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MEYERS v. SMITH

November 15, 1978

Lee MEYERS et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
George F. SMITH, Jr., et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

MEMORANDUM

This action for damages for breach of a fiduciary relationship was filed on May 12, 1978, by Patrick Reynolds, Michael Reynolds, and Lee Meyers. Patrick and Michael Reynolds are the sons of the late tobacco heir R. J. Reynolds and the stepsons of the co-plaintiff, Lee Meyers. The defendants, George F. Smith, Jr., William R. Bernard, Joanne Crothers, and Robert C. Johnson, Jr., are attorneys who have, at various times, been members of the Washington, D.C. law firm of Cross, Murphy, and Smith.

 According to the complaint filed in this action, the plaintiffs were clients of the defendants' law firm and sought and received advice on establishing a bank in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies. The complaint alleges that the defendants, besides rendering legal advice to the plaintiffs, solicited and were permitted participation in the plaintiffs' venture which became the Reynolds Bank. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants intertwined their economic interests with that of their clients, pursued a course of self-dealing, and eventually wrested control of the Reynolds Bank from their clients.

 Presently before the Court are motions by the defendants Smith and Johnson to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds. For the reasons hereinafter stated, the Court denies the motion of the defendant Johnson and grants the motion of the defendant Smith.

 Defendant Johnson has moved the Court to dismiss the complaint in this action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) for lack of jurisdiction over the person. Since he is a resident of Texas, defendant Johnson contends that he has not had sufficient contact with Washington, D.C., to empower the Court to assert jurisdiction consistent with the requirements of due process and the District of Columbia long-arm statute, section 13-423, D.C.Code.

 The "transacting any business" section of the D.C. long-arm statute, § 13-423(a)(1), has been interpreted broadly, and its reach is limited only by due process considerations. Margoles v. Johns, 157 U.S.App.D.C. 209, 215, 483 F.2d 1212, 1218 (1973); Unidex Systems Corp. v. Butz Engineering Corp., 406 F. Supp. 899, 901-02 (D.D.C.1976).

 The Supreme Court has articulated a flexible approach to the due process requirement. Essentially, due process requires that the nonresident defendant have certain minimum contacts with the forum so the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S. Ct. 154, 90 L. Ed. 95 (1945). There must be some act by which the defendant purposely avails himself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum state invoking the benefits and protections of its laws. Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253, 78 S. Ct. 1228, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1283 (1958).

 
It is evident that the criteria by which we mark the boundary line between those activities which justify the subjection of a corporation to suit, and those which do not, cannot be simply mechanical or quantitative. . . . Whether due process is satisfied must depend rather upon the quality and nature of the activity in relation to the fair and orderly administration of the laws which it was the purpose of the due process clause to insure. That clause does not contemplate that a state may make binding a judgment In personam against an individual or corporate defendant with which the state has no contacts, ties, or relations. . . . But to the extent that a corporation exercises the privilege of conducting activities within a state, it enjoys the benefits and protection of the laws of that state. The exercise of that privilege may give rise to obligations, and so far as those obligations arise out of or are connected with the activities within the state, a procedure which requires the corporation to respond to a suit brought to enforce them can, in most instances, hardly be said to be undue.

 326 U.S. at 319, 66 S. Ct. at 160 (citations omitted).

 The determination is often no more than a balancing of the practical equities once some minimal contact with the jurisdiction is established. See McGee v. International Life Ins. Co., 355 U.S. 220, 78 S. Ct. 199, 2 L. Ed. 2d 223 (1957).

 The plaintiff has uncovered several contacts between the defendant Johnson and the forum which the defendant acknowledges as "a credit to plaintiffs' counsel's creativity and ingenuity." However, the defendant contends that the plaintiffs' approach is a "shotgun attempt" to grasp at "isolated, outdated, and legally insignificant "facts'." Response of Robert C. Johnson, Jr., to Plaintiffs' Opposition to Motion of Defendant Johnson to Dismiss, at 2 (August 11, 1978).

 The contacts the plaintiffs rely on to empower the Court to assert jurisdiction over the defendant Johnson include the following: (1) he has been a member of the District of Columbia Bar; (2) he has held himself out as being a member of the District of Columbia law firm of Cross, Murphy, and Smith, with his name on the firm's letterhead and in the Martindale-Hubbell directory; (3) he engaged in legal consultations with the plaintiff Lee Meyers in the offices of the law firm of Cross, Murphy, and Smith in May of 1975; (4) he attended a directors' meeting of the Reynolds Bank in the District of Columbia in May of 1975; and (5) in July of 1976, the defendant Johnson, through his agent Crothers, transacted business in the District of Columbia at a general meeting of the Reynolds Bank.

 The defendant Johnson has attempted to discount the legal significance of these contacts with the forum. He contends that the meetings that are mentioned as contacts occurred outside the period of the statute of limitations, therefore precluding the Court from considering them as bases for jurisdiction. For support of this notion, the defendant relies on one sentence in one case, from a different circuit, that did not involve a statute of limitation but a release from liability. In Lehigh ...


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