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JPB Installers, LLC v. Dancker, Sellew & Douglas, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

July 6, 2017



          N. Carlton Tilley, Jr. Senior United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on respective motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, or alternatively, to transfer the action by Defendants Clark Construction Group, LLC (“Clark”) and Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland (“Fidelity”) [Doc. #11] and Defendant Dancker, Sellew, & Douglas, Inc. (“Dancker”) [Doc. #15]. For the reasons that follow, both motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction are GRANTED.


         This case is about money allegedly owed from the provision of goods and services at a construction site in Washington, D.C. In August 2013, Plaintiff JPB Installers, LLC (“JPB”), a North Carolina company, began providing labor and materials for a project at the George Washington University Science and Engineering Hall. (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 19 [Doc. #4].) JPB served as a subcontractor for Dancker, a New York corporation with its principal office in New Jersey, which served as a subcontractor for Hamilton Scientific, LLC (“Hamilton”), a Delaware company that has been dismissed from this action, which served as a subcontractor for Clark, a Maryland company and the general contractor for the project. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 7, 8, 22.) Fidelity, a Maryland corporation, served as a payment and performance surety for Hamilton. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 24.) In support of its claims of breach of contract against Dancker and unjust enrichment against all Defendants, JPB alleges that Dancker and now-dismissed Hamilton owe JPB for work performed and that Fidelity is financially responsible for Hamilton's debts to JPB. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 34, 36-69.) In response, all Defendants have moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and, in the alternative, if the Court were not to dismiss the matter, to transfer the action.


         When a defendant asserts a Rule 12(b)(2) challenge to a court's personal jurisdiction, the question is one for the court and the plaintiff bears the burden to prove the existence of a ground for personal jurisdiction. Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). The burden “varies according to the posture of a case and the evidence that has been presented to the court.” Grayson v. Anderson, 816 F.3d 262, 268 (4th Cir. 2016). Ultimately, a plaintiff must prove the existence of a ground for jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. (citing Combs, 886 F.2d at 676). However, when, as here, the court addresses the question of personal jurisdiction on the basis of the motion papers, supporting legal memoranda, relevant allegations of the complaint, and, if provided, supporting affidavits, [1] the plaintiff has the burden of making a prima facie showing in support of jurisdiction. Id. (citing Combs, 886 F.2d at 676); Universal Leather, LLC v. Koro AR, S.A., 773 F.3d 553, 558 (4th Cir. 2014).

         A plaintiff makes a prima facie showing in this context when it “present[s] evidence sufficient to defeat a motion for judgment as a matter of law.” In re Polyester Staple Antitrust Litig., No. 3:03CV1516, 2008 WL 906331, at *7 (W.D. N.C. Apr. 1, 2008) (quoting Reese Bros., Inc. v. U.S. Postal Serv., 477 F.Supp.2d 31, 36 (D.D.C. 2007)); see also Mattel, Inc. v. Greiner & Hausser GmbH, 354 F.3d 857, 862 (9th Cir. 2003) cited in Universal Leather, 773 F.3d at 561 (stating that a plaintiff makes a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction by presenting facts that, if true, would support jurisdiction). Stated another way, a plaintiff makes a prima facie showing when there is evidence which a reasoning mind could accept as sufficient to support the proposition in question.

         Absent an evidentiary hearing, the court “must construe all relevant pleading allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, assume credibility, and draw the most favorable inferences for the existence of jurisdiction.” Combs, 886 F.2d at 676; see also Universal Leather, 773 F.3d at 560 (requiring the court to assume the plaintiff's version of the facts is credible and to construe any conflicting facts in the affidavits in the light most favorable to the plaintiff). However, “[t]he allegations of the complaint are taken as true only if they are not controverted by evidence from the defendant.” Vision Motor Cars, Inc. v. Valor Motor Co., 981 F.Supp.2d 464, 468 (M.D. N.C. 2013) (citing Wolf v. Richmond Cty. Hosp. Auth., 745 F.2d 904, 908 (4th Cir. 1984)). When a defendant presents evidence that the court lacks personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff must present affidavits or other evidence to the contrary. Id. (citing Clark v. Remark, 993 F.2d 228 (Table), 1993 WL 134616, *2 (4th Cir. Apr. 29, 1993)). If both sides present evidence about personal jurisdiction, the court must resolve factual conflicts in the plaintiff's favor “for the limited purpose” of determining if the plaintiff has made a prima facie showing. Id. (citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Akzo, N.V., 2 F.3d 56, 62 (4th Cir. 1993)).

         A federal court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant only if the forum state's long-arm statute authorizes the exercise of jurisdiction and the exercise of jurisdiction comports with the Fourteenth Amendment due process requirements. Christian Sci. Bd. of Dirs. of First Church of Christ, Scientist v. Nolan, 259 F.3d 209, 215 (4th Cir. 2001). North Carolina's long-arm statute, General Statute § 1-75.4, “is designed to extend jurisdiction over nonresident defendants to the fullest limits permitted by the Fourteenth Amendment's due-process clause.” Church v. Carter, 380 S.E.2d 167, 169 ( N.C. Ct. App. 1989); see also Christian Sci. Bd. of Dirs., 259 F.3d at 215 (stating same). Thus, the court's focus becomes whether the plaintiff has made a prima facie showing that the defendant's contacts with North Carolina satisfy constitutional due process. Universal Leather, 773 F.3d at 558-59.

         Due process allows a court to exercise general or specific jurisdiction over a defendant. General jurisdiction exists over a foreign defendant when its “continuous corporate operations within a state [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.” Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 318 (1945); see also Helicopteros Nactionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 n.9 (1984) (“When a State exercises personal jurisdiction over a defendant in a suit not arising out of or related to the defendant's contacts with the forum, the State has been said to be exercising ‘general jurisdiction' over the defendant.”). General jurisdiction requires a foreign defendant's “affiliations with the State [to be] so ‘continuous and systematic' as to render [it] essentially at home in the forum State.” Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011) (citing Int'l Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 317). “The Supreme Court has recently held that, aside from the ‘exceptional case, ' general personal jurisdiction over a corporation is usually only appropriate in the corporation's state of incorporation or principal place of business.” Public Impact, LLC v. Boston Consulting Grp., Inc., 117 F.Supp.3d 732, 738 (M.D. N.C. 2015) (citing Daimler AG v. Bauman, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 746, 761 n.19 (2015)).

         “Specific jurisdiction is very different.” Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Ct. of Cal., San Francisco Cty., ___ U.S. ___, ___ S.Ct.___, 2017 WL 2621322, at *6 (June 19, 2017). It exists when the forum state exercises personal jurisdiction over the defendant “in a suit arising out of or related to the defendant's contacts with the forum[.]” Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A., 466 U.S. at 414 n.8. “[T]here must be an ‘affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State.'” Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 2017 WL 2621322, at *7 (quoting Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 919). “When there is no such connection, specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of a defendant's unconnected activities in the State.” Id. (citing Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 931 n.6.)

         To exercise specific jurisdiction over a defendant, due process requires that the court examine “(1) the extent to which the defendant purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the State; (2) whether the plaintiff[‘s] claims arise out of those activities directed at the State; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be constitutionally reasonable.” Consulting Eng'rs Corp. v. Geometric Ltd., 561 F.3d 273, 278 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting ALS Scan, Inc. v. Digital Serv. Consultants, Inc., 293 F.3d 707, 712 (4th Cir. 2002)).

         The inquiry into “purposeful availment . . . is grounded on the traditional due process concept of ‘minimum contacts[.]'” Universal Leather, 773 F.3d at 559. “Jurisdiction is proper . . . where the contacts proximately result from actions by the defendant himself that create a ‘substantial connection' with the forum State.” Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985) (quoting McGee v. Int'l Life Ins. Co., 355 U.S. 220, 223 (1957)). It is not enough that a defendant's contacts with the forum state arise because the plaintiff is located there. See Worldwide Ins. Network, Inc. v. Trustway Ins. Agencies, LLC, No. 1:04CV906, 2006 WL 288422, at *5 (M.D. N.C. Feb. 6. 2006). Instead, the defendant needs to have “purposely directed [its] activities at the state of North Carolina.” See Id. At its heart, the question is “whether the defendant's conduct and connection with the forum [s]tate are such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.” Universal Leather, LLC, 773 F.3d at 559 (citation omitted) (alteration in original).

         In the business context, courts analyze “various nonexclusive factors” to determine if a defendant has purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting ...

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