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Foote v. Williams

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 31, 2017

SANDRA FOOTE, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Lester Foote, Plaintiff,
v.
JANE E. WILLIAMS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE B. WALTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, Sandra Foote, individually and as personal representative of the estate of her late husband, Lester Foote, brings this civil action against the defendant, Jane Williams, asserting claims of negligence and negligent misrepresentation. See generally Amended Complaint in Negligence (“Am. Compl.”). Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant, a Primerica Life Insurance Company (“Primerica”) insurance agent, negligently failed to add the plaintiff as a beneficiary to Lester Foote's life insurance policy, and misrepresented to Lester Foote and the plaintiff that she had done so. See id. ¶¶ 35-52. Currently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (“Def.'s Mot.”), which seeks dismissal of the Amended Complaint on the grounds that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See generally Def.'s Mot. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, [1] the Court concludes for the following reasons that it must grant the defendant's motion and dismiss the Amended Complaint because the Court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff alleges the following in her Amended Complaint: In 2002, Lester Foote completed an application for a Primerica life insurance policy, see Am. Compl. ¶ 12, at the defendant's home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, see Def.'s Mot., Exhibit (“Ex.”) D (Declaration of Jane E. Williams (“Williams Decl.”) ¶ 12. The defendant is a Primerica life insurance agent and Lester Foote's cousin. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 10. In the policy, Lester Foote designated six beneficiaries, including his god-daughter, “for $1, 300, 000 of the $1, 500, 000 amount of the term life insurance policy for which he applied.” Id. ¶ 13. Primerica issued the policy on May 19, 2002. See id. ¶ 15; see also id., Ex. 3 (Primerica Policy).

         After Lester Foote married the plaintiff on March 31, 2010, id. ¶ 17, he sought to add the plaintiff as a beneficiary and remove all other beneficiaries except his god-daughter from the life insurance policy, id. ¶¶ 19, 21. He “contacted [the defendant] to prepare the necessary paperwork to effectuate his desired change in beneficiaries, ” id. ¶ 20, and completed a policy change application at the defendant's Philadelphia home, “in which he listed [the plaintiff] and [his god-daughter] as the Principal Beneficiaries, ” see Def.'s Mot., Ex. D (Williams Decl.) ¶ 17; see also Am. Compl., Ex. 4 (Policy Change Application (“Policy Change Appl.”)). After the defendant submitted the policy change application to Primerica, “Primerica advised [the defendant] that it had received the Policy Change Application, but requested clarification as to the nature of the change being requested, ” id. ¶ 23; see also id., Ex. 5 (Policy Change Inquiry); however, the defendant “never provided a written response to that inquiry, ” id. ¶ 24.

         In 2011, the defendant visited her aunt, who is Lester Foote's mother, in the District of Columbia, and Lester Foote and the plaintiff were present during the visit. Id. ¶ 25. While there, Lester Foote asked the defendant: “‘Did you take care of the change of beneficiary?' [to which the defendant] responded affirmatively, stating that she had ‘taken care of it.'” Id. In February 2013, the defendant again visited Lester Foote's mother's home to attend her funeral and, while there, “Lester Foote stated to [the defendant], ‘Take care of my family' in the presence of [the plaintiff] and their child. [The defendant] responded by stating, ‘You don't have to worry.'” Id. ¶ 26.

         Lester Foote passed away on December 26, 2013. Id. ¶ 29. Following his death, the defendant visited the plaintiff at the plaintiff's home in the District of Columbia, where she “advised [the plaintiff] that she ‘would be getting a lot of money soon.'” Id. ¶ 30.[2] However, after the plaintiff later made a claim for her entitlement as a beneficiary of Lester Foote's Primerica policy, id. ¶ 31, Primerica “brought an action for interpleader to determine the respective rights of the [original beneficiaries] to the proceeds of the Policy in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, ” id. ¶ 32. On March 21, 2016, that court ruled that “because Lester Foote had failed to obtain written waivers from the original . . . [b]eneficiaries . . . as required by the terms of the contract, [the plaintiff], individually, had no legal right to any portion of the . . . insurance proceeds.” Id. ¶ 34.

         The plaintiff filed her original Complaint in this action on December 8, 2016, in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, alleging “a single count of negligence against Jane E. Williams[] arising from her alleged conduct . . . with regard to a life insurance policy issued to Lester Foote.” See Notice of Removal of Civil Action from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ¶ 1. The defendant removed the action to this Court on December 30, 2016, see id. at 4, and filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on January 13, 2017, see Defendant Jane Williams' Motion to Dismiss at 1 (Jan. 13, 2017), ECF No. 7. The plaintiff filed her Amended Complaint in this Court on February 3, 2017, asserting a claim for negligence as well as a claim for negligent misrepresentation. See Am. Compl. at 6, 9, 11.[3] Specifically, the plaintiff argues that the defendant “had a duty to make reasonable efforts to perform [ ] service[s] for her client, ” id. ¶ 37, and breached this duty by failing to take the necessary steps to fulfill Lester Foote's request to add the plaintiff as a beneficiary to his life insurance policy, see id. ¶ 41. Furthermore, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant “negligently represented to Lester Foote on two separate occasions . . . that she had taken the requisite actions to make [the plaintiff], individually, a beneficiary of his life insurance policy, in replacement of all of the original beneficiaries other than his god-daughter, ‘MBL.'” Id. ¶ 47. The defendant filed her motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint on February 17, 2017, see Def.'s Mot. at 3, arguing, among other things, that the plaintiff has not met her burden of establishing that this Court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant because “the only conduct that [the] [p]laintiff claims occurred in the District of Columbia upon which jurisdiction could even remotely be based were . . . statements that [the defendant] allegedly made in response to inquiries made by Mr. Foote.” Def.'s Mem. at 2.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When a defendant moves to dismiss a case for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), a plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a factual basis for the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Crane v. N.Y. Zoological Soc'y, 894 F.2d 454, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1990); see also First Chi. Int'l v. United Exch. Co., 836 F.2d 1375, 1378 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (“[A] plaintiff must make a prima facie showing of the pertinent jurisdictional facts.” (citations omitted)). Conclusory statements do not satisfy this burden. See GTE New Media Servs., Inc. v. BellSouth Corp., 199 F.3d 1343, 1349 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (citing First Chi., 836 F.2d at 1378-79). Instead, there must be specific allegations connecting the defendant to the forum. See, e.g., Second Amendment Found. v. U.S. Conference of Mayors, 274 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2001). Because the Court is permitted to “consider material outside of the pleadings in ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of . . . personal jurisdiction, ” Artis v. Greenspan, 223 F.Supp.2d 149, 152 (D.D.C. 2002) (citing Land v. Dollar, 330 U.S. 731, 735 n.4 (1947)), those allegations may be “bolstered by . . . affidavits and other written materials as [the plaintiff] can otherwise obtain, ” Mwani v. bin Laden, 417 F.3d 1, 7 (D.C. Cir. 2005). And, although the court need not accept the plaintiff's allegations bearing upon personal jurisdiction as true, see Associated Producers, Ltd. v. Vanderbilt Univ., 76 F.Supp.3d 154, 161 (D.D.C. 2014), “factual discrepancies appearing in the record must be resolved in favor of the plaintiff, ” Crane, 894 F.2d at 456 (citation omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         When evaluating whether it has personal jurisdiction over a defendant, the Court must first “determine whether jurisdiction over a party is proper under the applicable long-arm statute and, ” only if the conduct in question falls under at least one of the criteria set out in the long-arm statute, determine “whether [exerting jurisdiction over the party] accords with the demands of due process.” United States v. Ferrara, 54 F.3d 825, 828 (D.C. Cir. 1995). Therefore, as a first step, the plaintiff must “establish[] the [C]ourt's personal jurisdiction over the defendant” under at least one provision of the District's long-arm statute. Day v. Cornèr Bank (Overseas) Ltd., 789 F.Supp.2d 150, 155 (D.D.C. 2011).

         In her Amended Complaint and opposition to the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff asserts that the Court can exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant under subsections (a)(1),

(a)(2), and (a)(3), see Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2, as well as subsections (a)(4) and (a)(6), see Pl.'s Opp'n at 2, of the District's long-arm statute, see D.C. Code ยง ...

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