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National Resident Matching Program v. Electronic Residency LLC

July 6, 2010

NATIONAL RESIDENT MATCHING PROGRAM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ELECTRONIC RESIDENCY LLC, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the Court on the motion of defendants Electronic Residency, LLC ("ER") and Match A Resident to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant the motion.*fn2

I. BACKGROUND

National Resident Matching Program ("NRMP") is a not-for-profit corporation that conducts "the Match," an annual program through which senior medical students apply and are assigned to open medical residency positions. Signer Decl. ¶ 2. To participate in the Match, an applicant must register with NRMP and comply with the terms of a contractual agreement, the "Match Participation Agreement." Id. ¶ 6. Each applicant provides NRMP with a list ranking the residency programs to which the applicant wishes to be assigned; each residency program, in turn, submits to NRMP a list ranking the applicants that it is willing to hire. Id. ¶ 8. Once those lists are entered into a database, NRMP runs a computer program that pairs applicants with open positions in a manner calculated to produce "optimal matches of applicants to programs." Id. ¶ 10.

After the Match is complete, NRMP initiates "the Scramble," a process by which applicants who did not receive a residency during the Match may submit applications to residency programs that still have unfilled positions. Signer Decl. ¶ 13. The Scramble begins the day after the Match concludes, when NRMP makes available on its website a document, known as the Unfilled List, that identifies each residency program left with vacancies after the Match. Id. ¶ 11. Residency applicants who did not receive a placement during the Match have 48 hours in which to secure one in the Scramble. Id. ¶ 14.

The number of unmatched applicants participating in the Scramble typically far outstrips the number of unfilled residency positions. Id. ¶ 16. Applicants may submit formal applications during the Scramble only by using the Electronic Residency Application Service ("ERAS"), which is affiliated with the Association of American Medical Colleges. Id. ¶ 17. The number of applications that an individual may submit through ERAS is limited to a maximum of forty-five. Id. If an applicant wishes to contact more than forty-five programs, however, he or she may attempt to send informal applications or letters of interest directly to those programs via fax or email. Id. ¶ 18; Musa Decl. ¶ 11.

Defendant Electronic Residency, LLC ("ER"), a for-profit company whose principal place of business is located in Ohio, Musa Decl. ¶ 2, offers to assist applicants during the Match and Scramble process by providing two types of services in exchange for fees. The first, called Match A Resident ("MAR"), provides applicants with "customized residency program lists that match the [applicants'] interests, qualifications and credentials... with particular residency programs." Musa Decl. ¶ 5. ER develops those customized lists by relying on a "proprietary database" containing periodically updated information about each residency program: its "application deadline, the percentage of foreign medical graduates in the program, what kinds of visas the program sponsors, whether previous U.S. clinical experience is required, minimum academic requirements." Id. ¶ 6. Twelve residents of the District of Columbia used the MAR service in 2007 and 2008. Answers to Interrogs. at 2.

The second type of service provided by ER is distinct from MAR, and applicants wishing to use both services must register for each separately. Musa Decl. ¶¶ 8-11. Applicants who pay for this second service arrange for ER to "transmit[ their] applications to residency programs by fax and email on Scramble day." Id. ¶ 11. As soon as the Scramble begins and students are allowed to apply for unfilled residencies, ER begins sending abbreviated, informal applications by email or fax from its clients to residency programs. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. In the past three years, at least three residents of the District of Columbia have registered for ER's assistance with the Scramble process. Musa Decl. ¶ 16.

During each year's Scramble, ER contacts between 800 and 1,000 residency programs on behalf of its clients. Musa Decl. ¶ 17. At least twelve of the residency programs to which ER sends information are located in the District of Columbia. Id. ER estimates that it sends roughly 1,700 faxes and 1,825 emails each year to those District programs. Answers to Interrogs. at 5.

Every year since 2004 - the year that ER was founded - ER's owner and president, Dr. Zahran Musa, has registered with NRMP to participate in the Match. Musa Decl. ¶¶ 3, 5. By doing so, he has gained online access to NRMP's Unfilled List, which may be viewed by any NRMP registrant on the first day of the Scramble. Signer Decl. ¶ 11. Although Dr. Musa claims that he registers for the Match in an attempt to secure a residency for himself, see Musa Decl. ¶ 3, he has failed each year since 2004 to submit to NRMP a list ranking the residency programs to which he would like to apply, which means that he has never actually been eligible to participate in the Match. Signer Decl. ¶ 26.

On February 20, 2009, NRMP filed its complaint in this matter, alleging four counts of misconduct by ER: conspiracy to defraud, Compl. ¶¶ 28-31; civil conspiracy, id. ¶¶ 32-34; tortious interference, Compl. ¶¶ 35-40; and trade secret misappropriation, id. ¶¶ 41-49. According to NRMP, Dr. Musa, acting as an agent of ER, has registered for the Match every year since 2004 under false pretenses, gaining access to the Unfilled List, and then used his knowledge of the list to "further the business objectives of Electronic Residency." Compl. ¶ 25.

II. DISCUSSION

ER contends that it is not subject to personal jurisdiction in the District of Columbia and therefore that the plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. It is the plaintiff's burden to make a prima facie showing that this Court has personal jurisdiction over a defendant. See First Chicago Int'l v. United Exch. Co., 836 F.2d 1375, 1378-79 (D.C. Cir. 1988). "Plaintiff must allege specific facts on which personal jurisdiction can be based; [it] cannot rely on conclusory allegations." Moore v. Motz, 437 F. Supp. 2d 88, 91 (D.D.C. 2006) (citations omitted). Furthermore, when considering personal jurisdiction, the Court need not treat all of the petitioner's allegations as true. Instead, the Court "may [also] receive and weigh affidavits and other relevant matter to assist in determining the jurisdictional facts." Jung v. Assoc. of Amer. Medical Colleges, 300 F. Supp. 2d 119, 127 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting United States v. Philip Morris Inc., 116 F. Supp. 2d 116, 120 n.4 (D.D.C. 2000)); see also Brunson v. Kalil & Co., 404 F. Supp. 2d 221, 223 (D.D.C. 2005).

NRMP contends that the Court may exercise personal jurisdiction over ER pursuant to any one of three provisions of the District of Columbia Code: D.C. Code § 13-423(a)(1) (specific jurisdiction over defendants who transact business in the District); D.C. Code § 13-423(a)(4) (specific jurisdiction over defendants "causing tortious injury" in the District); or D.C. Code § 13-334(a) (general jurisdiction over ...


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