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Orellana v. Croplife International

September 23, 2010

JORGE WASHINGTON ACOSTA ORELLANA, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CROPLIFE INTERNATIONAL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is currently before the Court on defendant CropLife Ecuador's ("CropLife E") motion for dismissal of the plaintiffs' Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), alleging that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it, and opposing the plaintiffs' motion for jurisdictional discovery. Defendant CropLife Ecuador's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint ("Def. CropLife E's Mot.") and Memorandum in Support of Defendant CropLife Ecuador's Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction or, in the Alternative, for Failure to State a Claim Upon which Relief may Be Granted ("Def. CropLife's Mem.").*fn1 The motion is opposed by the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs' Opposition to CropLife Ecuador's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint and Cross-Motion for Jurisdictional Discovery ("Pls.' Opp'n to CropLife E's Mot.").*fn2 For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that the plaintiffs' Amended Complaint fails to provide any basis for this Court exercising personal jurisdiction over defendant CropLife E, and accordingly, the defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint in its entirety pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2) is granted. In addition, the Court denies the plaintiffs' motion to conduct jurisdictional discovery.

I. BACKGROUND

CropLife E's primary argument in its motion to dismiss is that this Court lacks any basis to exercise personal jurisdiction over it in the District of Columbia (the "District").*fn3 CropLife Ecuador is a "foreign, not-for-profit trade organization incorporated under the laws of Ecuador and domiciled in Guayaquil, Ecuador." Def. CropLife E's Mot. at 4. The plaintiffs allege that CropLife E is a member of CropLife International ("CropLife I") and CropLife America ("CropLife A"), and as such, made decisions in the District, which caused the injuries alleged.*fn4 Am. Compl. ¶¶ 312, 317.

The plaintiffs are alleging injuries resulting from their "exposure to the agrochemical Mancozeb," a fungicide used on bananas at plantations in Ecuador to prevent "sigatoka negra" or "black banana" fungus. Id. ¶¶ 1--2. The plaintiffs are comprised of five groups: pilots who sprayed Mancozeb on the banana plants, ground crew members employed by fumigation companies who used Mancozeb, banana plantation workers who were exposed to Mancozeb, other individuals who lived near the plantations and were also knowingly exposed to Mancozeb, and the Municipality of Pueblo Viejo, which presumably is also located near the plantations. Id. ¶ 8. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants "failed to warn [banana plantation] workers and other exposed persons of [Mancozeb's] hazardous nature" and promoted the use of the agrochemical in unsafe quantities while "purposely conceal[ing] information about [its] toxicity." Id. ¶¶ 1, 6, 7, 356. The amended complaint advances several state law tort claims (battery, assault, fraudulent concealment, negligence per se, negligent supervision, trespass, negligent trespass, nuisance, nuisance per se, and strict liability), see id. ¶¶ 361--398, and the plaintiffs, who seek class certification, request compensatory and punitive damages, various forms of equitable relief, in addition to attorneys fees and litigation costs. See id. ¶ 400.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

In order to survive a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, a plaintiff must make "a prima facie showing of the pertinent jurisdictional facts." First Chi. Int'l v. United Exch. Co., 836 F.2d 1375, 1378 (D.C. Cir. 1988). In doing so, the plaintiff "must allege specific facts on which personal jurisdiction can be based; it cannot rely on conclusory allegations." Atlantigas Corp. v. Nisource, Inc., 290 F. Supp. 2d 34, 42 (D.D.C. 2003) (emphasis added); see also Crane v. N.Y. Zoological Soc'y, 894 F.2d 454, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (noting that the "plaintiff has the burden of establishing a factual basis for the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant") (citing Reuber v. United States, 750 F.2d 1039, 1052 (D.C. Cir. 1984)). In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the Court is not required to assume the truth of the plaintiffs' allegations and instead "may receive and weigh affidavits and other relevant matter to assist in determining jurisdictional facts." United States v. Philip Morris Inc., 116 F. Supp. 2d 116, 120 n.4 (D.D.C. 2000). However, in determining whether a proper basis for personal jurisdiction exists, "factual discrepancies appearing in the record must be resolved in favor of the plaintiff." Crane, 894 F.2d at 456 (citing Reuber, 750 F.2d at 1052).

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

As grounds for asserting personal jurisdiction with respect to defendant CropLife E, the plaintiffs posit alternate theories in their responses to the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.*fn5 See Pls.' Opp'n to CropLife E's Mot. at 1--2. The plaintiffs first allege that jurisdiction is proper based on CropLife E's own conduct in this jurisdiction under the District's long-arm statute.*fn6 See Pls.' Opp'n to CropLife E's Mot. at 11. Second, the plaintiffs maintain that jurisdiction is proper based on the doctrine of conspiracy jurisdiction. See Pls.' Opp'n to CropLife E's Mot. at

16. Third, the plaintiffs maintain that jurisdiction is proper under the theory of agency. Pls.' Opp'n to CropLife E's Mot. at 12. The defendant contends that the plaintiffs fail to satisfy either the statutory or due process requirements necessary to establish personal jurisdiction over it based on any of these theories. See Def. CropLife E's Mot. at 1.

A. Personal Jurisdiction Pursuant to D.C.'s Long-Arm Statute

To determine whether the Court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant, "a court must engage in a two-part inquiry." GTE New Media Servs. Inc. v. Bellsouth Corp., 199 F.3d 1343, 1347 (D.C. Cir. 2000). Jurisdiction must first be "proper under the applicable local long-arm statute," and second must also "accord[] with the demands of due process." United States v. Ferrara, 54 F.3d 825, 828 (D.C. Cir. 1995). The District's long-arm statute allows for the exercise of personal jurisdiction pursuant to either § 13-334 (general jurisdiction, which has not been alleged by the plaintiffs), or § 13-423 (specific jurisdiction).

Under § 13-423(a) of the District's long-arm statute, courts may exercise specific jurisdiction over a party "transacting any business in the District of Columbia." The reach of this provision is limited, however, by the requirement of §13-423(b), which mandates that there be "a significant connection between the claim and alleged contact with the forum." World Wide Minerals Ltd. v. Kazakhstahn, 116 F. Supp. 2d 98, 106 (D.D.C. 2000); see also AGS Int'l Servs. S.A. v. Newmont USA Ltd., 346 F. Supp. 2d 64, 78 (D.D.C. 2004) (noting that the plaintiff is required to demonstrate that "the claim raised [has] a discernible relationship to the 'business' transacted in the District") (citation omitted).

In sum, aggregating the statutory requirements with the constitutional due process requirements in the assessment of whether the Court has establish personal jurisdiction under § 13-423(a)(1), the plaintiff "must demonstrate that (1) the defendant transacted business in the District of Columbia; (2) the claim arose from the business transacted in the District; (3) the defendant had minimum contacts with the District; and (4) the Court's exercise of personal jurisdiction would not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Atlantigas, 290 F. Supp. 2d at 43 (citing Dooley v. United Techs., F. Supp. 65, 71 (D.D.C. 1992)). The constitutional aspect of this analysis evaluates "whether the defendant purposely established minimum contacts in the forum [s]tate," Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Superior Ct. of Cal., 480 U.S. 102, 108--09 (1987) (citation omitted), such ...


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