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GALLANT v. TRUSTEES OF COLUMBIA UNV. CITY OF NEW YORK

September 2, 2000

MARK H. GALLANT, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM ASH GALLANT, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
V.
TRUSTEES OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marvin Katz, Senior Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Now before the court is defendant Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York's (Columbia)*fn1 motion for reconsideration of the court's order denying its Motion to Dismiss or to Transfer Venue. The court finds that it lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendant and that transfer to the Southern District of New York is appropriate.

I. Background and Jurisdictional Facts

This action stems from the untimely death of William Ash Gallant, the teenage son of plaintiff Mark Gallant. The decedent, who suffered from a heart condition, was a patient of Dr. Welton M. Gersony from June 1998 until his death in August 1998. The plaintiff alleges that Dr. Gersony is an employee of Columbia who treated the decedent within the scope of his employment and that he can therefore recover against Columbia.*fn2 Dr. Gersony operated on William at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City in June. A resident of Pennsylvania, William received post-operative care from Dr. Gersony in New York City on at least two occasions. The plaintiff alleges that, based on Dr. Gersony's recommendations, he and his wife canceled William's previously scheduled July appointment with his regular pediatric cardiologist at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. While on vacation in New Jersey in August, William died, allegedly from complications stemming from the surgery performed by Dr. Gersony. The plaintiff filed suit in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia County, and the defendant timely removed the action to this court.

Columbia is a New York corporation, and its principal place of business is New York. The defendant does not own or lease any property in Pennsylvania. The plaintiff alleges that Columbia has the following contacts with this forum that allow the exercise of general jurisdiction over it: a student body that includes Pennsylvania residents whose tuition generates income for the school; collection actions filed by Columbia in the Commonwealth's Common Pleas Court; at least four trust accounts overseen by First Union National Bank in Philadelphia; fund raising and recruitment activities in Pennsylvania; participation by Columbia professors and other employees in conferences, visiting professorships, and other academic activities in Pennsylvania; participation in revenue-generating athletic events in this state; and research contracts or agreements to conduct clinical trials between the defendant and at least six pharmaceutical companies conducting business in Philadelphia. The defendant does not dispute that these contacts exist, but argues that they are not sufficient to allow general jurisdiction.

Alternatively, the plaintiff alleges that Dr. Gersony and his associates have numerous contacts with Pennsylvania that support the exercise of specific jurisdiction over Columbia. Prior to performing cardiac surgery on William, Dr. Gersony engaged in several phone calls with the Gallants. He also sent written materials to their home in the Philadelphia suburbs to encourage them to place their son under his care. During William's post-operative care, Dr. Gersony initiated a phone conversation with his regular physician in Philadelphia. When the Gallants called Dr. Gersony's office in July because William was experiencing pain and discomfort, one of Dr. Gersony's associates, also alleged to be a Columbia employee, interviewed William by telephone and then contacted Children's Hospital regarding his condition. In addition, after William's death, Dr. Gersony contacted the Gallants in Pennsylvania by telephone and letter. He also sent a letter and medical summary to William's Philadelphia physician.

II. Discussion

Columbia argues that this court does not have personal jurisdiction over it. It seeks dismissal of the action or, in the alternative, transfer to the Southern District of New York. Generally, the question of personal jurisdiction should be decided before a court turns to the issue of venue, unless there is a sound reason for deciding venue first. See Leroy v. Great W. United Corp., 443 U.S. 173, 180 (1979).

A. Personal Jurisdiction

A federal court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant to the extent permitted by the law of the state where it sits. See Fed.R.Civ.Pro. 4(e); see also Mellon Bank (East) PSFS, Nat'l Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1221 (3d Cir. 1992). Pennsylvania, like many other states, permits its courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over non-residents to the extent permitted by the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment. See 42 Pa. C.S. § 5322(b); see also Mellon Bank (East), 960 F.2d at 1221. Therefore, the pertinent inquiry is whether exercise of personal jurisdiction over Columbia violates the due process clause. See id. Under the due process clause, "a court may not assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant who does not have `certain minimum contacts with [the forum] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice'" Provident Nat'l Bank v. California Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 437 (3d Cir. 1987) (quoting International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (internal citation, punctuation omitted)). These minimum contacts must be such that the defendant "should be reasonably able to anticipate being haled into court in the forum state." Provident Nat'l Bank, 819 F.2d at 437.

When the defendant challenges the exercise of personal jurisdiction over it, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating, with reasonable particularity, the extent and nature of the defendant's contacts with the forum. See Gehling v. St. George's Sch. of Med., Ltd., 777 F.2d 539, 542 (3d Cir. 1985). A plaintiff may meet this burden by establishing the court's general jurisdiction by virtue of the defendant's "continuous and systematic general business contacts" with the forum state. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 416 (1984); see also Provident Nat'l Bank, 819 F.2d at 437. Alternatively, a plaintiff may show that the court has specific jurisdiction because the particular cause of action arose from the defendant's forum-related activities. See Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 414. Here, the plaintiff here asserts that the exercise of either general or specific jurisdiction is proper.

1. General Jurisdiction

In the Third Circuit, a plaintiff must show more than mere minimum contacts before a court may exercise general jurisdiction. Rather, a nonresident's contacts "must be continuous and substantial." Provident Nat'l Bank, 819 F.2d at 437. When evaluating a corporation's ties to a forum, a court should look to that party's "purposeful and extensive availment" of the forum, id., and consider the degree to which the corporation's contacts are "central to the conduct of its business." Id. at 438; see also Molnlycke Health Care AB v. Dumex Med. Surgical Prods., Ltd., 64 F. Supp.2d 448, 450 (E.D.Pa. 1999) (same).

This case is controlled by Gehling, in which the Third Circuit held that St. George's School of Medicine, a Caribbean institution, did not have a sufficient nexus to Pennsylvania to subject the school to general jurisdiction. See 773 F.2d at 542. St. George's forum-related activities included advertising in national newspapers, such as the New York Times, that circulated in Pennsylvania; counting Pennsylvania residents among its student body; sending school representatives to Philadelphia as part of a "media swing" intended to raise St. George's profile; and entering into an agreement with a Pennsylvania college to establish a joint international program combining pre-medical studies in Pennsylvania with medical training in Grenada. See id. at 541-42. The court found that these contacts were insufficient. See id. at 542-43. It was particularly troubled by the notion that a school's student body, or the fact that it received funds from these students, could support jurisdiction:

Advanced educational institutions typically draw their student body from numerous states, and appellants' theory would subject them to suit on non-forum related claims in every state where a member of the student body resides. . . . For the same reason, the fact that St. George's may be said to derive some percentage of its revenue from Pennsylvania residents in return for services provided in Grenada does not subject it to in personam jurisdiction.

Id.

While the plaintiff here has presented more contacts than those considered by the Third Circuit in Gehling, none of these additional contacts demonstrate that Columbia has purposefully directed its activities to, or availed itself of, Pennsylvania. Rather these contacts are the result of Columbia's general participation in the type of interstate activity in which any nationally prominent educational institution would engage. In addition, the trust accounts that Columbia has with First Union are part of a common fund in which 1,200 universities participate. See Def. Supp. Mem. of Law in Support of Mot. for Recon., Ex. A at 34. First Union is the trustee, but the funds are kept in Boston by the custodian, Investment Bankers and Trust. See id. at 29-30. Subjecting Columbia, or any of the other fund 1,200 members to jurisdiction in Pennsylvania on this basis runs counter to Gehling's recognition that a college or university may have contact outside of its home state not directly related to its educational purpose without ...


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