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MILLER v. MCMANN

March 17, 2000

MARGARET MILLER, PLAINTIFF,
V.
BARBARA A. MCMANN; ELMER JUSTICE REALTY, INC.; KIM MACKIE; MAUREEN MCFARLANE; G.C.S. LAND CO.; WILLIAM MCNEAL, JR.; WILLIAM MCNEAL, SR.; THE PRUDENTIAL WARD AND ASSOCIATES; JOSEPH D. LEWIS; LORETTA H. LEWIS; JULIUS A. JODLBAUER; O. ROBERT LIDUMS; MICHAEL J. SCIBINICO, II; AND JODLBAUER, LIDUMS & SCIBINICO, P.A., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cooper, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Margaret Miller ("Miller") alleges that she was defrauded out of a half-interest in certain real property located in Maryland when defendants Kim Mackie ("Mackie") and Maureen McFarlane ("McFarlane") traveled to her home in New Jersey and obtained her signature on a quitclaim deed. Miller alleges that defendants Julius A. Jodlbauer, Esq., O. Robert Lidums, Esq., Michael J. Scibinico, II, Esq., and Jodlbauer, Lidums & Scibinico, P.A (collectively the "Jodlbauer defendants"), who were located in Maryland, instructed Mackie and McFarlane to travel to New Jersey and to tell Miller that she did not have any financial interest in the property. This matter comes before the Court on a motion for summary judgment by the Jodlbauer defendants on the grounds that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them. For the reasons stated, the motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

Defendants Julius A. Jodlbauer, Esq. ("Jodlbauer"), O. Robert Lidums, Esq. ("Lidums"), and Michael J. Scibinico, II, Esq. ("Scibinico") practiced law in the State of Maryland in 1994 as a partnership allegedly known as Jodlbauer, Lidums & Scibinico, P.A.*fn1 (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) The Jodlbauer defendants represented defendant G.C.S. Land Co. in connection with its purchase from defendant Barbara McMann ("McMann") of certain real property located in Maryland (the "property"). (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 56.)

The Jodlbauer defendants argue that we should grant their motion for summary judgment because New Jersey lacks personal jurisdiction over them. (Defs.' Br. in Supp. at 6-15.) Plaintiff argues that the activities of the Jodlbauer defendants in preparing the quit claim deed and advising the real estate agents to travel to New Jersey constitute sufficient contacts with the forum to justify in personam jurisdiction. (Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n at 20.) In addition, plaintiff argues that she must establish in personam jurisdiction over only one of the Jodlbauer defendants to establish jurisdiction over all of them. (Id. at 17 n. 1.) The Jodlbauer defendants respond that plaintiff must demonstrate jurisdiction over each defendant individually. (Defs.' Br. in Reply at 6-7.)

DISCUSSION

New Jersey's long-arm statute, New Jersey Civil Practice Rule 4:4-4, permits jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant to the "uttermost limits permitted by the United States Constitution." Avdel Corp. v. Mecure, 58 N.J. 264, 268, 277 A.2d 207 (1971). The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prevents a court from asserting personal jurisdiction over a defendant who does not have "certain minimum contacts with [the forum] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend `traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" Provident Nat'l Bank v. California Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 436-37 (3d Cir. 1987) (alteration in original) (quoting International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 320 (1945)). The nature of the defendant's contacts with the forum state must be such that the defendant "should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980) (citations omitted).

The plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that the defendant's contacts with the forum state are sufficient to give the court in personam jurisdiction. See Apollo Techs. Corp. v. Centrosphere Indus. Corp., 805 F. Supp. 1157, 1182 (D.N.J. 1992) (citations omitted). Prior to trial, a plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction by "establishing with reasonable particularity sufficient contacts between the defendant and the forum state." Mellon Bank (East) PSFS, Nat'l Assoc. v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). A court must resolve all factual disputes created by affidavits and other evidence submitted by the parties in favor of the plaintiff.*fn2 See, e.g., Elbeco Inc. v. Estrella de Plato, Corp., 989 F. Supp. 669, 672 (E.D.Pa. 1997).

A plaintiff may meet its burden by establishing that a court has either "specific" or "general" jurisdiction. Provident Nat'l Bank, 819 F.2d at 437. Specific jurisdiction is "invoked when the claim is related to or arises out of the defendant's contacts with the forum." Dollar Sav. Bank v. First Sec. Bank, 746 F.2d 208, 211 (3d Cir. 1984) (citations omitted). General jurisdiction is invoked when the defendant has "`continuous and systematic' contacts with the forum state." Provident Nat'l Bank, 819 F.2d at 437 (quoting Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408 (1984)). Plaintiff argues that this Court has specific jurisdiction over the Jodlbauer defendants. (See Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n at 17.)

The New Jersey Supreme Court has held that a defendant who directs a fraudulent communication to a plaintiff located in New Jersey has established sufficient contacts with the state to justify personal jurisdiction. See Lebel v. Everglades Marina, Inc., 115 N.J. 317, 325-26, 558 A.2d 1252 (1989); see also Vishay Intertech., Inc. v. Delta Int'l Corp., 696 F.2d 1062, 1066 (4th Cir. 1982) ("Where defendant knowingly sends into a state a false statement, intending that it should then be relied upon to the injury of a resident of that state, he has, for jurisdictional purposes, acted within that state.") (citation omitted). Plaintiff has set forth evidence that defendant Jodlbauer: (1) instructed McFarlane to travel to Trenton, New Jersey to discover the owner of an interest in the property, (see Donnelly Aff. Ex. J: Dep. of Maureen Doris McFarlane at 44), (2) instructed McFarlane to travel to plaintiff's home to obtain plaintiff's signature on the quitclaim deed, (id. at 82), (3) gave McFarlane the quitclaim deed for plaintiff to sign, (id. at 177), (4) told McFarlane to inform plaintiff that plaintiff had no monetary interest in the property, (id.), and (5) spoke with plaintiff via telephone while plaintiff was in her home with McFarlane and Mackie present. (Id. at 179.)

The Court finds that this evidence, read in the light most favorable to plaintiff as is required at this juncture, demonstrates that defendant Jodlbauer has contacts with New Jersey sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction. See Lebel, 115 N.J. at 325-26, 558 A.2d 1252; see also Moore v. St. Paul Comp., Civ. A. No. 94-1329, 1995 WL 11187, at *7 (D.N.J. Jan. 3, 1995) (holding that court had personal jurisdiction over defendant who made alleged misrepresentation in Minnesota because it was foreseeable that the defendant realized that the harm from the statement would occur in New Jersey).

The Court also finds that maintenance of the suit in New Jersey would not offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." International Shoe, 326 U.S. at 320. Defendants "must present a compelling case that the presence of some other considerations would render jurisdiction unreasonable." Burger King, 471 U.S. at 177. The determination requires evaluation of such factors as "the burden on the defendant, the interests of the forum State, . . . the plaintiff's interest in obtaining relief, . . . the interstate judicial system's interest in obtaining the most efficient resolution of controversies, and the shared interest of the several States in furthering fundamental substantive social policies." Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., 480 U.S. 102, 113 (1987).

We find that the Jodlbauer defendants have not met their burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction would be unreasonable in light of the following: (1) there is no evidence of an inability by the Jodlbauer defendants either to travel to New Jersey or to present evidence that would have been available in Maryland, cf. Lebel, 115 N.J. at 329, 558 A.2d 1252; (2) plaintiff resides in New Jersey; and (3) New Jersey has an interest in protecting its ...


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