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Prince v. Ward

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

February 1, 2018

JUSTIN K. PRINCE, Plaintiff,
JESSIE LEE WARD, et. al, Defendants.


          Dee Benson United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction or in the alternative, to transfer venue. [Dkt. 10]. The motion has been fully briefed and a hearing was held on January 23, 2018. At the hearing, Plaintiff was represented by Mark James and Mitchell Stephens. Defendant was represented by Jared Anderson. Based on the parties' written and oral arguments and on the relevant facts and the law, the Court enters the following Order.


         Plaintiff Justin Prince is a resident of Utah who works as a distributor for Modere, a mulit-level marketing company headquartered in Springville, Utah. He operates his business from Utah and many of his downline distributors are also located in the state. Defendant is a resident of Maryland and a former distributor for Modere. She has traveled to Utah occasionally as part of her relationship with Modere.

         Plaintiff filed this action alleging Defendant defamed him by posting false accusations about him in an online social media chat room. Specifically, the Amended Complaint asserts that Defendant accused Plaintiff of, among other things, inappropriate sexual conduct with women not his wife and being addicted to opiods. [Dkt. 4]. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant directed a private investigator, acting as her agent, to send an email to Modere executives containing accusations that Plaintiff engaged in intimate acts with a named Modere business associate alleged to have a sexually-transmitted disease. Id. Plaintiff contends that Defendant claimed to have tapped Modere's telephone system and attempted to entice the company to pay $40, 000 in cash in exchange for additional information about Plaintiff. Plaintiff maintains all of Defendant's allegations are false and that Defendant's motivation was to “ruin” his reputation; cause him to be terminated by Modere; and destroy his business and family. Id. The Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff told others she wants Defendant “destroyed, ” and that she would “love nothing more than to see him lose his house, his wife, and even his life.” Id.

         Plaintiff claims he has suffered permanent damage to his reputation and business and he asserts four causes of action in the Amended Complaint: (1) defamation/slander/libel; (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (3) tortious interference with business relations; and (4) conspiracy. Defendant moves to dismiss this action based on lack of personal jurisdiction. In the alternative, she seeks a change of venue to the District of Maryland.


         To obtain personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant in a diversity action, a plaintiff must show that: (1) jurisdiction is legitimate under the laws of the forum state; and (2) the exercise of jurisdiction does not offend the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Soma Medical Int'l v. Standard Chartered Bank, 196 F.3d 1292, 1295 (10th Cir. 1999).

         A. Jurisdiction Under State Law

         Utah law expressly states that its long arm statute must be interpreted broadly “so as to assert jurisdiction over nonresident defendants to the fullest extent permitted by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Utah Code § 78B-3-201; see also Starways, Inc. v. Curry, 980 F.2d 204, 206 (Utah 1999) (“We have held that the Utah long-arm statute ‘must be extended to the fullest extent allowed by due process of law.”) (quoting Synergetics v. Marathon Ranching Co., 701 F.2d 1106, 1110 (Utah 1985)). Because the Utah long-arm statute confers the maximum jurisdiction permissible consistent with the Due Process Clause, the Court proceeds to determine whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Defendant meets federal due process standards.

         B. Due Process Analysis

         “The Due Process Clause protects an individual's liberty interest in not being subject to the binding judgments of a forum with which he has established no meaningful ‘contacts, ties, or relations.'” Burger King, 471 U.S. at 471-72 (quoting International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 319 (1945)). Accordingly, a “court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant only so long as there exist ‘minimum contacts' between the defendant and the forum state.” World Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 291 (1980) (quoting International Shoe, 326 U.S. at 316). Minimum contacts sufficient to assert specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant exist where “the defendant has ‘purposefully directed' his activities at residents of the forum, and the litigation results from alleged injuries that arise out of or are related to those activities.” Burger King, 471 U.S. at 472.

         1. Minimum Contacts

         A defendant may be found to have “purposefully directed” his activities in the forum state where a plaintiff has alleged “(a) an intentional action . . . that was (b) expressly aimed at the forum state . . . with (c) knowledge that the brunt of the injury would be felt in the forum state.” Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984); Dudnikov v. Chalk & Vermilion Fine Arts, Inc., 514 F.3d 1063 (2008). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals explained that “actions that are performed for the very purpose of having their consequences felt ...

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