United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MELISSA DALTON, on behalf of the heirs of the estate of William Ruben Meadors, Plaintiff,
RICHARD FERRIS, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. Reeves. Chief Judge United States District Court
Melissa Dalton claims that her father Dan Profitt is heir to
the elusive Spindletop oil fortune. The defendant attorneys were
involved in litigation in the 1980s and 1990s concerning oil
proceeds from Spindletop. Dalton asserts a host of claims
against the defendants arising out of their representation of
(or opposition to) Profitt during this litigation. The
defendants have filed motions to dismiss based on lack of
personal jurisdiction, improper venue, and failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted. [Record Nos. 20, 26]
Because the Court does not have personal jurisdiction over
the defendants, the motions will be granted, and the case
will be dismissed.
James and William Meadors moved to Beaumont, Texas in the
early 1900s and drilled for oil in the Spindletop oil field
during the Lucas Gusher. [Record No. 19 ¶ 16] According
to the plaintiff, the brothers acquired portions of
Spindletop, which eventually became worth billions of
dollars. Id. ¶¶ 17-20.
Meadors brothers disappeared in the early 1930s without
having married or having produced children. Id.
¶ 21. But countless individuals claimed that they were
heirs to the brothers' fortune in the years that
followed. Cousins Dan Profitt and David Clark were two such
persons. Id. ¶ 23. Profitt and Clark were named
administrators of the Meadors estate in Allegheny,
Pennsylvania in 1983. See Clark v. Amoco Prod. Co.,
794 F.2d 967, 969 (5th Cir. 1986). That same year, Profitt
and Clark hired the Pennsylvania law firm Ferris, DiPaolo,
and Russo to probate the estate. [Record No. 19.
¶ 26] ¶ 1984, attorneys Ferris, DiPaolo, and George
also represented Profitt and Clark in a civil action against
four Texas oil companies for the value of oil that had been
extracted from the Meadors property without payment. See
Clark, 794 F.2d 967. Defendant Cynthia Timms represented
the oil companies during that litigation. Id. ¶
United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Texas eventually granted summary judgment in favor of the oil
companies. Profitt and Clark appealed to the United States
Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and oral argument was
held in New Orleans, Louisiana, on June 6, 1990. Clark v.
Amoco Prod. Co., 908 F.2d 29 (5th Cir. 1990); [Record
No. 19 ¶ 41] Profitt and Clark lost the appeal.
jump forward a couple of decades. Jerry Kohake found two
letters in his deceased father's safe and gave them to
Profitt in the “fall of 2014.” Id.
¶ 57. The first letter dated January 22, 1987, purports
to be from Defendant Ferris to an oil company attorney,
rejecting a settlement offer of $25, 000, 000.00.
Id. ¶ 58. The second letter dated May 28, 1990,
purports to be from Ferris to Defendant Timms, accepting a
settlement offer of $50, 000, 000.00. Id. ¶ 60.
The letter also provides: “This Court action is
essential for settlement and will eliminate the matter
concerning heirs. We must be convincing in our performance to
insure a successful outcome.” [Record No. 19-8] Despite
discovery of the letters and pre-existing suspicions about
Ferris, Profitt apparently took no action. [Record No. 19
¶¶ 47, 57] However, in May or June 2018, Dalton
“discovered the letters in her father's possessions
and immediately sought legal advice.” Id.
claims that Profitt and Clark were never informed of the
settlement offers. In summary, she alleges that Ferris,
DiPaolo, and George threw the case at the Fifth Circuit and
absconded with $50, 000, 000.00 that was intended to settle
Profitt's and Clark's claims against the oil
companies. The defendants vigorously deny these allegations.
Plaintiff Dalton brings claims of fraud, unjust enrichment,
civil conspiracy, conversion, legal malpractice, and breach
of fiduciary duty. Timms and the other defendants have filed
separate motions to dismiss based on lack of personal
jurisdiction, improper venue, and failure to state a claim
pursuant to Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. [Record Nos. 20, 26]
jurisdiction over a defendant is an essential element of
jurisdiction, without which the Court may not proceed to an
adjudication. Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526
U.S. 583, 584 (1999). And a plaintiff has the burden of
proving that personal jurisdiction exists. Theunissen v.
Matthews, 935 F.2d 1454, 1458 (6th Cir. 1991) (citing
McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S.
178, 189 (1936)). “[I]n the face of a properly
supported motion for dismissal, the plaintiff may not stand
on [her] pleadings but must, by affidavit or otherwise, set
forth specific facts showing that the court has
jurisdiction.” Id. Because this issue will be
decided based on written submissions, the plaintiff need only
make a prima facie showing that personal
jurisdiction exists. See Serras v. First Tenn. Bank Nat.
Ass'n, 875 F.2d 1212, 1214 (6th Cir. 1989). A prima
facie showing of jurisdiction may be established based on the
plaintiff's presentation of specific facts, by affidavit
or otherwise. Theunissen, 935 F.2d at 1458. The
court must accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as
true. Bird v. Parsons, 289 F.3d 865, 871 (6th Cir.
jurisdiction can be general or specific. General jurisdiction
arises when “a defendant's contacts with the forum
state are of such a ‘continuous and systematic'
nature that the state may exercise personal jurisdiction over
the defendant even if the action is unrelated to the
defendant's contacts with the state.” Third
Nat. Bank in Nashville v. WEDGE Grp., Inc., 882 F.2d
1087, 1089 (6th Cir. 1989) (citing Perkins v. Benguet
Cons. Mining Co., 342 U.S. 437 (1952)). However,
specific jurisdiction is established when the suit arises out
of or is related to the defendant's contacts with the
forum state. Id. (citing Helicopteros Nacionales
de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 455 U.S. 408, 414 n.8
(1984)). The plaintiff has not alleged that any defendant has
carried on systematic conduct within the state of Kentucky
and appears to concede that if jurisdiction over the
defendants exists, it must be based upon specific
specific personal jurisdiction to exist in a diversity case,
the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with the forum
state's long-arm statute and constitutional due process.
Miller v. AXA Winterthur Ins. Co., 694 F.3d 675, 679
(6th Cir. 2012). Kentucky's long-arm statute does not
reach the outer limits of federal due process. Caesars
Riverboat Casino, LLC v. Beach, 336 S.W.3d 51, 56-57
(Ky. 2011) (discussing K.R.S. § 454.210). It provides
that “[a] court may exercise personal jurisdiction over
a person who acts directly or by an agent, as to a claim
arising from the person's:
1. Transacting business in this Commonwealth;
2. Contracting to supply services or goods in this