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In-Flight Crew Connections LLC v. Flight Crews Unlimited, Inc.

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

June 4, 2018



          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. No. 6) for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). In the alternative, Defendant also moves to transfer venue to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois pursuant to Sections 1404, 1406, and 1631 of Title 28 of the U.S. Code. (Doc. No. 6). Upon review by the Court, for the reasons below, the Motion to Dismiss is DENIED and the Motion to Transfer Venue is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the Complaint, [1] Plaintiff In-Flight Crew Connections, LLC, is a North Carolina limited liability company headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Doc. No. 1, p. 1). The Complaint is an action seeking declaratory judgment that Plaintiff has not infringed upon Defendant's trademarks. (Doc. No. 1, pp. 5-6). The Complaint asserts Defendant Flight Crews Unlimited, Inc., is an Illinois corporation headquartered in Richmond, Illinois. (Doc. No. 1, p. 1).

         According to the pleadings, both Plaintiff and Defendant provide personnel, such as pilots, mechanics, and attendants, for parties arranging private air travel. (Doc. No. 6-1, p.3); (Doc. No. 9, p. 2). Plaintiff alleges Defendant employs several people who reside in North Carolina and frequently does business with North Carolina-based customers. (Doc. No. 9, pp. 6-8).

         Plaintiff alleges Defendant has threatened to file or has filed numerous trademark infringement complaints against them. (Doc. No. 9, pp. 2-4). The allegations further claim that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has ruled in favor of Plaintiff on one of these trademark infringement complaints. (Doc. No. 1, pp. 3-4). Plaintiff asserts Defendant has appealed this decision and continues to issue cease-and-desist letters regarding Plaintiff's trademark use. (Doc. No. 1, p. 4).

         Before filing an answer, Defendant 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. (Doc. No. 6). Defendant's pleading also moved in the alternative for a transfer of venue to the Northern District of Illinois under Sections 1404 and 1631 of Title 28 of the U.S. Code. (Doc. No. 6). Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, (Doc. No. 9), and Defendant replied, (Doc. No. 10).


         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 (2014). 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).

         Venue is appropriate in “a judicial district in which any defendant resides, . . . in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated.” 28 U.S.C. § 1391 (2016). A district court may transfer an action to another district for reasons of convenience upon motions by or the consent of the parties. Id. at § 1404. A court may also transfer venue “in the interest of justice” when it is discovered that court lacks jurisdiction. Id. at § 1631. A transfer under Section 1631 is appropriate when (1) the proposed transferee court has jurisdiction, (2) the action would have been timely filed had it been brought initially in the transferee court, and (3) transfer would serve the interests of justice. Afifi v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 924 F.2d 61, 64 n.6 (4th Cir. 1991).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Here, there is no need for extensive analysis of general personal jurisdiction. Plaintiff does not allege Defendant is a resident of or has its principal place of business in North Carolina. (Doc. No. 1, p. 1). As for specific personal jurisdiction, the three elements laid out in Consulting Engineers must be met. For the reasons below, the first and second elements are not met and the Court may not exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Defendant. Section 1631 of Title 28 ...

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