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Gibbons & Co., Inc. v. Roskamp Institute

August 28, 2006

GIBBONS & COMPANY INC. PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROSKAMP INSTITUTE DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Court

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case arises from an alleged breach of a contract between plaintiff Gibbons & Company, Inc. ("Gibbons") and defendant Roskamp Institute ("Roskamp"). Pending before the Court is defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint based on lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. Upon careful consideration of defendant's motion, response and reply thereto, the Court GRANTS defendant's motion and TRANSFERS this case to the Middle District of Florida.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Gibbons is a company incorporated in the District of Columbia. Decl. C. Gibbons ¶ 2. This suit is filed on behalf of Gibbons by its President Clifford Gibbons ("C. Gibbons"). Id. Defendant Roskamp is a nonprofit scientific research institution based in Sarasota, Florida. Mullan Decl. ¶ 2. On April 6, 2004, C. Gibbons visited Roskamp in Florida to discuss how Gibbons could assist Roskamp obtain federal funding for its research projects. Compl. ¶ 4. On May 12, 2004, Roskamp agreed to have Gibbons represent it in its efforts to obtain federal funding. Id. at ¶ 6. In developing the proposal for federal funding, the parties exchanged between 50-75 emails and more than 75 telephone calls. Decl. C. Gibbons ¶ 4. On May 18, 2004, C. Gibbons and members of Roskamp met with Congressional officials in Washington, D.C. about the possibility of obtaining federal funding for Roskamp. Pl.'s Opp. ¶ 7; Mullan Decl. ¶ 8. However, Roskamp did not receive federal funding for fiscal year 2005. Compl. ¶ 8.

On January 11, 2005, C. Gibbons went to Florida again and met with members of Roskamp to discuss plans for obtaining funds for fiscal year 2006. Id. at ¶ 9. A month later, on February 8, 2005, Roskamp told Gibbons that it planned to focus on other projects and that it would not need Gibbons' services in 2005. Id. at ¶ 10. In December 2005, Roskamp was awarded $1.8 million dollars in federal funding for fiscal year 2006. Id. at ¶ 11. The proposal and request for funding submitted by Roskamp was substantially the same proposal and request developed and submitted by Gibbons the previous year. Id. at ¶ 12. Gibbons alleges in its complaint that Roskamp has refused to pay for its services. Id. at ¶ 15.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When personal jurisdiction is challenged pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(2), the plaintiff has the burden of establishing a prima facie case that personal jurisdiction exists. Second Amend. Foundation v. U.S. Conference of Mayors, 274 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2001). A prima facie case in this context means that the plaintiff must present evidence sufficient to defeat a motion for judgment as a matter of law. See Carter v. Duncan-Huggins, Ltd., 727 F.2d 1225, 1227 (D.C. Cir. 1984)(such motions should be denied unless "the evidence, together with all inferences that can reasonably be drawn therefrom, is so one-sided that reasonable men could not disagree on the verdict.").

To determine if a basis for personal jurisdiction exists, the court should resolve factual discrepancies in the complaint and affidavits in favor of the plaintiff. Crane v. New York Zoological Society, 894 F.2d. 454, 456 (D.C. Cir 1990). The court may consider documents outside the pleadings to assure itself that it has jurisdiction. AGS Int'l Services v. Newmont USA Limited, 346 F. Supp. 2d 64, 73-74 (D.D.C. 2004).

III. DISCUSSION

Defendant Roskamp argues that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it for it is a Florida foundation with no ties to the District of Columbia. According to Roskamp, plaintiff has failed to show that Roskamp has purposefully established minimum contacts and availed itself of the privileges of conducting activities within the District. Roskamp has no offices, employees, or bank accounts in the District; receives no mail in the District; has no listings in any telephone or business directories in the District; and has no registered agents for service of process in the District.*fn1 In fact, Roskamp's only connection with the District was its meeting with Congressional officials to attempt to obtain funding.

Plaintiff Gibbons argues that because the great bulk of the work to obtain funding for the defendant occurred in the District of Columbia, including plaintiff's numerous meetings and communications with members of Congress and their staff, and exchanging of emails and phone calls between plaintiff and defendant, this Court can exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

A. The District's Long-Arm Statute

The District of Columbia's long-arm statute provides, in relevant part, that a "District of Columbia court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a person, who acts directly or by agent, as to a claim for relief arising from the person's transacting any business in the District of Columbia." D.C. Code § 13-423. The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the factual basis for the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant by demonstrating that (1) the defendant transacted business in the District; (2) the claim arose from the business transacted in the District; and (3) the defendant had minimum contacts with the District such that the Court's exercise of personal jurisdiction would not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Cellutech, Inc. v. Centennial Cellular Corp., 871 F. Supp. 46, 48 (D.D.C. 1994) (citing to First Chicago Int'l v. United Exchange Co., Ltd., 836 F.2d 1375, 1378 (D.C. Cir. 1988)).

While the long-arm statute is to be interpreted broadly, a plaintiff must allege some specific facts evidencing purposeful activity by the defendant in the District by which the defendant invoked the benefits and protections of its laws. First Chicago Int'l, 836 F.2d at 1378-79. A plaintiff may not depend on its own activity to establish the existence of defendant's minimum contacts with the forum. See Hanson v. Deckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958) ("[t]he unilateral activity of those who claim some relationship with a nonresident defendant cannot satisfy the requirement of contact with the forum State"); Environmental Research Int'l, Inc., v. Lockwood Greene Engineers, Inc., 355 A. 2d 808, 812 (D.C. 1976) (holding that "the mere fact that a nonresident has retained professional services of a District of Columbia firm, thereby setting into motion the resident party's own activities within this jurisdiction, does not constitute an invocation by the nonresident of the benefits and protection of the District's law.") Further, a defendant does not subject itself to the jurisdiction of the courts of the District by being in contact with federal governmental agencies and officials. Naartex Consulting Corp. v. Watt, 722 F.2d 779, 787 (D.C. Cir. 1983). This is so due to the unique character of the District as the seat of the federal government and persons need unfettered access to federal agencies and officials. Cellutech, 871 F. Supp. at 50. See also ...


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