdiction, we must conclude that the Wyoming court improperly exercised personal jurisdiction over Meister as an individual. Without jurisdiction, the Wyoming order is void as to Meister as an individual.

Conclusion

The only order properly before us on appeal is the August 21, 2019, order, which garnishes Meister’s personal bank account. On the facts presented, we find that the Wyoming court incorrectly determined that it had jurisdiction of Meister as an individual. We make no finding as to whether there was personal jurisdiction over Meister’s professional corporation. Because we are vacating the Nebraska order garnishing Meister’s personal bank account, we need not address Meister’s second assignment of error.

The case is GEM CITY BONE & JOINT v. MEISTER, decided today. (Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2020/08/the-nebraska-supreme-court-meister-an-attorney-in-scottsbluff-nebraska-represented-alejandra-garza-alejandra-a-minor.html

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