Buyer Plaintiffs Dodge Jurisdiction Dismissals by Filing in New States

Although key defendants in the wide-ranging buyer-side commission lawsuit known as Batton recently sought to have their cases dismissed by arguing a lack of personal jurisdiction, plaintiffs have drawn these real estate firms back into the fray by filing new claims in new states. 

Personal jurisdiction refers to a court’s power to enforce judgment on a person or entity. Certain defendants in the Batton case had successfully argued that since they have no substantial connection or presence in the state of Illinois, where Batton was filed, that Judge Andrea R. Wood, who is overseeing the case in the Northern District of Illinois, lacks the jurisdiction to rule on their behalf. 

Several of these defendants have been thrown back into the mix, however, thanks to recent claims filed in new states. According to a joint status report submitted to the court on July 2, the original dismissal of claims based on lack of personal jurisdiction for defendants HomeServices of America, Inc., BHH Affiliates, LLC and HSF Affiliates, was refiled in the Southern District of Florida on April 29, 2024 on behalf of James Lutz. This past February, Judge Wood had ruled in the companies’ favor, agreeing that the court did not have jurisdiction based on Illinois law.

Lutz also filed an amended complaint against Batton defendant Douglas Elliman, despite the firm’s voluntary dismissal without prejudice on June 12, where plaintiffs stated that “(s)uch dismissal is proper because Douglas Elliman Inc. has not yet served either an answer or a motion for summary judgment.”

Claims dismissed without prejudice, however, enable plaintiffs to refile claims at a later point, which is now also the case with Batton defendant Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, against whom plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed claims without prejudice on March 4. Plaintiffs’ counsel subsequently filed suit against Hanna Holdings on behalf of Scott Davis in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on May 31.

The Batton case is the largest buyer-side commission lawsuit the industry is currently confronting, alleging antitrust violations in over 30 states against many of real estate’s most notable firms. The July 2 joint status report also included the following updates:

– Compass Inc., eXp World Holdings, Redfin Corp., Weichert Realtors and United Real Estate Group have a pending joint motion to dismiss and joint motion to strike class allegations. Additionally, eXp and United have each filed individual motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and/or failure to state a claim. United argued that it is headquartered in Missouri, not Illinois, and that the company is not a real estate broker or in control of its franchises day-to-day operations. Plaintiffs’ opposition to the motions is due by August 5; defendant replies are due by September 4. 

– The parties’ joint motion to stay proceedings involving plaintiffs James Mullis, Mya Batton and Theodore Bisbicos regarding their claims against defendants RMLLC (RE/MAX), Anywhere Real Estate and Keller Williams Inc. until appeals from the final approval of class-action settlements related to the Burnett v. NAR case are resolved, is still pending. These same defendants moved to dismiss the case based on lack of personal jurisdiction; these motions also remain pending.

– All parties have agreed that while the defendants’ motion to dismiss and motion to strike remain pending, defendants do not have to begin the collection, review and production of documents, and that plaintiffs will not file any discovery (the pretrial gathering of evidence, witnesses and depositions) motions until the court rules on the pending motions.

A status conference for the case is scheduled for Aug. 1, 2024. 

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