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Gormley v. Domino Sugar Corp.

April 27, 1999

WILLIAM GORMLEY, PLAINTIFF,
V.
DOMINO SUGAR CORP., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jerome B. Simandle U.S. District Judge

HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE

OPINION

SIMANDLE, District Judge

This matter is before the court on the motion of defendant Domino Sugar Corp. ("Domino") to dismiss or transfer this matter to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland for lack of personal jurisdiction and for improper venue, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and (3) and 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), or, in the alternative, for transfer to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The principal issue is whether this personal injury suit, arising out of the New Jersey plaintiff's accident at defendant's premises in Maryland in connection with a planned transport of defendant's product from Maryland to Pennsylvania, should be maintained in New Jersey or in Maryland. Because the court finds that it lacks personal jurisdiction over Domino under the circumstances of this case, the court grants Domino's motion and transfers this matter to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland under § 1406(a). *fn1 Alternatively, even if personal jurisdiction over Domino is present in New Jersey, it is abundantly clear that transfer of this case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland is warranted under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, William Gormley, resides at 11 Pardee Avenue, Browns Mills, New Jersey. At all times relevant to this case, Gormley was employed as a truck driver by Odyssey Trucking of Burlington City, New Jersey.

Domino is a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business at 1114 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York. Domino also operates a facility at 1100 Key Highway East, Baltimore, Maryland. Domino maintains no offices in New Jersey and is not incorporated in New Jersey, but did sell almost $66 million worth of products in New Jersey during fiscal year 1996-97, representing nearly 8% of its gross domestic sales. (Affidavit of David Philippy at ¶¶ 2-3.)

On January 10, 1996, Gormley was making a pick up at Domino's Baltimore facility for delivery to Allentown, Pennsylvania, when he allegedly slipped and fell on ice in the parking lot. On January 6, 1998, Gormley commenced this civil action against Domino, alleging that Domino is liable for the injuries he suffered as a result of his fall on their premises in Baltimore by virtue of its negligence in maintaining the premises.

Domino filed its Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Gormley's Amended Complaint on March 18, 1998, *fn2 preserving its affirmative defenses of lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. Domino now moves to dismiss or transfer this action to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland for lack of personal jurisdiction and for improper venue.

DISCUSSION

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(e), a district court sitting in diversity may assert personal jurisdiction over a non- resident defendant to the extent allowed by the applicable statute or rule of the state in which the district court sits. See Bane v. Netlink, Inc., 925 F.2d 637, 639 (3d Cir. 1991). In New Jersey, Rule 4:4-4 has been construed to extend personal jurisdiction "to the uttermost limits permitted by the United States Constitution." Charles Gendler & Co. v. Telecom Equipment Corp., 102 N.J. 460, 469 (1986). Thus, this court may exercise personal jurisdiction over Domino if it is clear that the Delaware corporation has sufficient "minimum contacts" with New Jersey such that the exercise of jurisdiction would not offend the "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice" contemplated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945).

Minimum contacts exist when a defendant performs certain acts by which he purposefully avails himself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws. Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958). The contacts with the forum state must be of a nature such that the non- resident defendant "should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474 (1985) (citing Worldwide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 295 (1980)).

A district court may exercise "specific jurisdiction" over a defendant when a controversy is related to or arises out of the defendant's contacts with the forum state. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 (1983). When a controversy is not related to and does not arise out of the defendant's contacts with the forum state, a district court may exercise "general jurisdiction" over the defendant only if it determines that the defendant maintains "continuous and systematic" contact with the forum state. Id. at 416.

Once a defendant raises a question about the existence of personal jurisdiction, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove by a preponderance of the evidence sufficient facts to establish personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Carteret Sav. Bank NA v. Shushan, 954 F.2d 141, 146 (3d Cir.), cert. denied. 506 U.S. 817 (1992). In the present case, Gormley concedes that there is no basis for an exercise of specific jurisdiction over Domino, but argues that Domino's ...


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