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Leonard v. Shield Hotel Management, LLC

United States District Court, D. Vermont

July 19, 2017

LILA LEONARD AND GERALD LEONARD, Plaintiffs,
v.
SHIELD HOTEL MANAGEMENT, LLC d/b/a HAMPTON INN, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC. 9)

          Geoffrey W. Crawford, Judge United States District Court

         In this diversity action, plaintiffs Gerald Leonard and his wife Lila Leonard, both residents of Vermont, sue defendant Shield Hotel Management, LLC ("Shield" or "hotel") for negligence. They allege that while staying with their grandchildren at defendant's hotel in Massachusetts, the children discovered a used hypodermic needle in the room. (Doc. 5 ¶¶ 25-26.) Mrs. Leonard "stuck" herself with the needle while attempting to dispose of it. (Id. ¶¶ 28-30.) The complaint alleges that defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction in Vermont because defendant's hotel staff formed a business relationship with plaintiff Gerald Leonard's employer. (Id. ¶¶ 11-18.) This relationship developed into an individual relationship between the hotel and Mr. Leonard, constituting significant contacts with Vermont. (Id. ¶¶ 21-24.) Shield has filed a Motion to Dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), asserting that it is not subject to personal jurisdiction in Vermont. (Doc. 9.) The court heard argument on the motion on June 12, 2017, at which time the motion was taken under advisement.

         Legal Standard

         In resolving the personal jurisdiction issue on the bases of a motion to dismiss and supporting affidavits, the court considers whether the plaintiff has made a prima facie showing of jurisdiction over the defendant. DiStefano v. Carozzi N. Am., Inc., 286 F.3d 81, 84 (2d Cir. 2001). Allegations of the parties are "construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and doubts are resolved in the plaintiffs favor, notwithstanding a controverting presentation by the moving party." A.I. Trade Fin., Inc. v. Petra Bank, 989 F.2d 76, 79-80 (2d Cir. 1993).

         Facts

         Defendant Shield Hotel Management, LLC owns the Hampton Inn in Greenfield, Massachusetts. (Doc. 9 at 4.) In an effort to attract business, Hampton Inn negotiated a corporate discount with a company known as Kennametal to entice Kennametal employees to stay at the hotel. (Doc. 10 at 2.) Mr. Leonard was an employee of Kennametal for more than sixteen years. (Doc. 10-1 ¶ 2.) He then became a contractor with the company. (Id. ¶ 3.) His employment required him to travel frequently to Kennametal's Massachusetts locations. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5.) Mr. Leonard stayed at the hotel approximately seventeen times in recent years, staying a total of twenty-three nights. (Id. ¶ 5.) He received a discount because of his association with Kennametal. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 7, 10.)

         On a previous business trip, Mr. Leonard complained about a smoky smell in his room. (Doc. 10-4.) He expressed his displeasure by answering a survey sent by the hotel. (Id.) Hotel staff responded with an email apologizing and encouraging Mr. Leonard to return to the hotel. (Id.) The hotel stated it would "make sure [the] housekeeping department pays extra care." (Id.) In response, Mr. Leonard spoke of recognizing hotel staff members and of his intention to come back to the hotel. (Id.)

         At the time of the incident, Mr. Leonard had traveled to the Hampton Inn on business for Kennametal. (Doc. 10-1 ¶ 9.) He was accompanied by his wife and grandchildren. (Doc. 5 ¶ 25; Doc. 10-1 ¶ 9.)

         Analysis

         I. Specific Personal Jurisdiction

         Specific personal jurisdiction must comply with a defendant's due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Waldman v. Palestine Liberation Org., 835 F.3d 317, 331 (2d Cir. 2016). In order to satisfy a defendant's due process concerns, a plaintiff must make "a threshold showing of minimum contacts at the first stage of the inquiry." Chloe v. Queen Bee of Beverly Hills, LLC, 616 F.3d 158, 164 (2d Cir. 2010). The court must also apply a standard of fairness and reasonableness as to not violate "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Int'l Shoe Co. v. State of Wash., Office of Unemployment Comp. & Placement, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (citing Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1940)). The minimum contacts threshold is met if a plaintiff can show that a defendant purposefully availed itself of contact with the forum state and as a result could reasonably foresee being subject to suit in that state. Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Superior Court of Cal, Solano Cty., 480 U.S. 102, 109 (1987); Real Good Toys, Inc. v. XL Mack Ltd., 163 F.Supp.2d 421, 424 (D. Vt. 2001). These minimum contacts are to be examined in the "totality of the circumstances." Licci ex rel. Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank, SAL, 673 F.3d 50, 62 (2d Cir. 2012) (citation omitted); see also Chloe, 616 F.3d at 164. Vermont's long-arm statute, 12 V.S.A. § 913(b), represents a "clear policy to assert jurisdiction over individual defendants to the full extent permitted by the Due Process Clause." Bechard v. Constanzo, 810 F.Supp. 579, 582-83 (D. Vt. 1992). For the reasons discussed below, the court concludes that minimum contacts are present, and that exercising jurisdiction will not violate traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

         A. Minimum Contacts

         The conditions necessary to avoid dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) have been met by the facts asserted in plaintiffs' complaint, its response to this motion, and supplemental evidence including an affidavit and email correspondence. The facts asserted make a threshold showing that defendant established minimum contacts in Vermont by deliberately developing and maintaining a commercial relationship with Kennametal to host Vermont associates and then by creating an individual relationship with Mr. Leonard.

         Defendant argues that the alleged tort arose out of or related to defendant's business activities in the state of Massachusetts, not Vermont, and that there exists no nexus between defendant and Vermont. (Doc. 9 at 3.) Where the incident occurred is only one factor to be considered among others in "totality of the circumstances" when determining personal jurisdiction. Licci, 732 F.3d at 170. The court finds numerous other factors ...


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