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Sumter v. Hussey

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

April 14, 2017

CRAIG R. SUMTER, Plaintiff,
v.
CREIGHTON R. HUSSEY, QUALITY PROJECT MANAGEMENT, LLC, JOHN DOE, Defendants.

          ORDER

         In Sumter v. Quality Project Management, LLC, CV416-108 (S.D. Ga. May 10, 2016), pro se plaintiff Craig Sumter sued Quality Project Management, LLC (QPM), claiming that QPM employee Creighton Hussey "physically attacked [him] on October 19, 2013 in Plaintiffs apartment while in Atlanta Georgia for work, under the auspices of [QPM]." Doc. 1 at 1-2. Suing only QPM (in CV416-108), Sumter alleges that QPM is vicariously liable for Hussey's actions. Id. at 1.

         But in a second lawsuit, Sumter sued Hussey personally, and on pretty much the same facts. Sumpter v. Hussey, CV416-109, doc. 1 (S.D. Ga. May 10, 2016). The Court thus consolidated CV416-108 into CV416- 109 - sparing him two filing fees. It also granted his motion to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP), then ordered him (since he was an inmate when he filed this case) to return the required Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") forms, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2). He has complied, (CV416-109, docs. 5 & 6) and, upon preliminary screening, [1] the Court concludes that Sumter has established subject matter jurisdiction plus personal jurisdiction over Hussey, but he states no claim against QPM or John Doe. Further, the Northern District of Georgia is a preferable venue for all of Sumter's claims, so the Court transfers the case there. Rather than rule on Sumter's claims piecemeal, however, the Court defers recommending final disposition on any claims to allow review after transfer.

         I. JURISDICTION & VENUE

         Before it can pass on Sumter's claims, this Court

must have at least one of the three types of subject-matter jurisdiction: (1) jurisdiction pursuant to a specific statutory grant; (2) federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331; or (3) diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Baltin v. Alaron Trading Corp., 128 F.3d 1466, 1469 (11th Cir. 1997). The party asserting jurisdiction has the burden of establishing that their cause lies within this limited grant of jurisdiction. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 114 S.Ct. 1673, 1675 (1994). For actions brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, the burden is on the party seeking federal jurisdiction to demonstrate that diversity exists by a preponderance of the evidence. Molinos Valle Del Cibao, C. porA. v. Lama, 633 F.3d 1330, 1340 (11th Cir. 2011). A Plaintiff must plead facts that support the existence of federal diversity jurisdiction. McCormick v. Aderholt, 293 F.3d 1254, 1257 (11th Cir. 2002); Las Vistas Villas, S.A v. Petersen, 778 F.Supp. 1202, 1203 (M.D. Fla. 1991).

Lawrence v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 2016 WL 7013528 at * 2 (S.D. Ga. Nov. 4, 2016); see also Id. (for diversity, no defendant can be a citizen of the same state as any plaintiff and the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000); Holston Invs., Inc. B.V.I, v. LanLogistics Corp., 677 F.3d 1068, 1070 (11th Cir. 2012) ("Diversity jurisdiction is determined at the time the complaint was filed.").

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Sumter has filed a consolidating, Amended Complaint in which he pleads diversity jurisdiction and adds a "John Doe" defendant. Doc. 7 at 1-2. He sues Hussey for state-law torts (assault, battery, stalking, invasion of privacy, etc.) that occurred in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Id. at 4 ("Mr. Hussey justifies his presence in Atlanta by bidding for work trips in the area but his true intent has been to stalk plaintiff."); see also Id. ¶ 6 ("On two occasions Mr. Hussey attempted to persuade Plaintiff to move out of Atlanta, once threatening his life"). Plaintiff sues QPM because Hussey came to Atlanta while employed by QPM. He otherwise does not allege that Hussey was acting within the scope of QPM's employment. Id. at 3. Sumter initially sought $125, 000, doc. 1 at 6, but now wants $6, 125, 000 from all three defendants. Id. at 14. That meets the $75, 000 requirement.

         That leaves the residency requirement. Sumter is incarcerated within this judicial district (Wheeler Correctional Facility in Wheeler County, Georgia). Doc. 7 at 15. Hussey is a Minnesota resident and QPM (possibly) is an Arizona resident.[2] Id. at 2. Plaintiff provides no information about John Doe. Id. For the moment, he has established diversity jurisdiction (involving over $75, 000 in claims against citizens of different states).

         B. Personal Jurisdiction

         Sumter must also allege sufficient facts to establish personal jurisdiction over each defendant. United Techs. Corp. v. Mazer, 556 F.3d 1260, 1274 (11th Cir. 2009); Brannies v. Internet ROI, Inc., 67 F.Supp.3d 1360, 1362 (S.D. Ga. 2014). Here the case law delves in "general" versus "specific" jurisdiction distinctions. General (also known as "all-purpose") jurisdiction over a defendant is based on a forum nexus (the defendant's domicile, for example) unrelated to the conduct on which the underlying suit is premised.[3] Walden v. Fiore, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 1122 n. 6 (2014).

         Specific (case-linked) jurisdiction turns on the nexus between the forum and the underlying controversy - the action in the forum state that subjects the actor to that state's regulation: "A, " a non-Georgian, commits an intentional tort or performs a certain contract in Georgia. "A" can be haled into that state when sued on that tort or contract. Specific jurisdiction thus has been recognized

over defendants who have purposefully reached out beyond their State and into another by, for example, entering a contractual relationship that "envisioned continuing and wide-reaching contacts" in the forum State, or by circulating magazines to deliberately exploit a market in the forum State. And although physical presence in the forum is not a prerequisite to jurisdiction, physical entry into the State -- either by the defendant in person or through an agent, goods, mail, or some other means -- is certainly a relevant contact.

Walden, 134 S.Ct. at 1122 (quotes, cites and alterations omitted).

         To summarize, the exercise of specific jurisdiction over, for example, an out-of-state intentional tortfeasor, must be based on intentional conduct that creates the necessary contacts with the forum. Walden, 134 S.Ct. at 1122-23. How many is a matter of degree: "Due process requires that a defendant be haled into court in a forum State based on his own affiliation with the State, not based on the random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts he makes by interacting with other persons affiliated with the State." Id. at 1123. But the standard is spongy: "A forum State's exercise of jurisdiction over an out-of-state intentional tortfeasor must be based on intentional conduct by the defendant that creates the necessary contacts with the forum." Id. (emphasis added). "Necessary, " say lower courts, means that the defendant's conduct supplies the "but- for" cause of the tort at issue. Waite v. All Acquisition Corp., 2016 WL 2346743 at *3 (S.D. Fla. May 4, 2016); Erwin v. Ford Motor Company, 2016 WL 7655398 at * 7 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 31, 2016).

         Walden, by the way, demonstrates what does not make the specific-jurisdiction grade. There two airline passengers brought a Bivens action against a police officer, alleging that he violated their Fourth Amendment rights by seizing their gambling cash from them in Atlanta, Georgia on their return trip to Nevada. The officer (by way of a bogus forfeiture affidavit) retained their money even after concluding that it did not come from drug-related activity. Walden, 134 S.Ct. at 1119-20. The Nevada federal court where the plaintiffs sued him dismissed him for lack of personal jurisdiction, but the Ninth Circuit reversed: The officer had "expressly aimed his submission of the allegedly false affidavit at Nevada by submitting the affidavit with knowledge that it would affect persons with a significant connection to Nevada." Id. at 1121 (quotes and cite omitted).

         Reminding that "[f]ederal courts ordinarily follow state law in determining the bounds of their jurisdiction over persons, "[4] but any such exercise of jurisdiction must "compor[t] with the limits imposed by federal due process, " Walden, 134 S.Ct. at 1121, the Supreme Court held that the officer lacked the minimal contacts with Nevada required for exercise of personal jurisdiction - even if he knew that his allegedly tortious conduct in Georgia would delay the return of the money to the passengers with connections to Nevada. Id. The defendant officer was not subject to jurisdiction in Nevada because the Nevada resident plaintiff was the only link between him and that forum, and that was simply not enough. Id. at 1126. "Due process requires that a defendant be haled into court in a forum State based on his own affiliation with the State, not based on the random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts he makes by interacting with other persons affiliated with the State." Id. at 1123 (quotes and cite omitted). Officer Walden's contacts never went beyond that threshold. Id. at 1126 (his "relevant conduct occurred entirely in Georgia, and the mere fact that his conduct affected plaintiffs with connections to the forum State does not suffice to authorize jurisdiction.").

         To summarize:

The Court must always focus on the "'relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation' [which] is the essential foundation of in personam jurisdiction." Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall,466 U.S. 408, 414 (1984) (quoting Shaffer v. Heitner,433 U.S. 186, 204 (1977)). "The proper question is not where the plaintiff experienced a particular injury or effect but whether the ...

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