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Ulico Casualty Co. v. Fleet National Bank

March 31, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No. 6



Ulico Casualty Company ("Ulico" or "the plaintiff"), a subsidiary of ULLICO, Inc., filed this action against Fleet National Bank ("Fleet" or "the defendant") alleging that Fleet wrongfully deducted funds from Ulico's checking account to pay six counterfeit checks. This matter is before the court on Fleet's motion to dismiss Ulico's complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. Evaluating Fleet's contacts in the District of Columbia, the court determines that it has specific personal jurisdiction over the defendant and therefore denies the defendant's motion to dismiss.


Both ULLICO and its subsidiaries (Ulico is one of these subsidiaries), are located in the District of Columbia. Compl. at 2-3. Fleet, a Rhode Island corporation with its principal office in Connecticut, maintains no offices, branches, or employees in the District of Columbia. Id. at 2; Swagerty Decl. ¶¶ 1, 3.

Fleet and ULLICO negotiated a series of contracts for Fleet to provide banking services to ULLICO and its subsidiaries. Fritter Decl. ¶¶ 3-4; Pl.'s Opp'n at 8. Pursuant to these contracts, Fleet manages checking accounts for ULLICO and its subsidiaries, which include the plaintiff. Compl. at 2. ULLICO and its subsidiaries perform all banking transactions with Fleet from their District of Columbia offices using Fleet's software. Fritter Decl. ¶ 4; Pl.'s Opp'n at 2, 8. Fleet sent technicians to these District of Columbia offices to install the software and train the software users. Fritter Decl. ¶ 4; Pl.'s Opp'n at 3, 8. On numerous occasions, Fleet sent at least seven senior representatives to these District of Columbia offices to strengthen customer relations. Fritter Decl. ¶ 5; Pl.'s Opp'n at 2. Fleet has also carried on systematic communications with these offices by mail, courier, telephone, and electronic mail. Id. ¶ 6; Pl.'s Opp'n at 2, 9.

Ulico filed a complaint on May 22, 2002, alleging that Fleet, wrongfully and in violation of established procedures, deducted $342,135.06 from Ulico's checking account to pay six counterfeit checks drawn against the plaintiff's account. Compl. at 1. The plaintiff explains that the counterfeit checks were not genuine Ulico checks, the Ulico signatures were forged, and each check was endorsed by only one of the joint payees. Compl. at 4. Based on these transactions, the plaintiff claims breach of contract, breach of statutory duty, conversion, negligence, and unfair trade practices against the defendant. Id. at 6-10. On July 12, 2002, Fleet filed a motion to dismiss Ulico's claims based on lack of personal jurisdiction.


A. Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a factual basis for the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Crane v. N.Y. Zoological Soc'y, 894 F.2d 454, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1990). The plaintiff must allege specific acts connecting the defendant with the forum. Second Amendment Found. v. U.S. Conference of Mayors, 274 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2001). Bare allegations and conclusory statements are insufficient. Id. In determining whether a factual basis for personal jurisdiction exists, the court should resolve factual discrepancies appearing in the record in favor of the plaintiff. Crane, 894 F.2d at 456. The court need not treat all of the plaintiff's allegations as true, however. United States v. Philip Morris, Inc., 116 F. Supp. 2d 116, 120 n.4 (D.D.C. 2000). Instead, the court "may receive and weigh affidavits and any other relevant matter to assist it in determining the jurisdictional facts." Id.

The court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant by finding either general or specific jurisdiction.*fn1 ALS Scan, Inc. v. Digital Serv. Consultants, Inc., 293 F.3d 707, 711 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 (1984)). For specific personal jurisdiction, the court must examine whether jurisdiction is applicable pursuant to one of the several bases provided by the District of Columbia's long-arm statute. *fn2 D.C. Code § 13-423; GTE New Media Servs. v. BellSouth Corp., 199 F.3d 1343, 1347 (D.C. Cir. 2000). The court must also determine whether a finding of jurisdiction satisfies the constitutional requirements of due process. Id.

The District of Columbia long-arm statute provides, inter alia, that the court may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant for claims arising from the defendant transacting any business in the District of Columbia. D.C. Code § 13-423(a)(1). For this "transacting business" section of the long-arm statute to apply, the defendant's contacts with this district must relate to the factual circumstances giving rise to the suit. Koteen v. Bermuda Cablevision, Ltd., 913 F.2d 973, 974-75 (D.C. Cir. 1990). A defendant need not be present in the District of Columbia to transact business here. Material Supply Int'l, Inc. v. Sunmatch Indus. Supply Int'l, Inc., 62 F. Supp. 2d 13, 19 (D.D.C. 1999). This circuit has interpreted the "transacting any business" clause of § 13-423(a)(1) as requiring the same contacts as due process. GTE New Media Servs., 199 F.3d at 1347.

The Due Process Clause requires the plaintiff to demonstrate "'minimum contacts' between the defendant and the forum establishing that 'the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" GTE New Media Servs., 199 F.3d at 1347 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)); see Price v. Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 294 F.3d 82, 95 (D.C. Cir. 2002). These minimum contacts must be grounded in "some act by which the defendant purposefully avails [himself] of the privilege of conducting activities with the forum state, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws." Asahi Metal Indus. v. Super. Ct. of Cal., 480 U.S. 102, 109 (1988). In short, "the defendant's conduct and connection with the forum ...

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