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Ravin v. Tyndall Federal Credit Union

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

August 11, 2017

STEVEN RAVIN, Plaintiff,



         THIS MATTER is before the court on the defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction and Motion to Transfer (#6). Having considered the Motion and the pleadings in this matter, the court enters the following Order.


         I. BACKGROUND

         This is an ERISA case. Plaintiff Ravin was employed by the Tyndall Federal Credit Union, and the court will label the defendants collectively “Tyndall.” Tyndall is based in Panama City, Florida with branches in other locations as well. Ravin worked for Tyndall for over ten years in Florida. After working for Tyndall, Ravin moved to North Carolina.

         This case relates to one filed in the Northern District of Florida, which embraces Panama City, Tyndall Federal Credit Union v. Ravin, 5:17-cv-160. It is the understanding of the court that this related lawsuit is also proceeding in that judicial district on the same facts as the instant action. That case involves not only the benefits under the ERISA plan which are at issue here, but also involves allegations that Ravin's Separation Agreement was procured through his allegedly fraudulent misrepresentations. (#19) at 4.

         In the instant Motion (#6), Tyndall asks the court to dismiss the action filed in this district for a lack of personal jurisdiction. In the alternative, Tyndall requests that the court transfer the case to the Northern District of Florida in the interest of justice. Id.


         A. Personal Jurisdiction

         Rule 12(b)(2), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, provides for dismissal where the court lacks personal jurisdiction over a particular named defendant. In the Fourth Circuit, the standard for deciding a motion based on Rule 12(b)(2) was set forth in Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989), where it explained that a plaintiff has the burden to prove personal jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.

         When a factual dispute arises as to whether or not jurisdiction exists, the court may either conduct an evidentiary hearing or defer ruling on the matter until it receives evidence on the jurisdictional issue at trial. Id. When a court decides the issue on the record then before it, the court may consider “the motion papers, supporting legal memoranda, affidavits, other documents, and the relevant allegations of the complaint, ” and the burden is plaintiffs' “to make a mere prima facie showing of jurisdiction to survive the jurisdictional challenge.” Clark v. Milam, 830 F.Supp. 316, 319 (S.D.W.Va.1993) (citations omitted). A court must resolve factual disputes in favor of the party asserting jurisdiction for the limited purpose of the prima facie showing. Bakker, at 676. Such resolution must include construing all relevant pleadings in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, assume the credibility of any affiant, and must draw the most favorable inferences for the existence of jurisdiction. Id.; see also Thomas v. Centennial Commc'ns Corp., 2006 WL 6151153, at *2 (W.D. N.C. Dec. 20, 2006).

         Plaintiffs must show that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant complies with the forum state's long-arm statute and the constitutional requirements of due process. Grober v. Mako Products, Inc., 686 F.3d 1335, 1345 (Fed. Cir. 2012), reh'g denied (Sept. 14, 2012). Since North Carolina's long-arm statute extends jurisdiction to the outer limits of due process, the jurisdictional analysis merges into a single due process inquiry. Thomas, 2006 WL 6151153, at *2.

         i. General Jurisdiction

         To be consistent with the limitations of due process, a defendant must have “minimum contacts” with the forum state “such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). Minimum contacts may be established by showing “general” or “specific” jurisdiction. Helicopteres Nacionales de Columbia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 (1984). A court may exercise general jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant if the defendant has contacts with the State that are so “continuous and systematic” as to render them “essentially at home in the forum State.” Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 131 S.Ct. 2846, 2851 (2011).

         ii. Specific Jurisdiction

         In the absence of general jurisdiction, a court may exercise specific jurisdiction over the defendant where the cause of action arises out of defendant's activities in the forum state. In analyzing specific jurisdiction over a defendant, courts consider whether: “(1) the defendant purposefully directed its activities at residents of the forum state, (2) the claim arises out of or relates to the defendant's activities with the forum state, and (3) assertion of personal jurisdiction is reasonable and fair.” Grober v. Mako Products, Inc., 686 F.3d 1335, 1346 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). Plaintiff has the burden of making a prima facie showing of specific jurisdiction by satisfying the first two elements. The burden then shifts to defendant to show that such assertion of personal jurisdiction is not reasonable and fair. Id.

         B. Transfer of Venue

         Title 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) provides: “For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought or to any district or division to which all parties have consented.” Id. Upon a motion to transfer, the moving party carries a heavy burden. Datasouth Computer Corp. v. Three Dimensional Technologies, Inc., 719 F.Supp. 446, 451 (W.D. N.C. 1989). A court's decision to grant a motion to transfer venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) is largely discretionary. 3A Composites USA, Inc. v. United Indus., Inc., No. 5:13CV83-RLV, 2014 WL 1471075, at *1 (W.D. N.C. Apr. 15, 2014) (citing Landers v. Dawson Const. Plant Ltd., 201 F.3d 436, 1999 WL 991419, *2 (4th Cir. 1999)). In exercising such discretion, the court applies a balancing test and considers various factors in deciding whether transfer is appropriate. Jim Crockett Promotions, Inc. v. Action Media Grp., Inc., 751 F.Supp. 93 (W.D. N.C. 1990). The factors to be considered include:

1. The plaintiff's initial choice of forum;
2. The residence of the parties;
3. The relative ease of access of proof;
4. The availability of compulsory process for attendance of witnesses and the costs of obtaining attendance of willing witnesses;
5. The possibility of a view by the jury;
6. The enforceability of a judgment, if ...

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