United States District Court, District of Columbia
AMOS N. JONES, Plaintiff,
CAMPBELL UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Amos Jones is a former professor at Campbell University's
Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law in Raleigh, North
Carolina. In December 2017, Jones (now a citizen of the
District of Columbia) filed suit in the District of Columbia
Superior Court against Campbell and five of its employees
(all citizens of North Carolina) alleging violations of
federal antidiscrimination statutes and raising tort claims
under D.C. law. He also brought two common-law tort claims
against the Catholic University of America, located in the
District of Columbia.
removing the case to federal court, the Campbell defendants
in March 2018 moved to dismiss Jones's ten claims against
them, contending that this Court lacked personal jurisdiction
over them. They explained that none of the Campbell
defendants had sufficient contacts with the District of
Columbia (and thus the Court lacked general personal
jurisdiction) and that all of the allegedly wrongful acts
occurred in North Carolina (and thus the Court lacked
specific personal jurisdiction). Defs.' Memo. Supp. Mot.
Dismiss, ECF No. 11, at 7-13.
than opposing the defendants' motion, Jones filed an
amended complaint containing some new jurisdictional
allegations. New in the sense that they were not in the
original complaint, and new in the sense that they were novel
to say the least. The complaint stated that defendant J.
Richard Leonard-Campbell Law School's dean-had been a
federal magistrate and bankruptcy judge on the U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina for 32
years. And, according to Jones, Leonard “regularly
recruits and/or offers North Carolina's federal judges
paid teaching jobs at the Law School, frequently fraternizes
with these co-workers and colleagues, and is otherwise deeply
and personally interested in and cooperative with the jurists
serving in the federal courthouses throughout North
Carolina.” Am. Compl. ¶ 24. Thus, in Jones's
view, all federal district judges in the Eastern District of
North Carolina-where venue would otherwise be proper-are
biased against or financially interested in his claims
against the Campbell defendants, such that they cannot
impartially adjudicate the case.
Campbell defendants again moved to dismiss for lack of
personal jurisdiction. The same day, their counsel sent
Jones's counsel a so-called “safe-harbor
letter” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
11(c)(2). Defs.' Mot. Sanctions Ex. A. The letter stated
that the amended complaint's assertion of personal
jurisdiction over the Campbell defendants was not supported
by existing law, and that it contained no nonfrivolous
argument for extending existing law or establishing new law
so as to support jurisdiction. Id. at 2. As such,
they declared their intention to seek sanctions for a
violation of Rule 11(b) if Jones did not dismiss the claims
against Campbell raised in his amended complaint within 21
days. Id. at 1. That deadline passed, Jones
maintained his claims, and on May 31, 2018, the defendants
filed a motion for Rule 11 sanctions.
Court proceeded to grant the Campbell defendants' motion
to dismiss Jones's ten claims against them. It explained
that the amended complaint did not identify any meaningful
connection between the Campbell defendants or their allegedly
wrongful actions and the District of Columbia, as would be
required to establish personal jurisdiction under the Due
Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. See Burger King
Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 471-72 (1985); D.C.
Code §§ 13-422, -423(a)(3)-(4) (long-arm
jurisdictional statute). The Court found that Jones's
alternative theory-“that bias in another federal
district court supports jurisdiction in this one”-was
“completely unfounded.” Mem. Op., ECF No. 36, at
3. As the Court explained:
Even if all judges in the Eastern District of North Carolina
were subject to mandatory disqualification under 28 U.S.C.
§ 455 or the Due Process Clause (a dubious proposition),
and even if it were proper for this Court to make that
determination as to judges on another district court (let
alone as to that judicial district as a whole), there is no
authority whatsoever suggesting that their disqualification
would somehow give this Court the power to hear claims
against defendants over which it lacks personal jurisdiction.
Id. at 3-4.
recognizing that it could transfer the case to a proper forum
“in the interest of justice” pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1406(a), the Court declined to do so.
Id. at 4. Jones had nominally suggested transfer to
the Western District of North Carolina but had
raised “no meaningful argument for why transfer”
was appropriate, and the Court found transfer particularly
unwarranted because Jones's claims against Campbell
“so obviously did not belong here in the first
place.” Id. The Court therefore dismissed
Jones's claims against the Campbell defendants and
remanded his D.C.-law claim against Catholic to the District
of Columbia Superior Court. The Court reserved on the
question whether Jones's “asserted jurisdictional
hook” with respect to Campbell “was so spurious
that it warrants sanctions.” Id. at 4 n.3.
recently moved for reconsideration of the Court's
dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e).
He contends that the Court's finding that it lacked
personal jurisdiction over the Campbell defendants was
erroneous. In his view, the venue provisions of Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964-under which he sued the Campbell
defendants- supported personal jurisdiction over the Campbell
defendants in the District of Columbia because part of
“the unlawful employment practice” was committed
in the District and Jones “would have worked” in
the District “but for the alleged unlawful employment
practice.” Pl.'s Mot. Reconsideration at 4-6
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)). Second, Jones contends
that even if the Court did lack jurisdiction, it should have
transferred rather than dismissed his claims against the
Campbell defendants to avoid “manifest injustice,
” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e)-namely, the expiration of the
statute of limitations on his Title VII claims.
Court held a hearing on Campbell's pending motion for
sanctions and Jones's motion for reconsideration. It
finds that sanctions are warranted, but will revise its
previous order so as to transfer Jones's claims against
the Campbell defendants to the U.S. District Court for the
Eastern District of North Carolina.
“imposes a duty on attorneys to certify that they have
conducted a reasonable inquiry and have determined that any
papers filed with the court are well-grounded in fact,
legally tenable, and not interposed for any improper
purpose.” Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp.,
496 U.S. 384, 393 (1990).
relevant here, the Rule's text provides that “[b]y
presenting to the court a pleading, written motion, or other
paper, ” an attorney “certifies that to the best
of the person's knowledge, information, and belief,
formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances .
. . the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are
warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for
extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for
establishing new law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b)(2). Rule
11(c) permits a court to impose monetary sanctions on
attorneys for their violations of Rule 11(b)(2). Fed.R.Civ.P.
11(c)(1), (5)(A). “A sanction . . . must be limited to
what suffices to deter repetition of the conduct or
comparable conduct by others similarly ...