United States District Court, D. New Jersey
ROBERT C. CHRISTIE, Plaintiff,
NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR NEWMAN STUDIES, et al., Defendants.
L. Wolfson United States District Judge
matter comes before the Court on a motion to dismiss under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) filed by Defendants
National Institute for Newman Studies (“NINS”),
Catherine Ryan, Drew Morgan, Henry Gailliot, and David
Abernathy (collectively “Defendants”), seeking
dismissal of the Complaint by Plaintiff Robert C. Christie
(“Plaintiff”) for lack of personal jurisdiction.
On this motion, this Court is faced with the question whether
and how a defendant's “virtual” presence and
conduct translate into contacts with a particular forum
state. For the following reasons, the Court finds that
Defendants are subject to personal jurisdiction in New Jersey
because of their alleged tortious conduct committed via the
Internet, which constituted “virtual contacts”
sufficient for specific jurisdiction purposes. Therefore,
Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of personal
jurisdiction is DENIED.
was formerly employed as the Executive Director of NINS.
Compl., ¶ 12. Plaintiff, at all times relevant, resided
in New Jersey. Id. at ¶ 1. NINS is a non-profit
organization with its principal place of business in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Id. at ¶ 2.
Defendants Catherine Ryan, Drew Morgan, Henry Gailliot, and
David Abernathy (the “Individual Defendants”),
are all members of NINS's Board of Directors and
residents of Pennsylvania. Id. at ¶¶ 3-7.
alleges that when he was hired as the Executive Director,
Defendants knew that he would continue to reside in New
Jersey, and to carry out his job duties, Plaintiff would
travel back-and-forth between his home and NINS's
headquarter in Pennsylvania. Pl.'s Certification, ¶
12. As part of this work arrangement, Plaintiff claims that
Defendants facilitated and paid for “approximately
fifty (50) flights and for [his] lodging while [he] stay[ed]
in Pennsylvania for [NINS's] business.”
Id. Similarly, during his tenure as the Executive
Director, at the direction of Catherine Ryan
(“Ryan”), Chief Member of NINS's Board of
Trustees, NINS prepared and submitted Plaintiff's tax
paperwork to the State of New Jersey. Id.
a year after being hired as Executive Director, around
January 2016, Plaintiff was diagnosed with cancer. Compl.,
¶13. Consequently, Plaintiff began treatment and was
forced to take a leave of absence. Id. at ¶ 13;
Pl.'s Certification, ¶ 3. At some point after
beginning treatment, Plaintiff claims that Ryan directed him
to conduct NINS's business from his home in New Jersey.
Pl.'s Certification, ¶ 13. During that time, Ryan
and another employee of NINS scheduled plans to travel to New
Jersey to meet with Plaintiff to conduct NINS's business.
April 2016, without Plaintiff's knowledge, NINS hired a
new Executive Director to replace Plaintiff. Compl., ¶
15. Subsequently, Plaintiff was notified by Ryan that
Plaintiff was being terminated, which Plaintiff believes was
related to his cancer treatment. Pl.'s Certification
¶¶ 4-5; Compl., ¶ 17. At some point
thereafter, Plaintiff retained an employment attorney in
Pennsylvania relating to his potential wrongful termination
claims. See Pl.'s Certification, ¶ 9.
and NINS engaged in negotiations to resolve claims Plaintiff
may have had against NINS. Id. at ¶ 6. An
agreement was reached and mailed to Plaintiff in New Jersey.
Id. The same day Plaintiff received the agreement,
which was sent to him in New Jersey via Federal Express,
NINS's attorney, in Pennsylvania, emailed Plaintiff
revoking the agreement. Id. When Plaintiff inquired
why the agreement had been revoked, NINS's attorney
indicated that, in an electronic correspondence, “the
decision to withdraw the offer was made in large part due to
the content of your recent emails . . . .” Id.
at ¶ 7.
Plaintiff “noticed that hundreds of [his] personal
email[s] . . . had been deleted.” Id. at
¶ 8. Plaintiff alleges that the emails served as
evidence for his wrongful termination claim. Compl., ¶
31. Plaintiff avers that he also noticed that files on his
personal computer “had disappeared, ” some of
which contained personal documents and an irreplaceable
manuscript. Pl.'s Certification, ¶ 8.
to Plaintiff, NINS's letter sent to his attorney is
evidence showing that Defendants accessed Plaintiff's
computer. That letter read in part:
Simultaneous with [Plaintiff's] engaging in discussions
with [Ryan] regarding the terms of his departure as
NINS's Interim Executive Director, [Plaintiff] - while
still a Trustee of NINS - was engaging in contemptible email
messaging to a Father Ian Ker (Ker) and at least one other
person in which your client disparaged NINS, acted in his own
self-interest at the expense of NINS, and affirmatively
sought to harm NINS's relationship with third parties.
Id. at ¶ 9.
alleges that Defendants intentionally and unlawfully
accessed, reviewed, and deleted his personal emails and files
on his computer. See Compl., ¶¶ 24-27.
There is no dispute that Defendants' alleged wrongful
activities were taken while Plaintiff and his computer were
in New Jersey. Id. at ¶¶ 30-32. Plaintiff
names the Individual Defendants in addition to NINS because,
he alleges, as members of NINS's Board of Directors, they
approved and oversaw the unlawful intrusions into his emails
and files. Id. at ¶¶ 7-8. Based on those
allegations, Plaintiff asserts violations of the Computer
Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. §1030, et
seq., Invasion of Privacy, and violation of New
Jersey's Computer Related Offense Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:38A-3.
Id. at ¶¶ 27-41.
instant matter, Defendants move to dismiss the complaint for
lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(2). Defendants argue that their conduct related to
Plaintiff is insufficient to meet the requisite minimum
contacts with New Jersey for them to be subject to personal
jurisdiction in this forum. Specifically, Defendants assert
that their conduct was not expressly aimed or directed at New
Jersey and they have no meaningful connection with New
Standard of Review
federal court sitting in New Jersey has jurisdiction over
parties to the extent provided under New Jersey state
law.” Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384
F.3d 93, 96 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(e); see
also Carteret Sav. Bank, FA v. Shushan, 954 F.2d 141,
144 (3d Cir. 1992)). “[T]he New Jersey long-arm statute
permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction to the fullest
limits of due process.” IMO Indus., Inc. v. Kiekert
AG, 155 F.3d 254, 259 (3d Cir. 1998) (citations
context of a motion to dismiss for lack of personal
jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2),
“when the court does not hold an evidentiary hearing on
the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff need only establish a
prima facie case of personal jurisdiction and the
plaintiff is entitled to have its allegations taken as true
and all factual disputes drawn in its favor.”
Miller Yacht Sales, Inc., 384 F.3d at 97; see
also Toys “R” Us, Inc. v. Step Two, S.A.,
318 F.3d 446, 457 (3d Cir. 2003). Still, plaintiff
“‘bears the burden to prove, by a preponderance
of the evidence, ' that personal jurisdiction is
proper.” Cerciello v. Canale, 563 F. App'x
924, 925 n.1 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Carteret Sav. Bank,
FA, 954 F.2d at 146). In order “[t]o meet that
burden, [plaintiff] must ‘establish[ ] jurisdictional
facts through sworn affidavits or other competent
evidence.'” Id. (quoting Miller Yacht
Sales, Inc., 384 F.3d at 101 n.6). “Once the
plaintiff has shown minimum contacts, the burden shifts to
the defendant, who must show that the assertion of
jurisdiction would be unreasonable.” Ameripay, LLC
v. Ameripay Payroll, Ltd., 334 F.Supp.2d 629, 633
(D.N.J. 2004) (citing Mellon Bank (East) PSFS v.
Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1226 (3d Cir. 1992)).
subject a defendant to personal jurisdiction in New Jersey,
Due Process requires that the defendant “have certain
minimum contacts with [New Jersey] such that the maintenance
of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of
fair play and substantial justice.'” Int'l
Shoe Co. v. State of Wash., Office of Unemployment Comp. and
Placement, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (quoting
Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1940)).
“In judging minimum contacts, a court properly focuses
on ‘the relationship among the defendant, the forum,
and the litigation.'” Calder v. Jones, 465
U.S. 783, 788 (1984) (quoting Shaffer v. Heitner,
433 U.S. 186, 204 (1977)). “Personal jurisdiction may
be exercised under two distinct theories, a defendant's
general or claim-specific contacts with the forum.”
Remick v. Manfredy, 238 F.3d 248, 255 (3d Cir.
2001); Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court,
No. 16-466, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 3873, at *10 (Jun. 19, 2017).
Plaintiff concedes that Defendants “lack[ ] the
‘continuous and systematic' contacts to satisfy the
requirements for general jurisdiction.” Pl.'s Br.
3. Thus, the question before the Court is whether there is
claim-specific jurisdiction over Defendants, which
“depends on an affiliatio[n] between the forum and the
underlying controversy (i.e., an activity or an
occurrence that takes place in the forum State and is
therefore subject to the State's regulation).”
Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 1121 n.6 (2014)
(alterations original) (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires
Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011)
(internal quotations and citations omitted)).
examine whether specific jurisdiction exists, courts apply a
(1) Defendant's activities must be purposefully directed
at the forum;
(2) “[P]laintiff's claim[s] must arise out of or
relate to at least one of those specific activities”;
(3) The assertion of jurisdiction must be reasonable or
“otherwise comport with fair play and substantial
Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 296 (3d Cir. 2007)
(internal quotations and citations omitted);
Bristol-Myers, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 3873, at *11.
Relevant here, where plaintiff is the focus of an
out-of-state defendant's allegedly tortious activity,
specific personal jurisdiction is determined by the
“effects test” adopted in Calder,
see Remick, 238 F.3d at 258 (“[T]he Supreme
Court set forth the ‘effects test' for determining
personal jurisdiction over nonresident defendants who
allegedly committed an intentional tort outside the
forum.”), which inherently assesses whether defendants
“purposefully directed [their] activities toward the
residents of the forum state or otherwise purposefully
avail[ed themselves] of the privilege of conducting
activities within the forum State.” IMO
Indus., Inc., 155 F.3d at 259 (internal
quotations and citations omitted); Verizon Online
Servs., Inc. v. Ralsky, 203 F.Supp.2d 601,
612-16 (E.D. Va. 2002); see also Picot v. Weston,
780 F.3d 1206, 1214 (9th Cir. 2015).
case, Plaintiff alleges that the out-of-state Defendants
hacked into his computer and deleted emails and other data,
which constitute tortious activity. In that regard, there is
no dispute that the Calder “effects
test” applies here, because whether tortious conduct is
committed via the Internet or in more traditional means, does
not change the inquiry of the location where Defendants
purposefully aimed their alleged cyberactivity. See
Ralsky, 203 F.Supp.2d at 612-17; accord Zippo Mfg.
Co. v. Zippo DotCom, Inc., 952 F.Supp. 1119,
1124 (W.D. Pa. 1997) (explaining that determinations of
minimum contacts should not lead to “[d]ifferent
results . . . simply ...