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McQueen v. Woodstream Corp.

August 10, 2007

ROBERT MCQUEEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WOODSTREAM CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



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

Document No. 13

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT REGARDING THE PLAINTIFF'S FRAUD CLAIM;GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE PLAINTIFF'S BREACH OF CONTRACT CLAIM

I. INTRODUCTION

Pending before the court is the preliminary question, raised sua sponte, of whether the District of Columbia is an appropriate venue for this case. Also pending is the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's amended complaint alleging breach of implied contract and fraudulent misrepresentation.

Because the defendant, a Pennsylvania company, initiated numerous telephonic conversations with the plaintiff in the District of Columbia, this district has substantial contacts with the plaintiff's cause of action, rendering it an appropriate venue for this matter.

The court grants the motion to dismiss the plaintiff's breach of contract claim, as the statute of limitations bars it. The court denies the motion to dismiss the plaintiff's fraud claim, which is not barred by the statute of limitations. And, finally, as the plaintiff fails to plead his fraud claim with adequate specificity, the court grants him leave to amend it.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual History

The plaintiff, Robert McQueen, is the majority owner and President of Robin Services, Inc., a corporation based in Washington, D.C. that develops and markets products for catching insects and pests. Pl.'s Brief on Venue ("Pl.'s Brief"), Ex. 3 ("Jenkins Aff."). The defendant, Woodstream Corporation, is a pest control company based in Lititz, Pennsylvania. Id. at 2.

Shortly before January 21, 1992, employees for the defendant initiated a series of contacts with the plaintiff's company to pursue a potential joint business venture. Id. at 1-2. First, an employee of the defendant's holding company called the plaintiff's representative in his Washington, D.C. office to discuss potential business opportunities between the defendant and the plaintiff's company. Id. Soon after, a Woodstream vice president called the plaintiff's representative, again at his Washington, D.C. office, to discuss the plaintiff's product and to invite the representative to Woodstream's Pennsylvania office for a demonstration. Id. at 2. On January 21, 1992, and again on February 14, 1992, the vice president sent follow-up letters to the plaintiff's representative at his Washington, D.C. office to confirm various aspects of the ongoing negotiations. Pl.'s Brief, Ex. 1 & 2. In furtherance of this potential venture -- and at the invitation of the defendant -- a representative of the plaintiff's company traveled to the defendant's Pennsylvania office to demonstrate the plaintiff's product. Id. at 2. The representative later sent samples of the product to the office for evaluation. Id.

Communications between the parties came to an end later that year, after the defendant repeatedly informed the plaintiff that no decision had been made and that it was still assessing the product. Am. Compl. ¶ 10. The plaintiff describes his product as "an enclosed, harborage trap, with disposable glue panels, to catch small crawling insects and mice." Id. ¶ 7. The plaintiff allegedly learned that the defendant was selling a product that incorporated the plaintiff's technology "sometime in 2003" when reading an advertisement in the August 2003 edition of Pest Control Technology magazine. Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 3; Pl.'s Supp. Statement in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ("Pl.'s Supp."), Ex. 4.

B. Procedural History

On October 21, 2005, the plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that the defendant stole his technology.*fn1 Compl. ¶¶ 12-14. On November 16, 2006, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint that abandoned the patent infringement count and contained common law causes of action for fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of implied contract. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13-16.

Responding to the plaintiff's amended complaint, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss arguing, inter alia, that the applicable statutes of limitations bar the plaintiff's claims. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mot.") at 6-7. The defendant also moved for a more definite statement with respect to "certain portions of the Amended Complaint that are ambiguous or unclear." Id. at 13.

Skeptical that proper venue lay in this district, the court, sua sponte, ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefings on venue. Mem. Order (Mar. 5, 2007) at 3. The court now turns to its analysis of venue and to the defendant's pending motion to dismiss.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Venue

1. Legal Standard for Venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a)

When federal jurisdiction is premised solely on diversity, 28 U.S.C. ยง 1391(a) controls venue, ...


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