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Lozinski v. Black Bear Lodge, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 10, 2017

JERZY P. LOZINSKI AND JOANNA LOZINSKI, Plaintiffs,
v.
BLACK BEAR LODGE, LLC, THE BLACK BEAR LODGE-A CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, JOHN DOES AND JANE ROES 1-10, fictitious individuals, and ABC Corp. and DEF Corp. 1-10, fictitious corporations, Defendants.

          OPINION

          KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiffs Jerzy P. Lozinski ("Jerzy") and Joanna Lozinski (collectively, the "Lozinskis") brought this action against Defendants Black Bear Lodge, LLC, and The Black Bear Lodge - A Condominium Association (collectively "Black Bear") for personal injuries. Residents of New Jersey, the Lozinski family rented a condo unit at Black Bear, a New Hampshire resort, where Mr. Lozinski unfortunately suffered a slip and fall.[1] Now before the Court is Black Bear's motion to dismiss the Lozinskis' amended complaint (the "Complaint")[2] for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2).[3]

         For the reasons stated below, I find that the Lozinskis have failed to establish this Court's personal jurisdiction over Black Bear, and I shall deny the Lozinskis' request for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint. I will, however, transfer this case to the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs, the Lozinskis, are New Jersey citizens. (Compl. ¶ 2) Defendants, Black Bear Lodge, LLC, and The Black Bear Lodge - A Condominium Association, are both entities organized under New Hampshire law and have their principal offices or place of business in New Hampshire. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5)

         In August 2014, the Lozinskis viewed Black Bear's website (2AC ¶ 8), and then reserved a condo unit at Black Bear Lodge for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend.[4] (Compl. ¶ 8) On November 27, 2014, the Lozinskis and their three children arrived at Black Bear's premises. (Id. ¶ 11) The following evening, Jerzy used the elevated outdoor hot tub located near the Lozinskis' condo unit. (Id. ¶ 13) Upon exiting the hot tub, Jerzy observed ice on the top step of the hot tub staircase, and he leaned on a hand railing for support. The complaint alleges that the railing collapsed and that, as a result, Jerzy fell down the staircase and was injured. (Id. ¶¶ 17-20)

         On October 27, 2016, the Lozinskis filed suit here in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, asserting various causes of actions in tort against Black Bear.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS AND DISCUSSION

         A. Personal Jurisdiction Standard

         Once a defendant files a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing sufficient facts to show that jurisdiction exists. Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 295-96 (3d Cir. 2007). Initially, a court must accept the plaintiffs allegations as true and construe disputed facts in favor of the plaintiff. Pinker v. Roche Holdings, Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 368 (3d Cir. 2002). Where factual allegations are disputed, however, the court must examine any evidence presented. See, e.g., Eurofins Pharma U.S. Holdings v. BioAlliance Pharma SA, 623 F.3d 147, 155-56 (3d Cir. 2010) (examining the evidence supporting the plaintiffs allegations); Patterson v. FBI, 893 F.2d 595, 603-04 (3d Cir. 1990) ("'A Rule 12(b)(2) motion, such as the motion made by the defendants here, is inherently a matter which requires resolution of factual issues outside the pleadings, i.e. whether in personam jurisdiction actually lies. Once the defense has been raised, then the plaintiff must sustain its burden of proof in establishing jurisdictional facts through sworn affidavits or other competent evidence.'") (quoting Time Share Vacation Club v. Atl. Resorts, Ltd., 735 F.2d 61, 66 n.9 (3d Cir. 1984)).

         The plaintiff "need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction." Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 97 (3d Cir. 2004). However, a plaintiff may not "rely on the bare pleadings alone" in order to withstand a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. "Once the motion is made, plaintiff must respond with actual proofs, not mere allegations." Patterson, 893 F.2d at 604 (internal citations omitted); Time Share Vacation Club, 735 F.2d at 66 n.9.

         To assess whether it has personal jurisdiction over a defendant, a district court must undertake a two-step inquiry. IMO Indus., Inc. v. Kiekert, AG, 155 F.3d 254, 259 (3d Cir. 1998). First, the court is required to use the relevant state's long-arm statute to see whether it permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction. Id.; Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k). "Second, the court must apply the principles of due process" under the federal Constitution. WorldScape, Inc. v. Sails Capital Mgmt, Civ. No. 10-4207, 2011 WL 3444218 (D.N.J. Aug. 5, 2011) (citing IMO Indus., 155 F.3d at 259).

         In New Jersey, the first step collapses into the second because "New Jersey's long-arm statute provides for jurisdiction coextensive with the due process requirements of the United States Constitution." Miller Yacht Sales, 384 F.3d at 96 (citing N.J. Ct. R. 4:4-4(c)). Accordingly, personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant is proper in this Court if the defendant has "'certain minimum contacts with [New Jersey] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'' Provident Nat'l Bank v. Cal. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 437 (3d Cir. 1987) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154 (1945)).

         There are two kinds of personal jurisdiction that allow a district court to hear a case involving a non-resident defendant: general and specific. A court may exercise general jurisdiction over a foreign corporation where "the defendant's contacts with the forum are so 'continuous and systematic' as to render them essentially 'at home' in the forum state." Senju Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. v. Metrics, Inc., 96 F.Supp.3d 428, 435 (D.N.J. 2015) (citing DaimlerAG v. Bauman, ___ U.S.___, 134 S.Ct. 746, 754 (2014); Goodyear DunlopTires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, _ ...


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