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Duarte v. Nolan

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 17, 2016

MICHAEL EDWARD NOLAN, et al., Defendants.


CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER United States District Judge

         Saying that it does business in “Washington, D.C.” might be useful shorthand for a California company with an office in Northern Virginia. It is not enough, however, to establish personal jurisdiction in a case arising from an alleged tort committed by one of the company’s employees in Virginia. Plaintiff Pamela Duarte, a District of Columbia resident, alleges that she was injured when a truck rear-ended the car she was driving in Richmond, Virginia. She has filed this negligence action against the driver of the truck, a California resident, and his employer, an engineering and construction company headquartered in San Diego. Both Defendants move to dismiss the suit for want of personal jurisdiction and improper venue in the District of Columbia. Because Duarte has failed to plead sufficient facts to establish personal jurisdiction, the Court will grant Defendants’ motions on that basis.

         I. Background

         On or about May 4, 2013, Pamela Duarte rented a 2012 Chevrolet Cruze from a Budget Rent-a-Car in the District of Columbia. Second Mot. Leave Amend Pl.’s First Am. Compl. Ex. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶ 9, ECF No. 15-1.[1] While stopped on the shoulder of Route 64 in Richmond, Virginia, Duarte’s rental was rear-ended by a truck driven by Defendant Michael Edward Nolan. Id. ¶ 10. Duarte alleges that at time of the collision, Nolan was an employee of Helix Electric, Inc. “working on a project for his company in the State of Virginia.” Id. ¶ 19. Helix is a national corporation in the business of electrical engineering and construction with its principal place of business in San Diego, California and offices in Hawaii, Nevada, Virginia, and elsewhere in California. Id. ¶ 7. Duarte alleges that even though Helix does not maintain an office in the District of Columbia, it “engages in a persistent course of business” here. Id. Duarte is a citizen of the District of Columbia; Nolan is a citizen of California. Id. ¶¶ 4-5.

         Duarte commenced this action on August 27, 2015, and filed her First Amended Complaint on December 11, 2015. She has since moved twice for leave to amend her First Amended Complaint. In her most recent filing, she alleges that Nolan, acting within the scope of his employment with Helix, negligently collided with her vehicle, causing her to incur “serious injuries” as well as economic and medical expenses. Id. ¶¶ 20-21, 23. In addition, Duarte’s rental car sustained significant damage totaling around $18, 000. Id. ¶ 22. She seeks $1, 000, 000 in damages.

         Both Defendants have moved to dismiss Duarte’s First Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(3), arguing that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them and that venue is improper in the District of Columbia under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2). Duarte contests these points and additionally requests that she be allowed to engage in jurisdictional discovery to confirm the propriety of exercising personal jurisdiction over both Defendants.

         II. Standard of Review

         A plaintiff “bear[s] the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction over the defendants.” Clay v. Blue Hackle N. Am. L.L.C., 907 F.Supp.2d 85, 87 (D.D.C. 2012). To establish personal jurisdiction, a plaintiff “‘must allege specific acts connecting [the] defendant with the forum’ and ‘cannot rely on conclusory allegations.’” Id. (quoting Second Amend. Found. v. U.S. Conference of Mayors, 274 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2001); Purdue Research Found. v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, S.A., 332 F.Supp.2d 63, 66 (D.D.C. 2004)). Moreover, a plaintiff “cannot aggregate factual allegations concerning multiple defendants in order to demonstrate personal jurisdiction over any individual defendant.” Atlantigas Corp. v. Nisource, Inc., 290 F.Supp.2d 34, 42 (D.D.C. 2003).

         To overcome a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Moldauer v. Constellation Brands, Inc., 87 F.Supp.3d 148, 152-53 (D.D.C. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted). In deciding whether to grant a 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, a court “may consider relevant material outside of the pleadings.” Id. at 152. Any “factual discrepancies appearing in the record must be resolved in favor of the plaintiff.” Crane v. N.Y. Zoological Soc’y, 894 F.2d 454, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1990).

         III. Analysis

         Defendants contend that the Court should dismiss Duarte’s Complaint because she has failed to meet her burden of establishing personal jurisdiction over each of them. The Court agrees and will grant the motions to dismiss.[2]

         A. Legal Standard for Personal Jurisdiction

         Two forms of personal jurisdiction empower a court to exercise coercive authority over a non-resident defendant: general and specific jurisdiction. General jurisdiction arises when the “non-resident defendant maintains sufficiently systematic and continuous contacts with the forum state, regardless of whether those contacts gave rise to the claim in the particular suit.” App Dynamic ehf v. Vignisson, 87 F.Supp.3d 322, 326 (D.D.C. 2015) (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414-15 (1984)). Section 13-422 of the D.C. Code enables a District of Columbia court to exercise general jurisdiction “over a person domiciled in, organized under the laws of, or maintaining his or its principal place of business in, the District of Columbia as to any claim for relief.” When a corporate defendant is neither incorporated in nor has its principal place of business in the forum state, “a court has general jurisdiction over the defendant only if its ‘affiliations with the State in which suit is brought are so constant and pervasive as to render [it] essentially at home in the forum state.’” Moldauer, 87 F.Supp.3d at 154 (quoting Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 751 (2014)). “The corporation’s contacts with the State must constitute ‘continuous corporate operations’ that are ‘so substantial and of such a nature as to justify suit against it on causes of action arising from dealings entirely distinct from those activities.’” Id. (quoting Int’l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 318 (1945)).

         Conversely, specific jurisdiction exists over a non-resident defendant where the claim arises “out of or [is] related to the defendant’s contacts with the forum.” Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 414 n.8. “A plaintiff seeking to establish specific jurisdiction over a non-resident must establish that specific jurisdiction comports with the forum’s long-arm statute, D.C. Code § 13-423(a), ...

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