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Ibekwe v. Blood Oranges LLC

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

May 29, 2018

BRYANT IBEKWE, Plaintiffs,
v.
BLOOD ORANGES, LLC; CRISSCROSS FUNDING; MINICAST, LLC; NATIVE DIGITAL, INC., AMY HILL, MIGUEL SOSA, JULIET SUMMER THOMSON; SCOTT WARD; and JAMES LINEN, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. No. 8) for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). Upon review by the Court, for the reasons below, the Motion is GRANTED with regard to Defendants Sosa and Thomson and DENIED with regard to all other moving parties.

         BACKGROUND

         According to the Complaint, [1] Plaintiff Bryant Ibekwe is a resident of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. (Doc. No. 1, p. 1). His complaint concerns an assortment of defendants[2] including four business entities: Blood Oranges, LLC; CrissCross Funding; Minicast, LLC; and Native Digital, Inc. (collectively, “Entity Defendants”), and five individuals (Amy Hill, Miguel Sosa, Juliet Summer Thomson, and Scott Ward (collectively “Individual Defendants”), as well as James Linen. (Doc. No. 1, p. 1). Entity Defendants and Individual Defendants are collectively “Moving Defendants.”

         Plaintiff alleges he and Defendants entered into several loan agreements, ostensibly for the purpose of supporting various business plans and charitable ventures. (Doc. No. 1, pp. 3-4). Plaintiff eventually came to believe Defendants were operating sham businesses to induce loans that Defendants never intended to repay or use for any stated business purpose. (Doc. No. 1, pp. 10-15).

         Plaintiff alleges that none of Moving Defendants are residents of North Carolina. According to the Complaint, Entity Defendants are residents of either Delaware, Wyoming, or Missouri with principal places of business in either California or Missouri. (Doc. No. 1, pp. 1-3). Moving Defendants have not challenged this in their pleadings. According to their own affidavits, Individual Defendants are residents of either Florida or Colorado.[3] (Doc. No. 9, Exhibits B-E). Only one of the Defendants, Amy Hill, purports to have ever been to North Carolina, (Doc. No. 23).

         Plaintiff alleges all Defendants knew he was a resident of North Carolina when they entered into their business relationships. (Doc. No. 19, Exhibit A). Plaintiff also alleges Defendants knowingly contacted him in North Carolina with the sole purpose of soliciting loans or investments. (Doc. No. 1, pp. 3-4). Defendants assert that none of the agreements were “signed, negotiated, or performed” in North Carolina, (Doc. No. 9, p. 7).

         Before filing an answer, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) and a memorandum in support of the motion. (Docs. Nos. 8 & 9). Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition with an attached affidavit presenting evidence that Defendant Hill was aware of Plaintiff's residency throughout their business relationship. (Doc. No. 19). Moving Defendants replied to Plaintiff's memorandum with an attached affidavit by Defendant Hill countering Plaintiff's assertions. (Docs. Nos. 22 & 23).

         APPLICABLE LAW

         Upon a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), the burden is on the plaintiff to make a prima facie showing of the grounds for jurisdiction. See Universal Leather, LLC v. Koro AR, S.A., 773 F.3d 553, 558 (4th Cir. 2014). When the court's analysis rests solely on the pleadings and supporting affidavits, the court will read the pleadings and affidavits in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). For the court to exercise personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants, it must comply with the long-arm statute of the forum state, and it must meet the requirements of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Christian Sci. Bd. Of Dirs. of the First Church of Christ, Scientist v. Nolan, 259 F.3d 209, 215 (4th Cir. 2001).

         The North Carolina long-arm statute is interpreted to extend jurisdiction to the extent allowed by the Due Process Clause, thereby merging the jurisdictional analysis into a single due process inquiry. Id. The paradigmatic case for personal jurisdiction questions is International Shoe, which requires that “minimum contacts” exist between the defendant and the forum state such that “the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (internal quotations omitted); see also Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 923 (2011).

         A court may exercise general personal jurisdiction over a defendant when that defendant is essentially “at home” in the forum. See Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 127. For a corporate (or other entity) defendant, “at home” will usually mean their domicile and their principal place of business. See id. at 137. For individual defendants, it typically means their domicile. Id. When general personal jurisdiction does not apply, a court may still exercise specific personal jurisdiction if the plaintiff makes a sufficient showing that 1) the defendant purposefully availed themselves of the forum and the benefits and protections of its laws, 2) the plaintiff's claim arises from the purposefully availing conduct, and 3) the exercise of jurisdiction would be constitutionally reasonable. See Consulting Engineers Corp. v. Geometric Ltd., 561 F.3d 273, 278 (4th Cir. 2009).

         ANALYSIS

         Here, there is no need for extensive analysis of general personal jurisdiction. Plaintiff does not allege that any Defendant is a resident of or has its principal place of business in North Carolina. (Doc. No. 1, pp. 1-3). As for specific personal jurisdiction, the three elements laid out in Consulting Engineers must be met. Here, the second element is easily established. Plaintiff asserts jurisdiction on the basis of alleged solicitations for loans and investments and alleges these solicitations and transactions constitute fraud. (Doc. No. 1); (Doc. No. 19, p. 11). It is, of course, still necessary to show Defendants have purposefully availed themselves of the forum and that jurisdiction would be constitutionally reasonable. As explained below, these elements are met, and the Court may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Defendants Hill; Ward; Blood ...


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