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A.M. v. Virginia Council of Churches, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

September 18, 2018

A.M., A MINOR, BY HER PARENT AND NEXT FRIEND, OPRAH COOPER, JR., F/K/A ODA HAKORIMANA Plaintiff
v.
VIRGINIA COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, INC., ET AL. Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          REBECCA GRADY JENNINGS, DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff A.M., by her parent and next friend, Oprah Cooper, Jr., f/k/a Oda Hakorimana (“Cooper”), brings this action against the Virginia Council of Churches, Inc. (“VCC”) and Church World Service, Inc. (“CWS”) seeking relief for alleged constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various state law tort claims. [DE 17, Amend. Compl.]. She brings related state law tort claims against Allstate Insurance Company. Id. Defendants now move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). [DE 20, Def. CWS's Mot. Dismiss; DE 21, Def. Allstate's Mot. Dismiss; DE 23, Def. VCC's Mot. Dismiss]. CWS and Allstate also move to dismiss for improper venue under Rule 12(b)(3) and on statute-of-limitations grounds. [DE 20, Def. CWS's Mot. Dismiss; DE 21, Def. Allstate's Mot. Dismiss]. These motions are ripe for adjudication. Having reviewed the parties' filings and the applicable law, the Court finds that it lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendants and GRANTS Defendants' Motions to Dismiss.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         CWS receives funding from the United States to operate the Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program, which prepares case files for refugees in sub-Saharan Africa being considered for resettlement in the United States. [DE 17, Amend. Compl. at ¶¶ 2, 6]. VCC is a local resettlement affiliate of CWS and has cooperative agreements with the United States Department of State. Id. at ¶ 1.

         A.M. and Cooper are refugees from Tanzania who, with CWS's and VCC's assistance, resettled in the United States. Id. at ¶ 5. In 2007, a VCC employee referred Cooper to a licensed daycare provider in Hagerstown, Maryland. Id. at ¶ 11. Cooper alleges that the VCC employee failed to investigate whether the daycare complied with Maryland laws and regulations before recommending the site. Id. at ¶¶ 13-15. A.M., then five-months old, suffered a mentally disabling event at the daycare on October 25, 2007. Id. at ¶¶ 11, 21-22. Cooper does not describe the event but claims that A.M. suffered injuries to her neck, skull, brain, face, and eyes, and was diagnosed with “shaken baby syndrome.” Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.

         In 2010, Cooper filed a tort action on behalf of herself and A.M. in Maryland state court against the daycare provider and the provider's then-boyfriend. [DE 20-2, Amend. Compl.]. The Maryland court dismissed the suit on November 18, 2011 because the parties failed to attend a scheduled pretrial conference. [DE 20-3, Order]. Cooper now brings this action against CWS and VCC for alleged constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law tort claims. [DE 17, Amend. Compl.]. Cooper also brings tort claims against Allstate for failing to adequately insure the daycare provider. Id. at ¶¶ 34-58. Defendants move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2). [DE 20, Def. CWS's Mot. Dismiss; DE 21, Def. Allstate's Mot. Dismiss; DE 23, Def. VCC's Mot. Dismiss]. CWS and Allstate also move to dismiss for improper venue under Rule 12(b)(3) and on statute-of-limitations grounds. [DE 20, Def. CWS's Mot. Dismiss; DE 21, Def. Allstate's Mot. Dismiss].

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Presented with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(2), the Court may (1) rule on the motion based on the affidavits alone, (2) permit discovery on the motion, or (3) hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion. See Dean v. Motel 6 Operating L.P., 134 F.3d 1269, 1272 (6th Cir. 1998) (citing Serras v. First Tenn. Nat'l Ass'n, 875 F.2d 1212, 1214 (6th Cir. 1989)). No. party has requested an evidentiary hearing or indicated a need for discovery on the personal jurisdiction issue, so the Court will rule based on the pleadings alone.

         Once a defendant challenges personal jurisdiction, the burden is on the plaintiff to show that jurisdiction is proper. AlixPartners, LLP v. Brewington, 836 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2016). To do so, the plaintiff “may not stand on his pleadings but must, by affidavit or otherwise, set forth specific facts” showing the Court's jurisdiction. Theunissen v. Matthews, 935 F.2d 1454, 1458 (6th Cir. 1991). When, as here, the Court “resolves a Rule 12(b)(2) motion solely on written submissions, the plaintiff's burden is relatively slight, and the plaintiff must make only a prima facie showing personal jurisdiction exists in order to defeat dismissal.” Air Prods. & Controls, Inc. v. Safetech Int'l, Inc., 503 F.3d 544, 549 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Theunissen, 935 F.2d at 1458; AM. Greetings Corp. v. Cohn, 839 F.2d 1164, 1169 (6th Cir. 1988)) (internal quotation omitted). The plaintiff meets this burden by “establishing with reasonable particularity sufficient contacts between [the defendant] and the forum state to support jurisdiction.” Neogen Corp. v. Neo Gen Screening, Inc., 282 F.3d 883, 887 (6th Cir. 2002) (quoting Provident Nat'l Bank v. California Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 437 (3d Cir. 1987)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In resolving a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(2), the Court must view the pleadings and affidavits in a light most favorable to the plaintiff and should not “weigh the controverting assertions of the party seeking dismissal.” Air Prods., 503 F.3d at 549 (citing Theunissen, 935 F.2d at 1459) (internal quotation omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permit district courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant who, among other things, “is subject to the jurisdiction of a court of general jurisdiction in the state where the district court is located.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A). A court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant must be consistent with both the forum state's long-arm statute and principles of federal due process. Bird v. Parsons, 289 F.3d 865, 871 (6th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). In Kentucky, the Commonwealth's long-arm statute demands more than a constitutional inquiry. Caesars Riverboat Casino, LLC v. Beach, 336 S.W.3d 51, 56 (Ky. 2011). As a result, Kentucky courts must first look to the Commonwealth's long-arm statute to determine whether they can exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant. Only then should they consider federal due process requirements.[2]

         Kentucky's long-arm statute requires that an action “arise from” conduct or activity that fits within at least one of nine enumerated categories. Ky. Rev. Stat. ...


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