United States District Court, D. Columbia.
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For ASSOCIATED PRODUCERS, LTD, SIMCHA JACOBOVICI, Plaintiffs: Richard L. Charnley, PRO HAC VICE, ARENT FOX LLP, Los Angeles, CA; Jackson David Toof, ARENT, FOX LLP, Washington, DC.
For VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY, Defendant: Bruce M. Berman, Matthew T Martens, LEAD ATTORNEYS, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE & DORR LLP, Washington, DC.
For ROBIN JENSEN, Defendant: Dawn E. Boyce, BANCROFT, MCGAVIN, HORVATH & JUDKINS, P.C., Fairfax, VA.
COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Associated Producers, LTD, and Simcha Jacobovici (collectively, " Plaintiffs" ), filed suit against Vanderbilt University (" Vanderbilt" ) and Robin M. Jensen (" Jensen" ) for Intentional Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage and Business Relations. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants intentionally interfered with Plaintiffs' contract with National Geographic to produce an " archeological film concerning the burial cave in Jerusalem" (" the documentary" ). Presently before the Court are Defendant Vanderbilt's and Defendant Jensen's Motions to Dismiss or, in the alternative, to Transfer. Upon consideration of the pleadings, the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court finds that it does not have personal jurisdiction over Defendant Vanderbilt and thus GRANTS Defendant Vanderbilt's Motion to Dismiss and dismisses Vanderbilt from this case. The Court does find, however, that it has personal jurisdiction over Defendant Jensen, that venue is proper in this district, that it would not be in the
interests of justice to transfer this case, and that Plaintiffs' claims are not barred by the statute of limitations. Accordingly, the Court DENIES Defendant Jensen's Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, to Transfer.
For the purposes of these motions, the Court accepts as true the well-pleaded allegations in Plaintiffs' Complaint. In or around September 2010, National Geographic, whose headquarters are in the District of Columbia, commissioned Plaintiffs to make an archaeological documentary concerning a burial cave in Jerusalem. Compl. ¶ 13. Defendant Jensen, a Professor at Vanderbilt University, agreed to appear as an expert on early Christian art in a section of the documentary. Id. ¶ 15. Defendant Jensen " required and received approval from her employer Defendant Vanderbilt before she could take part in the film project." Id. ¶ 16. Defendant Vanderbilt " expects and requires that[,] as part of their job duties[,] its professors, such as Jensen, will not only teach students in the classroom but also promote and raise the visibility of the university through media appearances." Id. ¶ 17. Defendant Jensen signed a release form with Plaintiffs permitting Plaintiffs to display her likeness and affiliation with Defendant Vanderbilt in the documentary. Id. ¶ 18. Defendant Jensen also executed a Non-Disclosure Agreement with National Geographic. Id. ¶ 20.
To assess the documentary before it aired on the National Geographic channel, " National Geographic organized a group of consultants to opine on the viability of the cave documentary as a legitimate historical and archaeological work." Id. ¶ 22. Defendant Jensen was recommended to the panel of consultants by Plaintiff Jacobovici, and Defendant Jensen became one of the consultants. Id. In or about late May 2011, the consulting panel held a meeting at National Geographic's headquarters in the District of Columbia, which Defendant Jensen attended. Id. ¶ ¶ 23-24. At the panel's meeting, Defendant Jensen voiced her support for the documentary, noting that the documentary's findings may be " very, very important." Id. ¶ 25. According to Plaintiffs, " Defendant Jensen's views dramatically changed subsequent to the panel meeting after she became acquainted with an unnamed co-conspirator . . . ." Id. ¶ 26. The co-conspirator relayed to Defendant Jensen " a litany of unsubstantiated rumors about [Plaintiff] Jacobovici." Id. ¶ 27. Subsequently, Defendant Jensen communicated through e-mails and telephone calls to " National Geographic company officials and other National Geographic panel members" that she had " second thoughts" about the documentary being aired. Id. ¶ 29. Defendant Jensen also allegedly passed on the rumors to National Geographic officials and panel members. Id. ¶ 31. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Jensen used " her position with Defendant Vanderbilt and her voice as a consultant to National Geographic" to " put [Plaintiffs] out of business." Id.
Plaintiffs were later contacted by National Geographic's counsel and informed that National Geographic " did not want to proceed with the project." Id. ¶ 36. Plaintiffs subsequently sold the rights to the documentary to the Discovery Channel, but allege that the delay in the release of the documentary caused them significant financial harm. Id. ¶ ¶ 37, 43. In addition, Plaintiffs allege that " Defendant Jensen's actions irreparably damaged Plaintiffs' pre-existing profitable business relationship with National Geographic" and that " [s]ince 2010, Plaintiffs have done no work for National Geographic." Id. ¶ 42.
Plaintiffs first became aware of Defendant Jensen's allegedly wrongful conduct on or about July 16, 2013, when Plaintiffs discovered a series of email correspondences between Defendant Jensen and the co-conspirator " that included defamation and information regarding a conspiracy to end Plaintiffs' careers." Id. ¶ 45. On March 12, 2014, Plaintiffs filed suit in this Court against Defendant Jensen and her employer, Vanderbilt, for intentional interference with prospective economic advantage and business relations. Defendants now move the Court to dismiss this case arguing that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendants, that venue in this district is improper, and that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim against Defendants. In the alternative, Defendants move the Court to transfer this case to the Middle District of Tennessee pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1404(a).
II. LEGAL STANDARD
A. Rule 12(b)(2)
When personal jurisdiction is challenged under Rule 12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a factual basis for asserting personal jurisdiction over a defendant. See Crane v. N.Y. Zoological Soc'y, 894 F.2d 454, 456, 282 U.S.App.D.C. 295 (D.C. Cir. 1990). To establish that personal jurisdiction exists, the plaintiff cannot rest on bare allegations or conclusory statements but " must allege specific acts connecting [each] defendant with the forum." Second Amendment Found. v. U.S. Conference of Mayors, 274 F.3d 521, 524, 348 U.S.App.D.C. 238 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (internal quotation omitted). " [T]he general rule is that 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, 267 U.S.App.D.C. 27 (D.C. Cir. 1988). " 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[; ]" but rather, the plaintiff may " rest [his] arguments on the pleadings, 'bolstered by such affidavits and other written materials as [he] can otherwise obtain.'" Urban Inst. v. FINCON Servs., 681 F.Supp.2d 41, 44 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Mwani v. bin Laden, 417 F.3d 1, 7, 368 U.S.App.D.C. 1 (D.C. Cir. 2005)). Conclusory statements, however, " [do] not constitute the prima facie showing necessary to carry the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction." Naartex Consulting Corp. v. Watt, 722 F.2d 779, 787-88, 232 U.S.App.D.C. 293 (D.C. Cir. 1983).
In order to successfully carry its burden, the plaintiff must allege " specific facts that demonstrate purposeful activity by the defendant in the District of Columbia invoking the benefits and protections of its laws." Helmer v. Doletskaya, 290 F.Supp.2d 61, 66 (D.D.C. 2003), rev'd on other grounds, 393 F.3d 201, 364 U.S.App.D.C. 178 (D.C. Cir. 2004). The Court need not treat all of a plaintiff's allegations as true; rather, the Court " may receive and weigh affidavits and other relevant matter to assist in determining the jurisdictional facts." Exponential Biotherapies, Inc. v. Houthoff Buruma N.V., 638 F.Supp.2d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2009) (citation omitted). " In determining whether such a basis exists, factual discrepancies appearing in the record must be resolved in favor of the plaintiff." Crane, 894 F.2d at 456 (citing Reuber v. United States, 750 F.2d 1039, 1052, 242 U.S.App.D.C. 370 (D.C. Cir. 1984)). Courts " will consider all allegations of jurisdictional facts in a light most favorable to the assertion of personal jurisdiction." Richard v. Bell Atlantic Corp., 946 F.Supp. 54, 67 (D.D.C. 1996); see also Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608, 199 U.S.App.D.C. 23 (D.C. Cir. 1979) (internal citation omitted) (court must give plaintiff " the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged" ).
B. Rule 12(b)(3)
When presented with a motion to dismiss for improper venue under Rule 12(b)(3), the Court " accepts the plaintiff's well-pled factual allegations regarding venue as true, draws all reasonable inferences from those allegations in the plaintiff's favor and resolves any factual conflicts in the plaintiff's favor." James v. Verizon Servs. Corp., 639 F.Supp.2d 9, 11 (D.D.C. 2009). " Because it is the plaintiff's obligation to institute the action in a permissible forum, the plaintiff usually bears the burden of establishing that venue is proper." Freeman v. Fallin, 254 F.Supp.2d 52, 56 (D.D.C. 2003). In order " [t]o prevail on a motion to dismiss for improper venue, the defendant must present facts that will defeat the plaintiff's assertion of venue." Khalil v. L-3 Commc'ns Titan Grp., 656 F.Supp.2d 134, 135 (D.D.C. 2009) (internal citation ...