March 2, 2017
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
Camden County, Docket No. L-2690-14 .
Jonathan O'Boyle argued the cause for appellant (The
O'Boyle Law Firm, P.C. and Law Offices of David Alan
Klein, P.C., attorneys; David Alan Klein, on the brief).
Stephen M. Orlofsky argued the cause for respondent (Blank
Rome LLP, attorneys; Mr. Orlofsky, of counsel; Adrienne C.
Rogove, of counsel and on the brief; Ethan M. Simon, on the
Judges Lihotz, Hoffman and Whipple.
fundamental question in every legal action is whether a given
court has jurisdiction to preside over a given case. Absent
personal jurisdiction over the parties, a judge has no
authority to proceed. Plaintiff Dutch Run-Mays Draft, LLC, a
West Virginia limited liability company, operating as a
Chapter 11 Debtor-in-possession, maintains the Law Division
judge erroneously dismissed its professional negligence
complaint after concluding the court lacked personal
jurisdiction over defendant, Wolf Block, LLP, a now-dissolved
Pennsylvania law firm. On appeal, plaintiff argues a
corporate entity's registration and acceptance of service
of process in the state constitutes consent to submit to the
general jurisdiction of the New Jersey courts.
counters, arguing the United States Supreme Court's
recent ruling in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S.___,
134 S.Ct. 746, 187 L.Ed.2d 624 (2014), recites the minimum
due process requisites to establish general jurisdiction,
which have not been met in this case. Defendant asserts
Daimler requires a court focus on an entity's
affiliation with the state, such as the place of
incorporation or a continuous, systematic course of business,
making the entity "at home" in the forum.
Id. at ___, 134 S.Ct. at 761, 187 L.Ed.2d at 641.
the United States Supreme Court has recently clarified and
reaffirmed the limits of a state's ability to exercise
general jurisdiction over foreign corporations. See BNSF
Ry. Co. v. Tyrell, 581 U.S. ___, 137 S.Ct. 1549, 198
L.Ed.2d 36 (2017); Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior
Court of Calif., 582 U.S. ___, ___ S.Ct. ___,
___ L.Ed.2d ___ (June 19, 2017).
our review and in accord with considerations of due process,
we conclude mere registration to do business and acceptance
of service of process in this state, absent more, does not
bestow our courts with general jurisdiction.
headquartered in Florida, hired Henry Miller, a Pennsylvania
partner of defendant, to provide legal representation in the
purchase and development of 5, 000 acres of real property
located in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Following the
2004 closing, plaintiff discovered title defects, which
rendered the property "wholly unsuitable" for
residential development. On September 30, 2011, plaintiff
filed for relief in the Bankruptcy Court of the Southern
District of Florida, pursuant to Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy
Code, and therefore, has proceeded as a debtor-in-possession.
See 11 U.S.C.A. § 1101.
is a dissolved Pennsylvania limited partnership, which, in
years past, maintained two New Jersey offices. Following the
partners' March 23, 2009 vote to dissolve the
partnership, defendant ceased all activity as a law firm.
Also relevant to this action, on March 23, 2009 the
firm's New Jersey offices were closed and all employees
were terminated. Defendant's remaining activities
consisted of winding down outstanding matters and completing
dissolution, supervised by a "Wind Down Committee."
When plaintiff's complaint was initially filed in 2014,
defendant had no more than two remaining employees, who both
lived and worked in Pennsylvania, and who focused solely on
concluding defendant's affairs. However, defendant
retained its New Jersey business registration and registered
recorded the action, defendant maintained it was not subject
to the Superior Court's jurisdiction and moved to dismiss
plaintiff's complaint. Plaintiff opposed the motion,
arguing when the alleged negligent conduct arose, numerous
partners of defendant resided in Camden County, and several
New Jersey residents were members of the "Wind Down
Committee." Plaintiff averred additional specific
instances of conduct as demonstrating defendant transacted
business with plaintiff in New Jersey. Defendant replied,
producing documents verifying work on the West Virginia
project, which triggered the underlying negligence claims,
was neither undertaken nor billed from respondent's New
Jersey offices. Further, defendant showed Henry Miller was
not licensed to practice law in New Jersey, no physical
meetings took place in New Jersey, and only two phone calls
were placed from Philadelphia to New Jersey relative to the
brief oral opinion, the judge concluded plaintiff failed to
establish a basis for personal jurisdiction, granted
defendant's motion, and dismissed plaintiff's
complaint on September 11, 2015. Plaintiff timely appealed,
requesting we reverse the order.
considering a defendant's motion to dismiss a
plaintiff's complaint because the court lacks
"jurisdiction over the person, " ...