In an opinion yesterday, Judge Abrams found that the court lacked long-arm jurisdiction over British rocker Jeff Beck in a case over the rightful ownership of one of his guitars. The guitar purchaser, plaintiff Perry Margouleff, sought a judicial declaration to refute Beck’s claims that the guitar was stolen from him at a 1969 concert in New York.  As Judge Abrams explained, being the victim of a theft in New York does not amount to the necessary “purposeful availment” that would subject Beck to the court’s jurisdiction:

Plaintiff asserts that Defendant “purposefully availed himself of the benefits and protections of New York law” and subjected himself to personal jurisdiction in this forum by performing at a show in New York in which the guitar was stolen.  In other words, according to Plaintiff, “[b ]ecause Beck claims the Guitar was stolen from him during his performance at a concert in New York, Beck’s claim to the Guitar arises from Beck’s transaction of business in New York.”

The Court disagrees. As Plaintiff makes clear in his complaint, his suit for declaratory judgment arises not from Beck’s performance at a 1969 concert in New York, but from Margouleff’s 2000 purchase of the guitar.  The purchase of the guitar did not involve Beck, but was made between Margouleff and the unidentified Seller. Moreover, Plaintiff does not allege that he bought the guitar in New York, or that any transaction related to this sale occurred in the state.

Plaintiff is correct that Beck appears to be contending, in support of his argument that Margouleff could not have legally purchased the guitar, that the instrument was stolen. But the fact that Beck’s guitar was stolen in this state is, by itself, far from sufficient to satisfy personal jurisdiction over him. For a defendant to be subject to personal jurisdiction in New York under § 302(a)(l ), “there must have been some purposeful activities within the State that would justify bringing the nondomiciliary defendant before the New York courts.” Being the victim of theft does not constitute a purposeful or volitional act on one’s part.

The case was not immediately dismissed, however, because there were fact disputes meriting an evidentiary hearing over whether Beck was personally served while in New York — which would potentially establish jurisdiction over him.