ROSS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE and GLOBAL EDUCATION INTERNATIONAL, INC., Plaintiffs,
BEHZAD AMINI, et al., Defendants.
ANNE E. THOMPSON, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Behzad Amini's Motions to Dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and lack of proper venue, (Docket No. 13), or, in the alternative, to Transfer Venue, (Docket No. 14). The Court has decided the matter upon consideration of the parties' written submissions and without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that it has personal jurisdiction and that venue is proper, and therefore denies the Motion to Dismiss. Additionally, the Court denies the Motion to Transfer the case to the District of Arizona.
Plaintiff Ross University School of Medicine ("RUSM") is a provider of medical education. (Docket No. 1 at 4). Its academic campus is located in the Caribbean country of Dominica. ( Id. ). RUSM's administrative offices are located in North Brunswick, New Jersey and in Miramar, Florida. ( Id. ). The North Brunswick administrative office houses the following departments: student financial aid, alumni services, admissions, information technology, human resources, financial, budgeting, accounting, accreditation, licensing, and marketing. (Docket No. 18 at 11). Plaintiff Global Education International is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of Barbados. (Docket No. 1 at 4). It is the registered owner of the Ross University Marks licensed exclusively for use in promoting RUSM and Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine. ( Id. ).
Defendant Behzad Amini, a resident of Arizona, is a former RUSM student. (Docket No. 1 at 4). Defendant Amini is also the owner and person in control of www.RossU.net, as well as approximately 20 other websites incorporating domain elements similar to the Ross University Marks, including www.RossMedicalSchool.org and www.RossMedSchool.com. ( Id. at 5). All known and unknown websites under Defendant Amini's control are also listed as defendants in the Complaint. ( Id. at 5).
Defendant Amini commenced his studies at RUSM in January 2009. ( Id. at 5). On September 21, 2011, a RUSM student filed an internal grievance against Defendant Amini. ( Id. at 5). On February 10, 2012, RUSM and Amini entered into a Settlement Agreement with Mutual Releases ("Settlement Agreement"). ( Id. at 5).
Several sections of the Settlement Agreement are relevant to Defendant Amini's Motions to Dismiss and Motion to Transfer. The "Recitals" section of the Settlement Agreement states the parties reached an agreement "in consideration of the mutual promises exchanged herein and for other good and valuable consideration...." (Docket No. 1 Ex. B at 2). Section 3.2 of the Settement Agreement states "RUSM shall provide [Defendant Amini] with a letter... for use in connection with his efforts to enroll at another education institution...." (Docket No. 1 Ex. B at 6). Section 4.6 of the Settlement Agreement states the following:
Any action arising in any way out of the terms of this Settlement Agreement, or a party's performance or non-performance thereof, shall be brought in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County or the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, and the parties hereby expressly consent to either court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over them with respect to any such action.
(Docket No. 1 Ex. B at 7). Section 4.11, entitled "No Duress, " states that "[t]he parties hereto acknowledge and agree that they have entered into this Settlement Agreement and have executed it without duress or coercion, and have done so with the full advice of counsel." (Docket No. 1 Ex. B at 8). Section 4.18 of the Settlement Agreement is a non-disparagement agreement providing the following:
Amini shall not directly or indirectly say, write or do anything that would disparage, reflect negatively upon or otherwise call into question RUSM's business operations, products, services, integrity, reputation or business relationships, or the business operations, products, services, integrity, reputation or business relationships of any of the releases identified above....
(Docket No. 1 at 6).
On October 16, 2013, Plaintiffs initiated this action against the Defendants for breach of the Settlement Agreement's non-disparagement provision, as well as claims under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, Trademark Dilution Act, Lanham Act, and related state laws. (Docket No. 1). On November 1, 2013, Defendant Amini filed the Motions to Dismiss and Motion to Transfer that is the subject of this opinion. (Docket Nos. 13, 14). Defendant Amini asserts that he lacks the necessary minimum contacts with the forum state of New Jersey for the exercise of personal jurisdiction. In addition, Defendant argues that none of the events in question took place in New Jersey making New Jersey an improper venue for the case. Defendant further requests that, if the Court determines that personal jurisdiction exists and that venue in the District of New Jersey is proper, the matter should still be transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Arizona.
Plaintiffs respond that the "language of the Settlement Agreement between RUSM and [Defendant] Amini is fatal to his jurisdictional argument." (Docket No. 18 at 2). Plaintiffs further assert that "the Settlement Agreement is also fatal to [Defendant] Amini's venue motion." ( Id. ). Finally, Plaintiffs discount Defendant Amini's claim that the Court should transfer venue to the District of Arizona because "plaintiff's choice of venue should not be lightly disregarded, " "a court should give substantial consideration to a forum selection clause, " and "witnesses, relevant documents, and plaintiff's counsel are located in New Jersey, Florida, and Illinois."
a. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of ...