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Dayton v. Higdon

United States District Court, D. Utah

March 28, 2019

ALEX DAYTON, Plaintiff,
v.
KAREN HIGDON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF NO. 3)

          EVELYN J. FURSE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Defendant Karen Higdon moves the Court[1] to dismiss Plaintiff Alex Dayton's Complaint (ECF No. 2-1) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of personal jurisdiction. (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (“Mot.”), ECF No. 3.) Ms. Higdon argues she lacks sufficient contact with Utah for the Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over her. (Id. at 3-8.) Mr. Dayton brings claims against Ms. Higdon for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and conversion and civil conspiracy to commit conversion. (Compl. ¶¶ 21-40, ECF No. 2-1.) He contends Ms. Higdon voluntarily and purposefully directed her activities at him when she “reached out to submit a proposal for services”, and she knew or should have known that he resided in Utah. (Mem. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (“Opp'n”) 2-3, 5, ECF No. 16.) Additionally, after Mr. Dayton accepted Ms. Higdon's proposal, Mr. Dayton contends Ms. Higdon performed services for him on a “sustained” basis for approximately twenty-six months. (Id. at 2.)

         Having considered the parties' briefing, supporting affidavits, oral argument, and the law, the Court GRANTS Ms. Higdon's Motion to Dismiss because Mr. Dayton failed to make a prima facie showing that Ms. Higdon had sufficient minimum contacts with the State of Utah to exercise jurisdiction.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         “ ‘To obtain personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant in a diversity action, a plaintiff must show that jurisdiction is legitimate under the laws of the forum state and that the exercise of jurisdiction does not offend the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.' ” Soma Med. Int'l v. Standard Chartered Bank, 196 F.3d 1292, 1295 (10th Cir.1999) (quoting Far W. Capital, Inc. v. Towne, 46 F.3d 1071, 1074 (10th Cir. 1995)). “This is because a federal district court's authority to assert personal jurisdiction in most cases is linked to service of process on a defendant ‘who is subject to the jurisdiction of a court of general jurisdiction in the state where the district court is located.' ” Walden v. Fiore, 571 U.S. 277, 283, (2014) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A)).

         Under Utah's long-arm statute, transacting business within or contracting to supply services in the state subjects a person to jurisdiction within the state. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-3-205(1)-(2). Utah further confers the maximum jurisdiction “to the fullest extent permitted by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Utah Code. Ann. § 78B-3-201(3). Therefore, the Court must determine whether exercising personal jurisdiction over Ms. Higdon “comports with the limits imposed by federal due process.” Walden, 571 U.S. at 283 (quoting Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 125 (2014)).

         The Due Process Clause permits assertion of personal jurisdiction only when the defendant has sufficient “ ‘minimum contacts' ” with the state, so that the exercise of jurisdiction would “not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.' ” Helicopteros Nacionales v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 (1984) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). “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 Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 471-72 (1985) (quoting Int'l Shoe, 326 U.S. at 319). A court can satisfy the “minimum contacts” standard either through specific or general jurisdiction. OMI Holdings, Inc. v. Royal Ins. Co., 149 F.3d 1086, 1090-91 (10th Cir. 1998).

         In this case, Mr. Dayton conceded at oral argument that the Court could not maintain general jurisdiction over Ms. Higdon. Accordingly, the Court reviews Ms. Higdon's contacts with Utah to determine whether it can exercise specific jurisdiction over Ms. Higdon and whether that exercise offends due process. See id., 149 F.3d at 1091. A court may assert specific jurisdiction over a defendant 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 relate to' those activities.” Burger King, 471 U.S. at 472 (quoting Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 465 U.S. 770, 774 & Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 414).

         The specific jurisdiction inquiry has two stages. First, the court determines “whether the defendant has such minimum contacts with the forum state ‘that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.' ” OMI Holdings, 149 F.3d at 1091 (quoting World-Wide Volkswagen v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1979)). The test to determine whether the defendant has established such minimum contacts has two subparts. First, the court considers whether the defendant “ ‘purposefully directed' his activities at residents of the forum.” Burger King, 471 U.S. at 472 (quoting Keeton, 465 U.S. at 774). Next, the court considers “whether the plaintiff's claim arises out of or results from ‘actions by the defendant himself that create a substantial connection with the forum state.' ” OMI Holdings, 149 F.3d at 1091 (emphasis in original) (quoting Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Super. Ct., 480 U.S. 102, 109 (1987)).

         If the defendant's actions meet the specific jurisdiction test, the court moves on to consider “whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant offends “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.' ” OMI Holdings, 149 F.3d at 1091 (quoting Asahi, 480 U.S. at 113). The Tenth Circuit cites approvingly Ticketmaster-New York, Inc. v. Alioto, which describes the interplay between the two stages of the personal jurisdiction analysis:

We think ... that the reasonableness prong of the due process inquiry evokes a sliding scale: the weaker the plaintiff's showing on [minimum contacts], the less a defendant need show in terms of unreasonableness to defeat jurisdiction. The reverse is equally true: an especially strong showing of reasonableness may serve to fortify a borderline showing of [minimum contacts].

OMI Holdings, 149 F.3d at 1092 (alterations in original) (quoting Ticketmaster-New York, Inc. v. Alioto, 26 F.3d 201, 210 (1st Cir. 1994)).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         “ ‘The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Prior to trial, however, when a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction is decided on the basis of affidavits and other written materials, the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing.' ” Ten Mile Indus. Park v. W. Plains Serv. Corp., 810 F.2d 1518, 1524 (10th Cir. 1987) (quoting Behagen v. Amateur Basketball Ass'n, 744 F.2d 731, 733 (10th Cir. 1984)). “ ‘The plaintiff may make this prime facie showing by demonstrating, via affidavit or other written materials, facts that if true would support jurisdiction over the defendant.' ” AST Sports Sci., Inc. v. CLF Distrib. Ltd., 514 F.3d 1054, 1057 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting OMI Holdings, 149 F.3d at 1091). “ ‘The allegations in the complaint must be taken as true to the extent they are uncontroverted by the defendant's affidavits. If the parties present conflicting affidavits, all factual disputes are resolved in the plaintiff's favor, and the plaintiff's prima facie showing is sufficient notwithstanding the contrary presentation by the moving party.' ” Kennedy v. ...


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