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Schutter v. Herskowitz

July 5, 2007

STEPHEN SCHUTTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DAVID HERSKOWITZ, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pending before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by Defendants David Herskowitz and Phillip Banks. Both argue that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them and that venue in the District of Columbia is improper. Plaintiff Stephen Schutter opposes the motions and has submitted affidavits in which he purports to provide evidence that demonstrates minimum contacts between Messrs. Herskowitz and Banks and the District of Columbia. The Court finds that Mr. Schutter has failed to make a prima facie showing that Defendants have the minimum contacts with the District of Columbia necessary to support personal jurisdiction. The Court further finds that it is in the interests of justice to transfer this case to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Thus, the motions will be granted in part and the case will be transferred.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Mr. Schutter resides in the District of Columbia. At some point in late 2005, he became involved in negotiations to purchase a youth hostel located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mr. Herskowitz, who lives in Vermont, owned the hostel; Mr. Banks, who lives and works in Pennsylvania, is a real estate broker who represented Mr. Schutter in the negotiations to purchase it. There is no evidence in the record regarding who initiated the negotiations between Mr. Schutter and Mr. Herskowitz. There is a similar absence of evidence regarding who solicited the agency relationship between Mr. Schutter and Mr. Banks. In any event, in December 2005 Mr. Schutter and Mr. Herskowitz executed a purchase agreement (the "Agreement") under which Mr. Herskowitz promised to sell the hostel to Mr. Schutter for $1.6 million. All negotiations among the three parties were by telephone and written correspondence; neither Mr. Herskowitz nor Mr. Banks traveled to the District of Columbia in connection with the transaction. Mr. Schutter executed the Agreement in Washington, D.C., and Mr. Herskowitz executed the Agreement in Pennsylvania.*fn1

Under the terms of the Agreement, Mr. Schutter paid $100,000 of the purchase price up front, which Mr. Banks deposited into an escrow account at Bryn Mawr Trust Co., a financial services institution located in Pennsylvania. Although the details are sketchy, at some point Mr. Schutter learned that the hostel had a maximum occupancy of 52 beds, which was contrary to representations made by Mr. Herskowitz during negotiations that the occupancy was 70 beds. Based on this alleged misrepresentation, the parties agreed that the Agreement would be terminated and the $100,000 in escrow would be returned to Mr. Schutter. Mr. Schutter contends that despite promises to do so, neither Mr. Banks nor Mr. Herskowitz has returned the $100,000.

Mr. Schutter filed this action on October 27, 2006. He asserts claims for breach of contract, fraudulent inducement to contract, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, and fraud and misrepresentation.*fn2 Mr. Herskowitz moved to dismiss on November 11, 2006, and on December 11, 2006, Mr. Banks did the same. The motions are now fully briefed and ripe for decision.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Rule 12(b)(2)

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. See id.

In determining whether a factual basis for personal jurisdiction exists, the court should resolve factual discrepancies in the record in favor of the plaintiff. Crane, 894 F.2d at 456. The court need not treat all 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.

B. Rule 12(b)(3)

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3), a defendant may, at the lawsuit's outset, test whether the plaintiff "has brought the case in a venue that the law deems appropriate." Modaressi v. Vedadi, 441 F. Supp. 2d 51, 53 (D.D.C. 2006). "If the plaintiff's chosen forum is an improper venue under applicable statutes, or is otherwise inconvenient, the Court may dismiss the action or transfer the case to a district where venue would be proper or more convenient." Id. (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1406 (providing for dismissal or transfer when venue is defective) and 28 U.S.C. § 1404 (allowing a district to transfer venue "for the convenience of the parties and witnesses")). "Because it is the plaintiff's obligation to institute the action in a permissible forum, the plaintiff usually bears the burden of establishing that venue is proper." Freeman v. Fallin, 254 F. Supp. 2d 52, 56 (D.D.C. 2003); see also 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1352 (2d ed. 1987) (noting that placing the burden on the plaintiff "seems correct inasmuch as it is plaintiff's obligation to institute his action in a permissible forum, both in terms of jurisdiction and venue.").

III. ANALYSIS

A. Personal ...


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