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Hegemann v. M & M American, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Vermont

September 20, 2018

M & M AMERICAN, INC., Defendant.


          Christina Reiss, Judge

         Plaintiff Werner Karl Hegemann brings this negligence action against Defendant M & M American, Inc. after Plaintiff was injured in an automobile accident in Texas when his vehicle was struck by a tractor trailer owned or leased by Defendant and operated by an individual who is not named as a defendant. Pending before the court is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs claims for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) and (3). (Doc. 3.) On August 30, 2018, the court heard oral argument on the motion. On September 4, 2018, Defendant consented to transfer of venue in this matter to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Amarillo Division.

         Plaintiff is represented by Richard K. Bowen, Esq. Defendant is represented by Shapleigh Smith, Jr., Esq.

         I. Factual Background.

         The facts are derived from Plaintiffs Complaint. Plaintiff Werner Karl Hegemann resides in Putney, Vermont. Defendant M & M American, Inc. is a trucking company with a principal place of business in Mason, Ohio. Plaintiffs Complaint does not identify Defendant's state of incorporation. Plaintiff alleges, upon information and belief, that Defendant conducts business throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico and is licensed with the Department of Transportation to do business in all forty-eight contiguous states. Defendant has a registered agent in the State of Vermont. Asserting that this is an action between citizens of different states and that damages exceed the amount-in-controversy requirement, Plaintiff claims that this court has subject matter jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

         On or about April 24, 2016, Plaintiff was traveling eastbound in his 1994 GMC Sierra pickup truck on "IH 40 in Oldham County, Texas[]" when his vehicle was struck by a 2009 White International tractor-trailer truck owned or leased by Defendant and operated by Ratavius D. Buchanan. (Doc. 1 at 2, ¶ 10.) The collision caused Plaintiffs truck to flip over, resulting in "serious bodily injuries to its occupants." Id. at 3, ¶ 13.

         A police officer responding to the accident issued Mr. Buchanan a ticket for failing to control the speed of the tractor-trailer. Mr. Buchanan had an unauthorized passenger in the cab of the tractor-trailer and was purportedly distracted by the unauthorized visitor when the accident occurred. Plaintiff was transported from the scene and admitted to Northwest Texas Hospital. Based on these allegations, Plaintiff asserts claims of negligence, respondeat superior, and negligent hire and supervision.

         Defendant submitted an affidavit from its President, Brian West, which describes Defendant's business as a for-hire, transportation company primarily serving the Midwestern and Southern United States. Mr. West avers that Defendant is incorporated and has its principal place of business in Ohio and is not registered with Vermont's Secretary of State to do business in Vermont, does not have any offices, employees, or bank accounts in Vermont, and does not own or lease any property in the state.

         Mr. West avers that, since 2014, Defendant has not had any Vermont-based clients and, as a result, earned no revenue in Vermont. "Since 2014, the number of deliveries/pick-ups that [Defendant] has made in Vermont on an annual basis represents .07% or less than the total number of deliveries/pick-ups made by [Defendant] [.]" (Doc. 3-1 at 2, ¶7.)

         Mr. West further describes Defendant's obligations under the federal Motor Carrier Act, which provides that a motor carrier must designate an agent upon whom service of process may be made in each state in which the carrier operates. To that end, Defendant has "made arrangements with Process Agent Service Company, Inc. to make a 'blanket designation.'" Id. at 2, ¶ 9. According to Mr. West, Process Service Company maintains a list on file with the federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that identifies a process agent for each of the fifty states. "Because [Defendant] made a blanket designation, it has designated all of the people identified on that list as its process agents." Id.

         II. Conclusions of Law and Analysis.

         A. Standard of Review.

         "In the absence of a federal statute specifically directing otherwise, and subject to limitations imposed by the United States Constitution, [the court] look[s] to the law of the forum state to determine whether a federal district court has personal jurisdiction over a foreign corporation." Brown v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 814 F.3d 619, 624 (2d Cir. 2016) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A)). "On a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that the court has jurisdiction over the defendant." Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Robertson-Ceco Corp., 84 F.3d 560, 566 (2d Cir. 1996).

         "In evaluating whether the requisite showing has been made, [the court] construe[s] the pleadings and any supporting materials in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs." Licci ex rel. Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank, SAL, 732 F.3d 161, 167 (2d Cir. 2013). "The allegations in the complaint must be taken as true to the extent they are uncontroverted by the defendant's affidavits." MacDermid, Inc. v. Deiter, 702 F.3d 725, 727 (2d Cir. 2012). "If the parties present conflicting affidavits, all factual disputes are resolved in the plaintiffs favor, and the plaintiffs prima facie showing is sufficient notwithstanding the contrary presentation by the moving party." In re Terrorist Attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, 714 F.3d 659, 673 (2d Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         As the Second Circuit has explained:

[I]n resolving questions of personal jurisdiction in a diversity action, a district court must conduct a two-part inquiry. First, it must determine whether the plaintiff has shown that the defendant is amenable to service of process under the forum state's laws; and second, it must assess whether the court's assertion of jurisdiction under these laws comports with the requirements of due process.

Ehrenfeld v. Mahfouz, 489 F.3d 542, 547 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Metro. Life Ins. Co., 84 F.3d at 567).

         In Vermont, state courts may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant "to the full extent permitted by the . . . Due Process Clause" of the Fourteenth Amendment. State v. Ail. Richfield Co., 2016 VT 22, ¶ 10, 201 Vt. 342, 349, 142 A.3d 215, 220 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also In re Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, N.Y., Inc., 745 F.3d 30, 38 (2d Cir. 2014) ("Vermont's long-arm statute . . . reflects a clear policy to assert jurisdiction over individual defendants to the full extent permitted by the Due Process Clause.") (internal citation, footnote, and quotation marks omitted). As a result, "the first part of [the] inquiry-the interpretation of the Vermont law governing service of process-merges with the second part of the jurisdictional test: whether the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant satisfies the requirements of due process." Metro. Life Ins. Co., 84 F.3d at 567. This "analysis consist[s] of two components: the 'minimum contacts' test and the 'reasonableness' inquiry." Bank Brussels Lambert v. Fiddler Gonzalez & Rodriguez, 305 F.3d 120, 127 (2d Cir. 2002); see also N. Aircraft, Inc. v. Reed, 572 A.2d 1382, 1386 (Vt. 1990) (providing that "once the court determines that a nonresident defendant has purposefully established minimum contacts within the forum State, . . . several factors must be considered to ensure that exercising personal jurisdiction over the defendant is reasonable") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         "To determine whether a defendant has the necessary 'minimum contacts,' a distinction is made between 'specific' and 'general' personal jurisdiction." In re Terrorist Attacks, 714 F.3d at 673. Specific jurisdiction "exists when a forum exercises personal jurisdiction over a defendant in a suit arising out of or related to the defendant's contacts with the forum[.]" Id. at 673-74 (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted). In contrast, general jurisdiction "is based on the defendant's general business contacts with the forum and permits a court to exercise its power in a case where the subject matter of the suit is unrelated to those contacts." Id. at 674 (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted). "A court deciding whether it has jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant under the Due Process Clause must evaluate the 'quality and nature[]' . . . of the defendant's contacts with the forum state under a totality of the circumstances test[.]" Best Van Lines, Inc. v. Walker, 490 F.3d 239, 242 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Burger King v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985)).

         B. Whether General ...

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