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Jackson v. Loews Washington Cinemas

March 27, 2008

LINDA M. JACKSON, APPELLANT
v.
LOEWS WASHINGTON CINEMAS, INC., APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-4412-00) (Hon. Stephanie Duncan-Peters, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Senior Judge

Argued October 21, 2004

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, RUIZ, Associate Judge, and TERRY, Senior Judge.*fn1

Appellant, Linda Jackson, appeals from an order granting summary judgment to Loews Washington Cinemas, Inc. ("LWC"), which operated a movie theater in a nearby Virginia suburb of the District of Columbia. In her complaint against LWC, filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, appellant sought damages for LWC's negligent failure "to take all reasonable steps to protect [its] patrons against known hazards and conditions that could foreseeably expose the plaintiff to injury and harm." LWC thereafter filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction under the District's long-arm statute. The court granted the motion after a hearing and entered judgment for LWC. We affirm.

I.

According to the complaint, Ms. Jackson, a District of Columbia resident, took her son and a group of his friends to a Saturday matinee showing of a film called "Mouse Hunt" at an LWC theater (Sony Theater No. 4). The theater was located in Tysons Corner Center, a large shopping mall in Fairfax County, Virginia, approximately ten miles outside the District of Columbia. Appellant alleged that she decided several days earlier to attend this theater after reading an advertisement for "Mouse Hunt" in the movie listings of the Washington Post.*fn2 When she sat down in the theater, Ms. Jackson alleged, her seat unexpectedly collapsed, causing her to fall to the floor. All of her damage claims - for pain and suffering, emotional distress, lost wages, and medical expenses - flowed from this incident.

LWC is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in New York. It is wholly owned by Loews Theater Management Corporation ("LTM"), which in turn is wholly owned by Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corporation ("LCE"). LTM and LCE are also Delaware corporations. LWC has never owned or operated any theaters in the District of Columbia. Rosanna Murtha, who identified herself as someone who "work[s] in the advertising department of [LCE, LTM, and LWC]," stated in an affidavit that LWC has never advertised in the District of Columbia Yellow Pages or in the Washington Post. She explained that movie distributors such as LCE, not individual theater operators like LWC, place the large "tombstone advertisements" in the Washington Post that promote specific movies. Another advertising department employee, Lisa Perez, stated in an affidavit that the smaller advertisements for movies showing at individual theaters, known as "directory advertisements," such as the one in this case advertising "Mouse Hunt" at Sony Theater No. 4, are also placed by LCE. According to Ms. Perez, these "directory advertisements list movie theatres in the region including the names of the movies showing, the show times and the address[es] of the movie theatres. [LWC] does not place movie directory advertisements in The Washington Post. . . . The movie directory advertisements are placed in newspapers by [LCE]," and LWC "has no control over" their contents.

II.

"A court may assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant where service of process is authorized by statute and where the service of process so authorized is consistent with due process." Mouzavires v. Baxter, 434 A.2d 988, 990 (D.C. 1981) (en banc) (plurality opinion) (citation omitted). A foreign corporation, acting "directly or by an agent," is subject to specific jurisdiction in our courts if it has "transact[ed] any business in the District of Columbia." D.C. Code § 13-423 (a)(1) (2001) ("long-arm statute").*fn3 Importantly, any claim for relief under our long-arm statute must "aris[e] from" the act or acts conferring jurisdiction over the defendant. D.C. Code § 13-423 (b). This limitation is meant to exclude from our courts all claims "that do not bear some relationship to the acts in the forum state relied upon to confer jurisdiction." Cohane v. Arpeja-California, Inc., 385 A.2d 153, 158 (D.C.) (emphasis added), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 980 (1978). However, once "some relationship" to acts in the District of Columbia is established, this statutory provision does not limit the scope of the claim to activity within the District. Id. at 158-159.*fn4

Appellant contends that the trial court had personal jurisdiction over LWC, based on the ads in the Washington Post, under our long-arm statute. We hold, however, that the court properly granted summary judgment for LWC on this ground after it concluded that there were no genuine issues of material fact relating to the question of personal jurisdiction.

We have recognized that the "transacting any business" provision of section 13-423 (a)(1) "permit[s] the exercise of personal jurisdiction over nonresident defendants to the extent permitted by the due process clause of the United States Constitution." Environmental Research Int'l, Inc. v. Lockwood Greene Engineers, Inc., 355 A.2d 808, 810-811 (D.C. 1976) (en banc); accord, e.g., Mouzavires, 434 A.2d at 991 ("this statute permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction to the fullest extent permissible under the due process clause" (citations omitted)). Accordingly, a trial court's exercise of personal jurisdiction must satisfy the "minimum contacts" requirement of the due process clause in addition to the "arising from" requirement of section 13-423 (b). Shoppers Food Warehouse v. Moreno, 746 A.2d 320, 324-325 (D.C. 2000) (en banc) ("Shoppers II"). But "the nexus requirement of § 13-423 (b) . . . mean[s] only 'that the claim raised must have a discernible relationship to the "business" transacted in the District.' " Id. at 333 (citation omitted).

In Shoppers II we considered whether, in light of our long-arm statute, the trial court had personal jurisdiction over the appellant, a Maryland corporation that advertised extensively in the District of Columbia's major newspapers and media outlets. The case was a negligence "slip and fall" suit in which the plaintiff allegedly suffered personal injuries in one of appellant's Maryland stores located near the border between the District and Maryland. After rehearing en banc, we reaffirmed the trial court's judgment,*fn5 holding that "through its extensive advertising activity in a major District of Columbia newspaper, [Shoppers] purposefully solicited District residents as customers for its nearby Maryland and Virginia stores and thus transacted business in the District . . . ." Shoppers II, 746 A.2d at 322. Furthermore, because the plaintiff's claim "had a discernible relationship to its advertising," Shoppers therefore could have reasonably anticipated being haled into court in the District of Columbia to defend against a personal injury suit brought by a District resident. Id.; see World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980) (defendant may be subject to personal jurisdiction of a court when his "conduct and connection with the forum State are such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there"). The trial court thus properly exercised personal jurisdiction over Shoppers. In the instant case, however, applying the principles of Shoppers II and the several cases from which it is derived, we hold that there is no basis in the long-arm statute for the District of Columbia courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over LWC in this case because LWC, a foreign corporation legally separate and distinct from LCE and LTM, has never transacted any business in the District of Columbia.

"The only nexus required by [D.C. Code § 13-423] (a)(1) . . . between the District of Columbia and the nonresident defendant is 'some affirmative act by which the defendant brings itself within the jurisdiction and establishes minimum contacts.' " Berwyn Fuel, Inc., v. Hogan, 399 A.2d 79, 80 (D.C. 1979) (citation omitted). We have held that "[e]ven a small amount of in-jurisdiction business activity is generally enough to permit the conclusion that a nonresident defendant has transacted business here." Environmental Research, 355 A.2d at 811. Thus "a single act may be sufficient to constitute transacting business," Mouzavires, 434 A.2d at 992, so long as that contact is "voluntary and deliberate, rather than fortuitous." Id. at 995 (citation omitted). What guides our minimum contacts inquiry, then, is a search for meaningful acts reflecting "purposeful, affirmative activity within the District of Columbia." Bueno v. La Compania Peruana de Radiodifusion, S.A., 375 A.2d 6, 8 (D.C. 1977) (citation omitted); see Shoppers II, 746 A.2d at 331; Mouzavires, 434 A.2d at 995. When such a connection to the forum state is established, due process is satisfied because the defendant should "reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." World-Wide Volkswagen, 444 U.S. at 297. Moreover, if the defendant corporation "engag[ed] in advertising that reached into the District," it had " 'fair warning' that it could be sued in the home jurisdiction of the customers it courted." Shoppers II, 746 A.2d at 332.

Appellant argues that the movie advertisements placed in the Washington Post by LCE established contacts sufficient to give the District of Columbia courts jurisdiction over LWC in this case. After holding that it was reasonable to infer "that movie listings that contain Virginia [theater] addresses and are placed in the area's only major newspaper are intended to draw customers from Washington, D.C.," the trial court concluded, consistently with Shoppers II and World-Wide Volkswagen, that "the entities placing the advertisements have purposefully availed ...


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