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Makopoulos v. Walt Disney World Inc.

Decided: December 10, 1987.

EVAN MAKOPOULOS, AN INFANT BY HIS GUARDIAN AD LITEM, PAULA MAKOPOULOS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WALT DISNEY WORLD, INC., JOHN DOE, A FICTITIOUS NAME, BEING THE CHARACTER "MICKEY MOUSE", AND WALT DISNEY PRODUCTIONS, INC., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County.

Pressler, Bilder and Muir, Jr. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bilder, J.A.D.

Bilder

This appeal requires us to consider whether national advertising which comes into New Jersey, particularly television advertising originating from New York stations but clearly intended for a market area which includes northern New Jersey, creates sufficient contacts with this state to justify in personam jurisdiction.

Defendant Walt Disney World is the owner and operator of a Florida resort complex.*fn1 Apart from advertising activities which reach into this state, it has no contacts with New Jersey. It is not qualified to do business in the State of New Jersey; has neither incurred nor paid taxes here; has not appointed an agent for the service of process in this state; is not listed in any New Jersey telephone directories; has no assets, office or place of business in New Jersey; has no officers, agents or employees in the state; maintains no bank accounts in the state; and owns no real property in New Jersey. It has sent informational material with respect to its entertainment complex to travel agents in New Jersey, but pays no commissions to them if they book reservations to its complex. Its conduct appears to have remained substantially the same as it was when we considered a similar jurisdictional question in Serbin v. Walt Disney World, 159 N.J. Super. 88 (App.Div.1978), certif. den. 78 N.J. 337 (1978). And, as in Serbin, the claim asserted is for personal injuries. It is alleged that plaintiff, an infant then four years

old, was assaulted by one of defendant's employees while visiting the Florida complex.*fn2 Unless the invitation contained in defendant's national advertising campaign is a sufficient solicitation of business within our state to justify jurisdiction -- to comport with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice, see International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316-317, 66 S. Ct. 154, 158, 90 L. Ed. 95 (1945) and discussion Charles Gendler & Co. v. Telecom Equipment Corp., 102 N.J. 460, 469-481 (1986) -- the appeal is indistinguishable from Serbin and can be summarily disposed of on the authority of that opinion.

The general notion that solicitation directed to New Jersey residents can support jurisdiction over foreign resorts has been judicially recognized. See Radigan v. Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, 150 N.J. Super. 427 (App.Div.1977); Schaffer v. Granit Hotel Inc., 110 N.J. Super. 1 (App.Div.1970); Oliff v. Kiamesha Concord, Inc., 106 N.J. Super. 121 (Law Div.1969). However such cases can be readily distinguished by the directness of the solicitation. Defendant is careful in its proofs to note that its advertising is not directed specifically to residents of New Jersey. What we must consider is whether this clear difference is in a legal sense a distinction. We are satisfied from this record that it may not be -- at least not in 1987 when we can note the pervasive influence of television advertising campaigns which reach with intimacy into our kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms and, indeed, bedrooms.

We also note the apparent irrelevancy of defendant's argument that its television advertising does not originate in New Jersey and is not specifically directed at this state. We assume television advertising that would have been seen in Parsippany, plaintiff's residence, originated in New York. To television, geographic state boundaries are meaningless, only distance and transmission power matter. Commercial television broadcasts

transmitted from New York City are received in parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut -- it is a tri-state area. That is the market area and that is the area to which the advertising is directed. Defendant's advertising may not be specifically directed to New Jersey residents but it is generally so directed, and indeed so intended, and, as we have noted, in a most intimate manner. It is difficult to perceive a distinction between the drummer of earlier days whose presence at the front door created jurisdiction and the modern television campaign which seeks the same end and comes into the home to do it.

Speaking in Charles Gendler & Co. v. Telecom Equipment Corp., supra, our Supreme Court said the connection to our forum must arise from purposeful acts of the defendant such as would cause defendant to reasonably anticipate being sued here. By its interstate advertising, defendant may be successfully enticing people to visit its Florida resort. That some harms would follow and would result in claims in their home states, sites to which the advertising was intended to reach, was not only to be anticipated, it was predictable.

Today's jurisdiction is necessarily a function of today's technology and economic practice. Just as modern distribution systems have led to expansion of product liability jurisdiction, see World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297-298, 100 S. Ct. 559, 567, 62 L. Ed. 2d 490 (1980); Charles Gendler & Co. v. Telecom Equipment Corp., supra 102 N.J. at 477-481, so too the national media campaigns may well result in the expansion of personal jurisdiction over those who negligently perform services. It would seem that by its national campaign, defendant sought guests from New Jersey, it enticed them in New Jersey and, when it was effective, set the desired relationship in motion in New Jersey. Such acts may therefore be sufficient to permit jurisdiction. When the operator of a resort seeks to expand the market for its services ...


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