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Azamar v. Stern

October 14, 2009

SILVERIO AZAMAR, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
LEON STERN, ET AL.,*FN1 DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case arises from the claims of thirteen plaintiffs that defendants, Leon Stern and The Cleaning Infantry, Inc., failed to pay plaintiffs the minimum wage, agreed-upon wages, and/or overtime wages for cleaning services they provided, and that plaintiffs suffered retaliation for requesting these wages, allegedly in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., and District of Columbia and Maryland labor laws. See Second Am. Compl. (filed Dec. 3, 2008). Defendant Stern has moved to dismiss the complaint in part for lack of personal jurisdiction and for failure to join a necessary party. See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pls.' Second Am. Compl. ("Def.'s Mot."). Upon consideration of Stern's motion, plaintiffs' opposition, and the entire record, the Court determines that it has general jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims against Stern and hence will deny Stern's motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs allege that they worked for defendant Leon Stern and his corporation, The Cleaning Infantry,*fn2 for varying lengths of time over the period of December 2006 to May 2008. See Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5--93. Plaintiffs claim that they provided cleaning services for defendants in the District of Columbia and Virginia, but that defendants failed to pay plaintiffs wages required by law for their services, and that, when plaintiffs requested their pay, defendants retaliated by terminating plaintiffs' employment. See id.

Seven of the plaintiffs claim that they worked for defendants in Washington, D.C. These plaintiffs, Silverio Azamar, Dany Francisco Ramos Aguilar, Rosa Miriam Mesia Guevara, Javier Espindola, Oscar L. Xoco, Rodolfo Luciano Emilio, and Gloria Mercedes Quintanilla, each assert that "while in Stern's employ," they "primarily cleaned restaurants for Stern in Washington, D.C." See Pls.' Opp'n to Def. Leon Stern's Mot. to Dismiss Pls.' Second Am. Compl. ¶ 3 ("Pls.' Opp'n"). The remaining six plaintiffs claim that they worked for defendants in Virginia. These plaintiffs, Santiago Ixcoy Coc, Pedro Caba Caba, Santiago Chocoj Canay, Silvestra Ixcoy Coc, Ventura Carrillo Ceto, and Marisela Azamar, each assert that, while working for defendants, their "job duties were primarily to clean restaurants in Virginia." Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 46, 53, 60, 67, 74, 81. Defendant Stern claims that five of the plaintiffs identified as having worked for defendants in Virginia are referring in their complaint to work they performed at a restaurant called The Cheesecake Factory in Sterling, Virginia, through an entity called Coverall. Def.'s Mot. ¶ 1. Plaintiffs do not mention Coverall in their complaint.

Defendant Stern maintains that the plaintiffs employed in Virginia were hired by Coverall. Id. Further, Stern claims that on the last night of these plaintiffs' employment, Coverall held a meeting with each of them in an effort to secure their agreement to finish out the contract to clean The Cheesecake Factory. Id. Stern maintains that, to the best of his knowledge, these plaintiffs then quit and signed a new employment contract with another cleaning firm that would thereafter provide cleaning services for The Cheesecake Factory. Id. Stern claims that these plaintiffs quit their employment with Coverall even though Coverall offered to pay them for their last two weeks of work. Id. Stern also alleges that plaintiff Silverio Azamar worked at The Cheesecake Factory as a subcontractor through Coverall, and that Silverio Azamar's contract was terminated because Coverall lost the contract and not for any other reasons. Id. ¶ 2. Defendant Stern moves to dismiss the claims of plaintiffs who were employed in Virginia on the grounds that: (1) this Court lacks jurisdiction over defendant Stern for those claims because they arise out of activity that took place outside of the forum; and (2) plaintiffs have failed to join a necessary party, Coverall, to this action. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.

DISCUSSION

I. Dismissal for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

A. Standard of Review

Plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction over each defendant. In order to meet this burden, plaintiffs must allege specific facts upon which personal jurisdiction can be based; they cannot rely on conclusory allegations. See GTE New Media Servs., Inc. v. Ameritech Corp., 21 F. Supp. 2d 27, 36 (D.D.C. 1998), remanded on other grounds sub nom.

GTE New Media Servs., Inc. v. BellSouth Corp., 199 F.3d 1343 (D.C. Cir. 2000); Comsat Corp. v. Finshipyards S.A.M., 900 F. Supp. 515, 520 (D.D.C. 1985). Moreover, plaintiffs cannot aggregate factual allegations concerning multiple defendants in order to demonstrate personal jurisdiction over any individual defendant. See Rush v. Savchuk, 444 U.S. 320, 331--32 (1980) (rejecting aggregation of co-defendants' forum contacts in determining personal jurisdiction because "the requirements of International Shoe must be met as to each defendant over whom a state court exercises jurisdiction"). The Court may look outside the allegations of the complaint in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(2) motion, but "'must accept Plaintiff's [factual] claims as true... unless they are directly contradicted by an affidavit.'" Biton v. Palestinian Interim Self-Government Auth., 310 F. Supp. 2d 172, 177 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting Novak-Canzeri v. Al Saud, 864 F. Supp. 203, 206 (D.D.C. 1994)); see also Capital Bank Int'l, Ltd. v. Citigroup, Inc., 276 F. Supp. 2d 72, 74 (D.D.C. 2003) ("In determining whether a factual basis for personal jurisdiction exists, the court should resolve factual discrepancies appearing in the record in favor of the plaintiff."); United States v. Philip Morris Inc., 116 F. Supp. 2d 116, 120 n.4 (D.D.C. 2000) (the Court "may receive and weigh affidavits and other relevant matter to assist in determining the jurisdictional facts").

For the Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant, the Due Process Clause requires that plaintiffs show "'minimum contacts' between the defendant and the forum establishing that 'the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" See GTE New Media Servs., Inc., 199 F.3d at 1347 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). Moreover, "the defendant's conduct and connection with the forum State" should be such that the defendant should "reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980). "[T]his 'fair warning' requirement is satisfied if the defendant has 'purposefully directed' his activities at residents of the forum... and the litigation results from the alleged injuries that 'arise out of or relate to' those activities." Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985) (citations omitted). It is not necessary that a defendant physically enter the forum state as long as he "'purposefully avails'" himself of the "'privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws.'" Burger King, 471 U.S. at 475 (quoting Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958)).

B. Analysis

There are two distinct forms of personal jurisdiction: (1) general jurisdiction, which provides authority for the court to hear a suit against a defendant "without regard to the claim's relationship vel non to the defendant's forum-linked activity"; and (2) specific jurisdiction for "controversies based on acts of a defendant that touch and concern the forum." See Kopff v. Battaglia, 425 F. Supp. 2d 76, 81 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing Steinberg v. Int'l Criminal Police Org., 672 F.2d 927, 928 (D.C. Cir. 1981)). General jurisdiction "sets a high bar" and requires that the defendant maintain "continuous and systematic" contacts with the forum. See D'Onofrio v. SFX Sports Group, Inc., 534 F. Supp. 2d 86, 90 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 415--16 (1984)). Specific jurisdiction requires a two-step inquiry, as follows: "first, jurisdiction over the defendant must be authorized by the forum's longarm statute, here D.C. Code ยง 13-423"; and, second, the "exercise of that ...


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