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Severinsen v. Widener University

March 14, 2001

GREGORY T. SEVERINSEN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WIDENER UNIVERSITY AND WIDENER UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, L-4494-99.

Before Judges Baime, Wallace, Jr.*fn1 and Carchman.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baime, P.J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued February 22, 2001

The question presented by this appeal is whether New Jersey courts may exercise personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state university based upon the university's recruitment activities in this state. Plaintiff, a law student at Widener University, brought suit in New Jersey for injuries sustained at the University's campus in Delaware. The Law Division found that Widener's contacts with New Jersey were insufficient to support plaintiff's claim of general jurisdiction. We agree and affirm the dismissal of plaintiff's complaint.

I.

Plaintiff was struck in the face by a bathroom door while a resident at Shipley Hall, a University dormitory. The dormitory was part of the on-campus housing supplied to students by Widener. Plaintiff asserted in his complaint that the door hinge was defective.

Widener moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. In response, plaintiff contended that Widener maintained a substantial presence in New Jersey by virtue of its recruitment activities. These activities included sending agents to New Jersey college and law school fairs, advertising in local newspapers, mailing unsolicited letters to potential students, conducting sports activities with New Jersey colleges and universities, recruiting athletes, and sponsoring alumni events.

Although Widener's motion was made prior to completion of discovery, the Law Division accepted as true plaintiff's allegations concerning the nature and extent of the University's activities in New Jersey. In granting Widener's motion, the judge determined that plaintiff's cause of action did not arise out of Widener's activities in New Jersey. The judge found that Widener's contacts with New Jersey were insufficient to sustain general jurisdiction. The judge further concluded that it would offend common notions of fairness to subject Widener to jurisdiction, and that New Jersey had no overriding interest in the dispute. Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration was subsequently denied. This appeal followed.

II.

A New Jersey court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant to the "outermost limits permitted by the United States Constitution." Avdel Corp. v. Mecure, 58 N.J. 264, 268 (1971); see also Bayway Refining v. State Util., 333 N.J. Super. 420, 428 (App. Div. 2000); Jacobs v. Walt Disney World Co., 309 N.J. Super. 443, 452 (App. Div. 1998); R. 4:4-4(b)(1). Minimum contacts with the forum state provide the predicate for exercising personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant. International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 210, 316, 66 S. Ct. 154, 158, 90 L.Ed. 95, 102 (1945). The nexus between the forum state and the non-resident defendant must be such "that the maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" Ibid. (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463, 61 S. Ct. 339, 343, 85 L.Ed. 278, 283 (1940)); see also Blakely v. Continental Airlines, 164 N.J. 38, 66 (2000).

If a cause of action arises directly out of a defendant's contacts with the forum state, the court's jurisdiction is "specific." Waste Management, Inc. v. Admiral Ins. Co., 138 N.J. 106, 119 (1994) (citing Lebel v. Everglades Marina, Inc., 115 N.J. 317, 322 (1989)). If, however, the suit is not related directly to the defendant's contacts with the forum state, but is predicated instead on the defendant's continuous and systematic activities in the forum state, the state's exercise of jurisdiction is "general." Ibid.; see also Helicopters Nacionales de Colum, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 n.9, 104 S. Ct. 1868, 1872 n.9, 80 L.Ed.2d 404, 411 n.9 (1984). The greater measure of the contacts for general jurisdiction is deemed relevant because of the limited interest of the forum state in entertaining the coincidental litigation. Lebel v. Everglades Marina, Inc., 115 N.J. at 323 (citing Bearry v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 818 F.2d 370, 374 (5th Cir. 1987)). If the contacts are "isolated, random and attenuated," general jurisdiction will not lie. Ibelli v. Maloof, 257 N.J. Super. 324, 328 (Ch. Div. 1992).

To assess the reasonableness of subjecting the defendant to jurisdiction, the court must undertake a "minimum contacts" analysis. Matsumoto v. Matsumoto, 335 N.J. Super. 174, 182 (App. Div. 2000). This analysis ensures that the jurisdictional requirement of due process is met. Interlotto, Inc. v. The National Lottery Administration, 298 N.J. Super. 127, 134 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 151 N.J. 78 (1997). The minimum contacts analysis consists of two prongs. First, the court must determine whether or not minimum contacts exist at all. Waste Management, Inc. v. Admiral Ins. Co., 138 N.J. at 122. Second, the court must decide "whether those minimum contacts establish jurisdiction consistent with considerations of fair play and substantial justice." Id. at 121; International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. at 316, 66 S.Ct. at 158, 90 L.Ed. at 102. Essentially it must be determined whether the defendant has purposely availed itself of jurisdiction in the forum state. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474-75, 105 S.Ct. 2174, 2183, 85 L.Ed.2d 528, 542 (1985).

"'The quality and nature of the [defendant's] activity in relation to the fair and orderly administration of the laws' must be examined on a case-by-case basis to determine if the minimum-contacts standard is satisfied." Charles Gendler & Co. v. Telecom Equip. Corp., 102 N.J. 460, 470 (1986)(quoting International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. at 319, 66 S.Ct. at 159-60, 90 L.Ed. at 103-04). Therefore, even where there are "continuous and systematic" contacts, general jurisdiction may be denied if subjecting the defendant to suit in the forum state does not comply with fair ...


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