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Pinkett v. Dr. Leonard's Healthcare Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 29, 2018

RENE PINKETT, Plaintiff,
DR. LEONARD'S HEALTHCARE CORP., et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Rene Pinkett sustained injures from a B Yours Vibe 2 vibrator that was allegedly manufactured by Defendant Vee International, Inc. She thus brought this suit against both Vee International and Dr. Leonard's Healthcare Corp., which sold her the vibrator from its mail-order catalogue. In an Opinion dated September 28, 2018, this Court granted in part and denied in part Dr. Leonard's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Now Vee International moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Because the existence of such jurisdiction is currently unclear, the Court will order jurisdictional discovery before deciding the Motion.

         I. Background

         Pinkett purchased the Vibe 2 from Dr. Leonard's mail-order catalogue during May or June of 2015. See ECF No. 1 (Notice of Removal), Exh. A (Superior Court Documents) at 2-21 (Compl.), ¶ 8. According to the Complaint, Vee International manufactured the Vibe 2 that was offered by Dr. Leonard's. Id., ¶ 19. As relevant here, Pinkett claims that Vee International - which does business under the name Blush Novelties - “regularly conducts and solicits business in Washington, D.C., ” by “designing, manufacturing, modifying, marketing, and selling sex toys and sexual aids to companies such as [Dr.] Leonard['s].” Id., ¶¶ 6, 13. In addition to Dr. Leonard's, Vee International sells its products in the District “through many different online retailers, ” such as Amazon and eBay. See Sup. Ct. Docs. at 96-104 (Pl. MTD Opp.) at 2, 6 n.3. Bereft of discovery, Plaintiff also notes the difficulty of establishing personal jurisdiction. Id. at 4.

         The parties agree that Vee International is incorporated in New York and maintains its principal place of business there. See Sup. Ct. Docs. at 89-90 (Affidavit of Eric Lee, COO, Vee International), ¶ 2; Compl., ¶ 6. According to an affidavit from its Chief Operating Officer, that Defendant does not have any offices, own or lease any real estate, pay any state taxes, or maintain any bank accounts in the District. See Lee Aff., ¶¶ 5-8. Nor does Vee International market or sell its products to any distributors who are incorporated or maintain their principal place of business in the District. Id., ¶ 4. Dr. Leonard's is incorporated in Delaware, for instance, and maintains its principal place of business in New Jersey. See Sup. Ct. Docs. at 72- 85 (Def. MTD) at 6.

         Vee International now moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), a defendant may move to dismiss a suit if the court lacks personal jurisdiction over him. The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction, FC Inv. Grp. LC v. IFX Mkts., Ltd., 529 F.3d 1087, 1091 (D.C. Cir. 2008), and its requirements “must be met as to each defendant.” Rush v. Savchuk, 444 U.S. 320, 332 (1980). In deciding whether the plaintiff has shown a factual basis for personal jurisdiction, courts resolve factual discrepancies in her favor. See Crane v. N.Y. Zoological Soc'y, 894 F.2d 454, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1990). When personal jurisdiction is challenged, “the district judge has considerable procedural leeway in choosing a methodology for deciding the motion.” 5B Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1351 (3d ed. 2004). The court may rest on the allegations in the pleadings, collect affidavits and other evidence, or even hold a hearing. Id.

         III. Analysis

         The Court may only exercise personal jurisdiction over Defendant if permitted by D.C.'s long-arm statute and the Constitution's Due Process Clause. See United States v. Ferrara, 54 F.3d 825, 828 (D.C. Cir. 1995); Daley v. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., 26 A.3d 723, 727 (D.C. 2011); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A). This requirement translates into a two-step inquiry: the Court “first examine[s] whether jurisdiction is applicable under the . . . long-arm statute and then determine[s] whether a finding of jurisdiction satisfies the constitutional requirements of due process.” GTE New Media Servs. Inc. v. BellSouth Corp., 199 F.3d 1343, 1347 (D.C. Cir. 2000).

         There are several ways for a D.C. court to obtain personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant. First, Pinkett relies on the Court's authority to exercise “general jurisdiction” over a non-resident defendant in certain circumstances. See Gorman v. Ameritrade Holding Corp., 293 F.3d 506, 509 (D.C. Cir. 2002); D.C. Code § 13-334(a). Second, she argues that the Court has “specific jurisdiction” over Defendant because it “transact[ed] . . . business in the District of Columbia.” § 13-423(a)(1). Third, she contends that the Court also has specific jurisdiction because Vee International “caus[ed] tortious injury in the District of Columbia by an act or omission outside the District of Columbia” and “regularly does or solicits business, engages in any other persistent course of conduct, or derives substantial revenue from goods used or consumed, or services rendered, in the District of Columbia.” § 13-423(a)(4). As explained below, the Court concludes that, on the current record, none of these three bases is sufficient since Vee International likely lacks the “minimum contacts” with the District that the Due Process Clause requires. The Court will nonetheless permit Pinkett to take some discovery because she identifies certain facts that could, if more fully developed, support the exercise of personal jurisdiction.

         A. General Jurisdiction

         The Due Process Clause permits general jurisdiction when a 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. See Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414-15 (1984). General jurisdiction is appropriate based on “only a limited set of affiliations with a forum, ” all of which are tantamount to Defendant's domicile. See Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 137 (2014). For corporations, general jurisdiction may be asserted if the forum is one in which the corporation is “‘fairly regarded as at home, '” which has been defined as generally being either its “place of incorporation” or its “principal place of business.” Id. (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 924 (2011)). D.C. law incorporates this due-process standard. See Gorman, 293 F.3d at 510.

         Vee International, however, is incorporated and maintains its principal place of business in New York. See Lee Aff., ¶ 2; Compl., ¶ 6. Defendant is thus not “fairly regarded as at home” in the District, and general jurisdiction does not exist. See Daimler, 571 U.S. at 137-39 (“[T]he inquiry under Goodyear is not whether a foreign corporation's in-forum contacts can be said to be in some sense continuous and systematic, it is whether that corporation's affiliations with the State are so continuous and systematic as to render [it] essentially at home in the forum State.”) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Nor is this the “exceptional case” where “a corporate defendant's operations” beyond these two “paradigm” forums may be “so substantial and of such a nature as to render the corporation at home in that State.” BNSF Ry. Co. v. Tyrrell, ...

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