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Richards v. Duke University

March 30, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge,


This matter comes before the Court on the Duke University defendants' (Duke University, Duke University Law School, Duke University Board of Trustees and Nannerl Keohane) Motions [17, 18, 32] to Dismiss, the Georgetown University defendants' (Georgetown University and Georgetown University Law Center) Motions [11, 50] to Dismiss, the Government defendants' (Alberto Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice and John and Jane Does 1-10) Motion [DVI 200] to Dismiss*fn1 , the Microsoft defendants' (Microsoft Corporation, William H. Gates, III, Steven A. Ballmer, Melinda F. Gates and Microsoft employees A-J) Motions [DVI 219, 43] to Dismiss, the Plaintiff's Motion [23] to Strike Exhibits Filed by the Georgetown University defendants, and the Plaintiff's Motion [48] for Leave to Take Jurisdictional Discovery.

Upon consideration of the motions, the oppositions thereto, the reply briefs, the applicable law, and the entire record herein, the Court concludes that the defendants' motions to dismiss will be GRANTED, the plaintiff's motion [23] to strike all exhibits filed by the Georgetown University defendants will be DENIED and the plaintiff's motion [48] for leave to take jurisdictional discovery will be DENIED.


I. Facts

Plaintiff Suzette Richards submitted a complaint on May 8, 2003 and a subsequent amended complaint on June 5, 2003 asking the United States District Court for the District of the United States Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division, for declaratory and injunctive relief and punitive damages stemming from an alleged conspiracy among all of the named defendants to violate plaintiff's rights. Plaintiff alleges fraud, discrimination based on race and national origin in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-200d-7, discrimination based on sex and sexual harassment in violation of 20 U.S.C. § 1681-1688, constitutional violations of plaintiff's First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Thirteenth Amendment rights, violations of the Criminal Wiretapping Statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2510-2522, violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, § 1985, § 1986, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, invasion of privacy, interference with prospective advantage and theft of intellectual property. This case was transferred to this court from the United States District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands on June 28, 2006.

Though plaintiff alleges a vast conspiracy involving all of the named defendants extending over more than eight years, plaintiff's allegations are conclusory and too lengthy to recount in detail here. In general, plaintiff alleges the following facts:

Plaintiff enrolled at Duke University Law School in the fall of 1997. While at Duke, Dean Sockwell, a dean of the law school, lied to her about how to take her law school exams which resulted in plaintiff receiving lower grades than other students; no African-American students had been placed onto the law school's law review or journals until the year that plaintiff transferred from Duke; and during a law school class, a professor falsely indicated that plaintiff was not a citizen of the United States. Plaintiff further alleges that Duke then engaged in illegal surveillance of her because officials at Duke were afraid that plaintiff would expose their discriminatory practices. This surveillance extended to plaintiff's home and car, followed her everywhere she went, and even resulted in exposure of plaintiff's private medical information.

Plaintiff then transferred to Georgetown University Law Center and enrolled there in the fall of 1998. Plaintiff alleges that Duke and Georgetown colluded and conspired to maintain the surveillance of plaintiff. Plaintiff was called on to speak in her Corporations class six or seven times during the semester while other students were not called on at all; Georgetown professors entered plaintiff's apartment and moved her books to determine whether she was completing her assignments; an article that plaintiff wrote for The Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law was altered to include discussion of homosexual civil rights issues to make it appear that plaintiff was in fact a homosexual; and plaintiff's Civil Rights professor added a day on homosexual civil rights into his syllabus for the first time while plaintiff was a student in his class. Plaintiff graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in May of 2000.

Microsoft allegedly joined the conspiracy to continue the surveillance of plaintiff and gather information about her because William H. Gates, III, became physically attracted to her in September of 1999 and the Microsoft defendants feared that Gates would leave his wife, Melinda Gates, for plaintiff. The conspiracy and surveillance of plaintiff enabled Microsoft to steal plaintiff's ideas, that she had only written down or spoken in the privacy of her own home, about generating revenue through wireless email, the affect of wireless technology on markets, and changing the name of Web TV to MSN TV. Microsoft also included images and phrases on its website which described or were directed at plaintiff, an African-American woman, to harass her, including a picture of a pregnant African-American woman, implying that plaintiff was pregnant with William Gates' child. Finally, the United States government was also conspiring with the other defendants and facilitating the surveillance of plaintiff.


I. Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

A. Legal Standard under Rule 12(b)(2)

According to Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant by showing that the defendant purposefully availed himself of the benefits of the forum state by establishing minimum contacts and that the exercise of jurisdiction would comport with notions of fair play and substantial justice. See Wiggins v. Equifax, 853 F. Supp. 500, 502 (D.D.C. 1994). "Bare allegations and conclusory statements are insufficient" to establish personal jurisdiction over a defendant. Capital Bank Int'l, Ltd. v. Citigroup, Inc., 276 F. Supp. 2d 72, 74 (D.D.C. 2003). The plaintiff must instead "allege specific facts connecting each defendant with the forum state." Schwartz v. CDI Japan, 938 F. Supp. 1, 7 (D.D.C. 1996). A court does not have jurisdiction over the individual officers or employees of a corporation just because the court has jurisdiction over the corporation. See Quinto v. Legal Times, 506 F. Supp. 554, 558 (D.D.C. 1981).

In the District of Columbia, personal jurisdiction may be asserted over a defendant according to D.C. Code § 13-423(a)(4) which states, in relevant part: "A District of Columbia court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a person, who acts directly or by an agent, as to a claim for relief arising from the person's . . . (4) causing tortious injury in the District of Columbia by an act or omission outside the District of Columbia if he regularly does or solicits business, engages in any other persistent course of conduct, or derives substantial revenue from goods used or consumed, or services rendered, in the District of Columbia."

Besides D.C. Code § 13-423(a), plaintiff also relies on the conspiracy jurisdiction doctrine to argue that this Court has personal jurisdiction over the Microsoft defendants and the Duke defendants. Under the conspiracy jurisdiction doctrine, a defendant's contact with the forum can arise from the acts of co-conspirators within that forum. See Jin v. Ministry of State Sec. 335 F. Supp. 2d 72, 78 (D.D.C. 2004). However, to assert jurisdiction under the conspiracy jurisdiction doctrine, the plaintiff must make a prima facie showing of "(1) a conspiracy (2) in which the defendant participated and (3) a co-conspirator's overt act within the forum, subject to the long-arm statute and in furtherance of the conspiracy." Id. Further, to be entitled to jurisdictional discovery based on this doctrine, the plaintiff must specifically allege: "(1) the existence of a conspiracy, (2) the non-resident's participation, and (3) an injury-causing act of the conspiracy within the forum's boundaries." Edmond v. United States Postal Service General Counsel, 949 F. 2d 415, 425, 292 U.S. App. D.C. 240, 250 (D.C. Cir. 1991).

B. Duke Defendants

Plaintiff has not made a prima facie showing that this court can assert personal jurisdiction over any of the Duke Defendants (Duke University, Duke University Law School, Duke University Board of Trustess and University President Nannerl Keohane). Duke University is a private educational institution in the State of North Carolina and does not conduct business or own property within the District of Columbia. (Duke Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss [17], Ex. 1) Nannerl Keohane is a resident of New Jersey, has limited contact with the District of Columbia in the form of attendance at an annual conference held in the District of Columbia, and owns no property or bank accounts in the District of Columbia. (Duke Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss [17], Ex. 2) This court cannot assert general jurisdiction over the Duke defendants because none of the Duke defendants are residents of the District of Columbia and plaintiff does not allege that any of the Duke defendants are domiciled or have a principal place of business in the District of Columbia.

Duke University's recruiting activities to meet with students in the District of Columbia, the fact that students from the District of Columbia attend Duke University and Duke University Law School and a small number of adjunct faculty at Duke University live in the District of Columbia do not separately, or in the aggregate, constitute regular business, persistent conduct or receipt of substantial revenue from the District of Columbia as required under the D.C. Code § 13-423(a)(4) to assert personal jurisdiction. Generally, colleges and universities are not subject to personal jurisdiction in all states from which their students hail, as this would unfairly expose them to litigation in many distant forums. See Scherer v. Curators of the Univ. of Missouri, 152 F. Supp. 2d 1278, 1284-86 (D. Kan. 2001). Duke's government relations and lobbying connections to the District of Columbia also do not form a basis for asserting personal jurisdiction because of a long-recognized "government contacts" exception to the "transacting business" provision of a long-arm statute to allow for petitioning the government and the redress of grievances. Naartex Consulting Corp. v. Watt, 722 F. 2d. 779, 787 (D.C. Cir. 1983).

C. Microsoft Defendants in Their Personal Capacity

This court also cannot properly assert personal jurisdiction over the individual Microsoft Defendants William H. Gates, III, Melinda F. Gates and Steven A. Ballmer in their personal or official capacities in this case. Mr. and Mrs. Gates and Mr. Ballmer cannot be sued in this court in their personal capacities because they do not have sufficient minimum contacts in their personal capacity, outside of their work for Microsoft Corporation, to establish jurisdiction. They are all domiciled in the State of Washington and have only made trips to the District of Columbia in their official capacities representing Microsoft Corporation or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Microsoft Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss [43], 1-3). Though Mr. Gates was a resident of the District of Columbia for three months in 1972, this Court finds this short period of residency, over three decades ago, is insufficient to support a finding of minimum contacts in this case and asserting jurisdiction over Mr. Gates would violate Due Process. (Microsoft Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss [43], Ex. A).

Mr. and Mrs. Gates and Mr. Ballmer cannot be sued in this Court based on their activities within the scope of their employment with the Microsoft Corporation or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation because it is well-settled law that a court does not have jurisdiction over individual officers and employees of a corporation solely because the court has jurisdiction over the corporation. See Wiggins v. Equifax, 853 F. Supp. 500, 503 (D.D.C. 1994). Since Mr. and Mrs. Gates and Mr. Ballmer do not have sufficient personal contacts with the forum as stated above, but only official contacts within their capacity with the Microsoft Corporation or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this court cannot properly assert jurisdiction over them in this case.

D. Conspiracy Jurisdiction Doctrine

In addition, plaintiff's reliance on the conspiracy doctrine to assert personal jurisdiction over the Microsoft and Duke defendants is misplaced. Plaintiff has not supported her theory of a conspiracy and illegal surveillance by the defendants with any sort of factual basis. Plaintiff has not alleged enough facts to support a conspiracy at all, and none whatsoever to support a coconspirator's overt act within the District of Columbia to establish jurisdiction based on the conspiracy doctrine. Plaintiff's failure to allege a conspiracy is tied to this Court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and plaintiff's failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) which will be discussed in detail below. At this point, it is sufficient ...

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