United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.
Brit UW, Limited (Brit) seeks declaratory relief to establish
that it need not pay Defendant Manhattan Beachwear, LLC (MBW)
under a professional liability insurance policy that Brit
provided. MBW's involvement in this controversy began
when it retained Clyde Hettrick, a partner at Dickstein
Shapiro LLP (Dickstein), to represent it in an insurance
matter. During the representation, Mr. Hettrick left
Dickstein to form his own firm, and took MBW with him as a
client. MBW later came to regret this decision, to the extent
that it fired Mr. Hettrick and sued him (and his new firm)
for malpractice. Brit-one of several insurers on
Dickstein's professional liability policy-declined
coverage of the malpractice suit.
through a variety of legal machinations, both received a
judgment for $63, 888, 486.49 against the defendants in the
malpractice action, and obtained assignment of the
defendants' claims against Dickstein's insurers,
including Brit. Noting that MBW was poised to sue it for
millions, Brit filed this action seeking, inter
alia, a declaration of non-coverage over the malpractice
claims. Now before the Court is MBW's motion to dismiss
this action for lack of personal jurisdiction, lack of
subject matter jurisdiction, failure to join a party, lack of
venue, and forum non conveniens. The Court concludes that it
does not have personal jurisdiction over MBW under either
specific or general jurisdiction, and thus dismisses the
action in its entirety without reaching the other issues.
case involves an insurance dispute between plaintiff Brit, an
insurer, and defendant MBW,  an erstwhile swimwear
manufacturer. Brit was one of several insurers that issued a
professional liability insurance policy to Dickstein, and MBW
was one of Dickstein's clients.
origins of this case began to germinate in 2007, when MBW
claimed that it lost $11, 459, 421 due to a fire and theft in
Indonesia. Soura Decl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 7-1; Compl. ¶
17, ECF No. 1. MBW disagreed with its insurer's handling
of the claim, and hired Clyde Hettrick-then a partner at
Dickstein in the Los Angeles office-to represent it in the
Indonesia matter. Soura Decl. ¶ 9. The retainer
agreement was negotiated in California, mailed from
California, and contained a California arbitration provision.
Soura Decl. ¶ 9. Brit and several other London insurers
provided professional liability insurance to Dickstein at the
time. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 7; see
also Primary Professional Liability Insurance Policy,
ECF No. 1-1, Ex. A. After submitting a claim package on
MBW's behalf in the Indonesia matter, Mr. Hettrick left
Dickstein and started his own law firm, Compl. ¶ 18;
Soura Decl. ¶ 10, retaining MBW as a client, Compl.
¶ 18; Soura Decl. ¶ 10.
between Mr. Hettrick and MBW soon soured. In June of 2011,
MBW replaced Mr. Hettrick with lawyers from Dickstein's
Los Angeles office for the Indonesia matter, Soura Decl.
¶ 12, and in 2012 MBW sued Mr. Hettrick for malpractice
in Los Angeles Superior Court, Compl. ¶ 28; see
also Complaint for Legal Malpractice, Manhattan
Beachwear, LLC v. Hettrick Law, P.C., No. BC497520 (Cal.
Super. Ct. Dec. 14, 2012), ECF No. 1-3, Ex. C.
Dickstein's insurers, including Brit, were not named in
the malpractice case. See Complaint for Legal
Malpractice, Manhattan Beachwear, LLC v. Hettrick Law,
P.C., No. BC497520 (Cal. Super. Ct. Dec. 14, 2012). Brit
declined to provide coverage in the malpractice suit. Compl.
malpractice case was ongoing when Mr. Hettrick died in 2013.
Following his death, MBW took an unorthodox
approach to resolving the matter. First, MBW
reached a settlement with Mr. Hettrick's estate and
Hettrick's new law firm. See generally
Settlement Agreement, ECF No. 1-4, Ex. D. Instead of
disposing of the court case, however, the settlement provided
that the case would proceed to a bench trial but the estate
would not contest MBW's allegations on damages or
culpability. Settlement Agreement ¶ 3 (“The ESTATE
. . . agree[s] not to contest the nature or amount of any
claims made by MB against the ESTATE. Liability and the
extent of MB's damages against the ESTATE will be
determined . . . in an uncontested prove-up hearing . . . .
and shall be entered as a judgment against the ESTATE in the
ACTION”). The estate further agreed to
assign any claims it might have against Brit (or
Dickstein's other insurers) to MBW. Compl. ¶ 33;
Soura Decl. ¶ 16; Settlement Agreement ¶ 4
(“[T]he ESTATE shall assign to MB . . . any and all
assignable claims against [the professional liability
insurers]”). In exchange for these concessions, MBW
agreed not to collect on the judgment from Hettrick's
estate. See generally Settlement Agreement.
trial occurred pursuant to this agreement, and the court
issued a judgment of $63, 888, 486.49 in MBW's favor.
Compl. ¶ 34; Judgment After Court Trial, Manhattan
Beachwear, LLC v. Hettrick Law, P.C., No. BC 497520
(Cal. Super. Ct., August 10, 2015), ECF No. 7-1, Ex. B.
Although this judgment was entered against Hettrick's
estate, the settlement agreement contemplated that MBW would
bring suit against Brit and Dickstein's other insurers to
enforce the judgment. Settlement Agreement, ¶ 10, ECF No.
1-4, Ex. D (“Through the Assignment . . . MB . . .
shall file an action against [Dickstein's insurers] . . .
filed this suit seeking declaratory judgment to protect it
against MBW's claims.MBW moves to dismiss the complaint for
lack of personal jurisdiction, as per Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(2). MBW further moves to dismiss for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction, as per Rule 12(b)(1); improper
venue, as per Rule 12(b)(3); failure to join a party, as per
Rule 12(b)(7); and forum non conveniens. See
generally Mem. P. & A. Supp. Def.'s Mot. Dismiss
(Def.'s Mot. Dismiss), ECF No. 7.
Court begins, and ends, its analysis by considering MBW's
motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Because
the Court agrees with MBW that MBW is not subject to either
specific jurisdiction on this claim or general jurisdiction
in the District, the Court will grant the motion and dismiss
the complaint in its entirety.
jurisdiction requires that the court be able to exercise
jurisdiction over a party under both “the applicable
long-arm statute” and “the demands of due
process.” United States v. Ferrara, 54 F.3d
825, 828 (D.C. Cir. 1995); accord GTE New Media Servs.
Inc. v. BellSouth Corp., 199 F.3d 1343, 1347 (D.C. Cir.
2000). When a case, such as this one, Compl. ¶ 3, is
brought in diversity, “the federal district court's
personal jurisdiction over the defendant is coextensive with
that of a District of Columbia court.” Helmer v.
Doletskaya, 393 F.3d 201, 205 (D.C. Cir. 2004).
plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court may
properly exercise personal jurisdiction over each defendant.
Crane v. N.Y. Zoological Soc'y, 894 F.2d 454,
456 (D.C. Cir. 1990). The Court will resolve factual
discrepancies in favor of the plaintiff, Crane, 894
F.2d at 456, but “[b]are allegations and conclusory
statements are insufficient.” Johns v. Newsmax
Media, Inc., 887 F.Supp.2d 90, 95 (D.D.C. 2012); see
also Second Amendment Found. v. U.S. Conference of
Mayors, 274 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2001). In addition
to the pleadings, the Court may consider other evidence, such
as affidavits. See Mwani v. bin Laden, 417 F.3d 1, 7
(D.C. Cir. 2005).
jurisdiction may be satisfied by either specific or general
jurisdiction. D'Onofrio v. SFX Sports Grp.,
Inc., 534 F.Supp.2d 86, 90 (D.D.C. 2008). Specific
jurisdiction requires only sufficient “‘minimum
contacts' with [the forum], ” but requires that the
plaintiff's claims arise from those contacts. See
Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466
U.S. 408, 414 (1984) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v.
Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). General
jurisdiction, on the other hand, “sets a high bar,
” requiring that the defendant have “continuous
and systematic” contacts with the forum state-but then
permits the forum to adjudicate any claims against the
defendant, whether or not the claims are related to the
defendant's actions in the forum. D'Onofrio,
534 F.Supp.2d at 90 (citation omitted). The Court considers
the applicability of each in turn.
argues that neither of its two acts arguably relating to
D.C.-retaining lawyers at Dickstein, a firm headquartered in
D.C., and taking assignment of the Hettrick estate's
claims against Dickstein's insurers-should subject it to
personal jurisdiction in D.C. See, e.g., Reply Mem.
Supp. Def.'s Mot. Dismiss (Def.'s Reply), ECF No. 14
at 7-11. Brit does not seriously contend that merely hiring
Hettrick, a Dickstein attorney residing and working in
California, creates personal jurisdiction. Instead, Brit
hangs its hat on the argument that MBW accepted D.C. personal
jurisdiction by taking assignment of the Hettrick
estate's claims against Brit under the professional
liability policy, which it argues was a “D.C.
contract.” See, e.g., Pl.'s Mem. P. &
A. Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Dismiss (Pl.'s Opp'n),
ECF No. 13 at 9-13. Because the Court concludes that taking
assignment of the contract does not meet the minimum contacts
with the forum requirement of the due process clause,
exercising specific jurisdiction over MBW is not warranted.
District of Columbia's long-arm statute permits a court
to “exercise personal jurisdiction over a person”
when “a claim for relief aris[es] from the person's
. . . transacting any business in the District of
Columbia.” D.C. Code § 13-423 (2012). This
provision is interpreted “to provide jurisdiction to
the full extent allowed by the Due Process Clause” such
that “the statutory and constitutional jurisdictional
questions . . . merge into a single inquiry: would exercising
personal jurisdiction accord with the demands of due
process?” Thompson Hine, LLP v. Taieb, 734
F.3d 1187, 1189 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted).
process is satisfied if the defendant has “certain
minimum contacts with [the forum] such that the maintenance
of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of
fair play and substantial justice, '” Int'l
Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)
(quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463
(1940)), and that the defendant “should reasonably
anticipate being haled into court” in the forum,
World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S.
286, 297 (1980). The court analyzes the “quality and
nature of the defendant's activity” in the forum to
determine if the defendant “purposefully avail[ed]
itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the
forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of
its laws.” Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471
U.S. 462, 474-75 (1985) (quoting Hanson v. Denckla,
357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958)); see also IMark Mktg. Servs.,
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