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Linda D. Dodd and John T. Dodd v. Uni-Mart

January 11, 2013


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Warren County, Docket No. L-460-10.

Per curiam.


Submitted October 29, 2012

Before Judges Espinosa and Guadagno.

Plaintiffs Linda*fn1 and John Dodd appeal the September 16, 2011 order dismissing their complaint filed against defendants Uni-Mart, Inc. and Exxon Uni-Mart (collectively Uni-Mart) for lack of jurisdiction.*fn2 After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.

On September 14, 2008, the Dodds, who were married residents of New Jersey, stopped at the Exxon Uni-Mart service station in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, for gas. While using the restroom, Linda Dodd fell and was injured.

On September 13, 2010, plaintiffs filed suit in New Jersey. Linda alleged negligence and nuisance while John sought per quod damages. Before filing an answer, defendants moved to dismiss. The motion judge heard oral argument and ordered additional jurisdictional discovery.

On September 16, 2011, the judge dismissed the complaint finding that New Jersey courts lacked jurisdiction as there was no "intentional act on the part of the defendants to target the forum state, at least to show the existence of minimum contacts."

Plaintiffs appeal, claiming Uni-Mart's commercial activities as a gas station serving numerous New Jersey customers convey jurisdiction to New Jersey courts. Uni-Mart maintains that it is incorporated in Pennsylvania and had no contacts or business operations in New Jersey.

Because the motion judge dismissed the complaint at the summary judgment stage, we review the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995). Our review of a trial court ruling on jurisdictional issues is de novo because the issue of jurisdiction is a question of law. Mastondrea v. Occidental Hotels Mgmt. S.A., 391 N.J. Super. 261, 268 (App. Div. 2007) (citing Vetrotex CertainTeed Corp. v. Consol. Fiber Glass Prods. Co., 75 F.3d 147, 150 (3d Cir. 1996)).

Under Rule 4:4-4(b)(1), the so-called long-arm provision, New Jersey can exercise jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant found outside the State when done so in accordance with the provisions of that rule and consistent with due process. YA Global Invs., L.P. v. Cliff, 419 N.J. Super. 1, 8 (App. Div. 2011). In order to satisfy due process, an out-of-state party who is not physically present in the forum state must 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.'" Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S. Ct. 154, 158, 90 L. Ed. 95, 102 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463, 61 S. Ct. 339, 343, 85 L. Ed. 278, 283 (1940)). "Minimum contacts" requires that the out-of-state entity has "purposefully avail[ed] itself 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, 78 S. Ct. 1228, 1240, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1283, 1298 (1958).

This requirement protects out-of-state parties from being required to litigate disputes in an inconvenient forum and it prohibits states from exceeding their jurisdictional limits. World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 291-92, 100 S. Ct. 559, 564, 62 L. Ed. 2d 490, 498 (1980). Analysis under this doctrine requires consideration of whether the outof-state party should reasonably anticipate being haled into court in the forum state, and requires more than random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474-75, 105 S. Ct. 2174, 2183, 85 L. Ed. 2d 528, 542 (1985).

The due process test involves first, evaluating whether the party seeking to assert jurisdiction has established sufficient minimum contacts, and, if so, whether entertaining jurisdiction would be consistent with considerations of "fair play and substantial justice." Id. at 476, 105 S. Ct. at 2184, 85 L. Ed. 2d at 543. Once it is demonstrated that the out-of-state party has been found to have the requisite minimum contacts with the forum, the burden shifts to the non-resident party, who must then "present a compelling case that the presence of some other considerations would render jurisdiction unreasonable." Id. at 477, 105 S. Ct. at 2184-85, 85 L. Ed. 2d at 544.

In determining the degree of minimum contacts required, "courts distinguish between 'specific' and 'general' jurisdiction." Wilson v. Paradise Vill. Beach Resort & Spa, 395 N.J. Super. 520, 527 (App. Div. 2007). "If a cause of action arises directly out of a defendant's contacts with the forum state, the court's jurisdiction is 'specific.'" Waste Mgmt., Inc. v. Admiral Ins. Co., 138 N.J. 106, 119 (1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1183, 115 S. Ct. 1175, 130 L. Ed. 2d 1128 (1995). Jurisdiction is deemed "general" if the cause of action is unrelated to the contacts between the out-of-state party and the forum state, in which case the contacts must be continuous and substantial. Charles Gendler & Co. v. Telecom Equip. Corp., 102 ...

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