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Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ World Wide, Inc. v. Showell

September 29, 2008

BIBLE WAY CHURCH OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST WORLD WIDE, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORNELIUS SHOWELL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ World Wide, Inc. (the "Church") brings this action against defendants Cornelius Showell ("C. Showell"), Lawrence Campbell ("Campbell"), Lyle Dukes ("Dukes"), Joseph Showell ("J. Showell"), and Harvest Life Changers World Ministries ("Harvest Life") (collectively, "defendants") alleging that they used the Church's trademarks in violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1114 & 1125. Defendants have moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Upon consideration of the motion, the opposition thereto, and the record of this case, the court determines that the motion must be granted with respect to defendants Dukes and Harvest Life and denied with respect to defendants Campbell, C. Showell and J. Showell.

I. BACKGROUND

The Church is an organization of churches incorporated in 1957 under the laws of the District of Columbia and is the owner of the federally registered trademark BIBLE WAY CHURCH OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST WORLD-WIDE INC. and two registration applications for variations of this mark. According to the Church, in 1991, after the death of its first Presiding Bishop, the Church selected two men to each serve a three-year term as Presiding Bishop. Campbell served the first term. During the term of the second Presiding Bishop, the Church asserts that Campbell and several other members violated several of the Church's rules and regulations and, as a result, in 1997, the Church expelled three of the defendants -- Campbell, C. Showell and J. Showell.

The Church contends that after these three defendants were expelled, they formed another religious organization with the same name as the Church -- The Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ World Wide, Inc. These defendants, the Church asserts, now present their recently-formed religious organization as the original Church, present themselves as agents and officers of the Church, and operate a website with the address www.biblewayworldwide.org (the "website"), all in violation of the Lanham Act.

The Church supports its allegations with printouts from defendants' website. Pl.'s Ex. A. The website purports to be that of The Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ World Wide, Inc., an organization that "had its inception in September 1957 . . . in Washington, D.C." Id. At the time the Church filed its complaint, the website portrayed Campbell as the Church's "Chief Apostle & Presiding Prelate," C. Showell as the Church's "Apostle & 2nd Vice Presiding Bishop," and J. Showell as the Church's "General Secretary." Id.*fn1 At that time, Dukes was the website's registrant and Harvest Life was the registrant organization. Pl.'s Ex. D. The Church also submitted a complaint filed by Campbell and C. Showell in a South Carolina court in October 2006 in which the named plaintiffs were the Church, Campbell and C. Showell. Pl.'s Ex. E. The pleadings in that case alleged that the plaintiffs were a District of Columbia corporation and its agents. Id. The Church asserts that it has been unable to determine if defendants have incorporated their organization in any manner or place.

II. ANALYSIS

Defendants have moved pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(2) to dismiss the Church's action for lack of personal jurisdiction denying any relevant contacts with the District of Columbia. The Church rejoins that the court has both general and specific personal jurisdiction over defendants because defendants hold themselves out as controlling officers of a District of Columbia corporation and operate a website that provides advertising in the District of Columbia. The Church is correct that the court has general personal jurisdiction over Campbell, C. Showell and J. Showell. The court does not have jurisdiction over Dukes and Harvest Life.

A. Pertinent Principles of Law Regarding Personal Jurisdiction

The plaintiff bears the burden of making a prima facie showing that the court has personal jurisdiction over each defendant. Naegele v. Albers, 355 F. Supp. 2d 129, 136 (D.D.C. 2005) (citing Second Amendment Found. v. U.S. Conference of Mayors, 274 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2001)). To make such a showing, the plaintiff is not required to adduce evidence that meets the standards of admissibility reserved for summary judgment and trial; rather, she may rest her arguments on the pleadings, "bolstered by such affidavits and other written materials as [she] can otherwise obtain." Mwani v. bin Laden, 417 F.3d 1, 7 (D.C. Cir. 2005). In determining whether personal jurisdiction exists, the court should resolve factual disputes in the plaintiff's favor, Helmer v. Doletskaya, 393 F.3d 201, 209 (D.C. Cir. 2004), although it need not accept a plaintiff's "conclusory statements." GTE New Media Servs. Inc. v. BellSouth Corp., 199 F.3d 1343, 1349 (D.C. Cir. 2000).

The jurisdictional reach of a federal court is the same as that of a state or local court of general jurisdiction in the forum where the federal court sits. See FED. R. CIV. P. 4(k)(1)(A); Crane v. Carr, 814 F.2d 758, 762 (D.C. Cir. 1987). There are two types of personal jurisdiction under District of Columbia law -- general and specific. The court may exercise general personal jurisdiction over a person "domiciled in, organized under the laws of, or maintaining [a] principal place of business in, the District of Columbia as to any claim for relief." D.C. CODE § 13-422. The court may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a non-resident if jurisdiction is applicable under the District of Columbia's long-arm statute. United States v. Ferrara, 54 F.3d 825, 828 (D.C. Cir. 1995). Under this statute, the court may exercise jurisdiction over a person who "cause[s] [a] 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." D.C. CODE § 13-423(a)(4).

Whether asserting general or specific personal jurisdiction, as a second step a plaintiff must make a prima facie showing that the court's exercise of jurisdiction satisfies the constitutional requirements of due process. See U.S. CONST. amends. V & XIV; Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). Due process is satisfied where a plaintiff shows "minimum contacts" between the defendant and the forum, ensuring that "the maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" Int'l Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 316. Under this standard, "the defendant's conduct and connection with the forum state [must be] such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980).

B. The Court Has Personal Jurisdiction Over Campbell, C. Showell and J. Showell

Campbell, C. Showell and J. Showell hold themselves out as controlling officers of the Church, a District of Columbia corporation, and therefore the exercise of general personal jurisdiction over them satisfies ...


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