Monday, March 16, 2009
Court of Appeal Rejects Challenge to Jurisdiction by Head of TrimSpa
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The head of the company that markets weight loss dietary supplement TrimSpa consented to the Los Angeles Superior Court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over him by seeking approval of a settlement in a class action against the company, this district’s Court of Appeal held Friday.
Rejecting Alexander Szynalski’s contention that the agreement preserved his challenge to the court’s jurisdiction, Div. Five ruled that availment of the court gave rise to sufficient minimum contacts supporting specific jurisdiction in an action for payment by the settlement administrator.
Szynalski, also known as Alexander Goen, contested the court’s jurisdiction over him in a class action suit alleging he made false and misleading statements in labeling and advertising the supplement—made famous by the late Anna Nicole Smith, who cooed “TrimSpa, baby” in commercials—but the parties settled before the court considered Szynalski’s challenge.
The settlement agreement provided for the appointment of a settlement administrator, whose expenses Szynalski and his companies agreed to pay, and that the court would have continuing jurisdiction over terms, including any dispute relating to the administrator’s “ability and need to perform its duties.”
The court, approving the agreement, expressly retained jurisdiction “as to all matters relating to…administration.”
The agreement also acknowledged that Szynalski had specially appeared to challenge the court’s jurisdiction, and when the administrator brought an action for payment of over $700,000 for its services, Szynalski argued that the issue of jurisdiction had been reserved.
He then moved to quash service of the summons and complaint, asserting that he was a resident of New Jersey and lacked the requisite minimum contacts with California to support specific personal jurisdiction, but Superior Court Judge James R. Dunn denied the motion.
On appeal, Justice Richard M. Mosk noted that Szynalski’s presence in the state for settlement negotiations did not necessarily result in personal jurisdiction over him, but Mosk wrote that Szynalski had consented to jurisdiction “[b]y obtaining court approval of the settlement, retaining a court-appointed administrator, accepting the benefits of the administrator’s services, and agreeing to pay the administrator’s fees—all with the understanding that respondent court retained jurisdiction to adjudicate issues relating to the settlement agreement.”
Commenting that the controversy arose “out of Szynalski’s contracts with California—the settlement agreement and court order,” Mosk opined that Szynalski had sufficient minimum contacts with the state to support jurisdiction, regardless of whether Szynalski would have been subject to jurisdiction in the class action.
The justice also brushed aside Szynalski’s argument that the agreement reserved his challenge to jurisdiction as being “to no avail.”
“[The administrator] was not a party to that agreement,” he said. “Moreover, it is Szynalski’s conduct and his consent to jurisdiction in connection with this specific matter that control. One cannot alter by reservation the personal jurisdiction conferred by minimum contacts or consent.”
Presiding Justice Paul Turner and Justice Orville A. Armstrong joined Mosk in his opinion.
The case is Szynalski v. Superior Court (Rosenthal & Company, LLC), B212278.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company