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Duchesneau v. Cornell University

February 26, 2009

RANDALL DUCHESNEAU, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORNELL UNIVERSITY, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: C. Darnell Jones II, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Jones, J.

This matter arises out of a tragic accident which occurred on October 12, 2006, on the campus of Cornell University ("Cornell") in Ithaca, New York. Now under consideration is (1) Defendant Cornell's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2) and (3), or, in the Alternative, Transfer This Action to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York (Docket No. 5) and (2) Defendant TumbleTrak's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3) (Docket No. 4). For the following reasons, the motions will be granted.

I. Facts and Procedural Posture

On October 12, 2006, at approximately 11:00 p.m., Plaintiff Randall Duchesneau ("Plaintiff"), a twenty-one year old Pennsylvania resident, was utilizing a TumblTrak gymnastic tumbling training apparatus located in the Teagle Gymnasium on the campus of Cornell. After Plaintiff attempted a backwards jumping gymnastic maneuver on the TumblTrak, he landed squarely in the center of the apparatus, causing him to suffer catastrophic, permanent spinal injuries, which have rendered him a quadriplegic who is totally dependant on a motorized, reclined wheelchair.

On or about October 10, 2009, Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging negligence and products liability. Plaintiff alleged diversity of citizenship between the parties. Defendant Cornell has filed a Motion to Dismiss in which it asserts that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Cornell or, in the alternative, that venue is improper in this District. Defendant TumblTrak has filed a Motion to Dismiss in which it only asserts that venue is improper in this District. Plaintiff has opposed both motions on the grounds that the Court has personal jurisdiction over both Defendants and that venue is proper in this District.

II. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(e) allows a district court to assert personal jurisdiction over a non-resident to the extent allowed by the law of the state in which it sits. See Time Share Vacation Club v. Atlantic Resorts, Ltd., 735 F.2d 61, 63 (3d Cir. 1984). Pennsylvania's long-arm statute provides that a court may exercise personal jurisdiction over non-residents "to the fullest extent allowed under the Constitution of the United States." 42 Pa. C. S.A. § 5322(b).

Due process requires that the defendant have "minimum contacts" with the forum state, and that the exercise of jurisdiction comports with "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Remick v. Manfredy, 238 F.3d 248, 255 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). "Minimum contacts must have a basis in 'some act by which the defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws.'" Remick, 238 F.3d at 255 (quoting Asahi Metal Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Superior Court of California, 480 U.S. 102, 109 (1987). When determining whether personal jurisdiction exists, the court must resolve the question based on the circumstances that the particular case presents. Burger King v. Rudziewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 485 (1985).

A court may exercise personal jurisdiction based on a defendant's general or specific contacts with the forum. General jurisdiction is based upon the defendant's "continuous and systematic contacts" with the forum. General Elec. Co. v. Deutz AG, 270 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414-416, (1984)). Specific jurisdiction is appropriate only if the "plaintiff's cause of action arises out of a defendant's forum-related activities, such that the defendant 'should reasonably expect being haled into court' in that forum." Vetrotex Certainteed Corp. v. Consol. Fiber Glass Prod. Co., 75 F.3d 147, 151 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting Worldwide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980)). Specific jurisdiction is established where the defendant "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." BP Chemicals Ltd. v. Formosa Chemical & Fibre Corp., 229 F.3d 254, 259 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Burger King, 471 U.S. at 472).

To find that a plaintiff's claims "arise out of or relate to" the defendant's contacts with the forum state, the Third Circuit requires "a closer and more direct causal connection than that provided by the but-for test." O'Connor v. Sandy Lane Hotel Co., Ltd., 496 F.3d 312, 323 (3d Cir. 2007). However, the required causal connection is looser than the tort concept of proximate causation. Id. (citing Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 99-100 (3d. Cir. 2004)). The appropriate analysis is fact-intensive, focusing on the "reciprocity principle upon which specific jurisdiction rests" -- whether the defendant received the benefits and protections of a state's laws to the extent that it should, as a quid pro quo, submit to the burden of litigation in the state. O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 323.

In deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the allegations of the complaint are taken as true. However, once a jurisdictional defense is raised, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving, through affidavits, or competent evidence, sufficient contacts with the forum state to establish personal jurisdiction. See Dayhoff Inc. v. H.J. Heinz Co., 86 F.3d 1287, 1302 (3d Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1028 (1996)). The plaintiff must establish those contacts with reasonable particularity. See Mellon Bank (East) PSFS, Nat'l Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir. 1996). Once the plaintiff makes out a prima facie case in favor of personal jurisdiction, the burden shifts to the defendant to establish that the presence of some other considerations would render jurisdiction unreasonable. See Carteret Sav. Bank v. Shushan, 954 F.2d 141, 150 (3d Cir. 1992).

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k), a District Court typically exercises personal jurisdiction according to the law of the state where it sits. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(1)(A). Because this case was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Court applies the Pennsylvania long-arm statute. It provides for jurisdiction "based on the most minimum contact with th[e] Commonwealth allowed under the Constitution of the United States." 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5322(b); see Mellon Bank (East) PSFS, 960 F.2d at 1221. Accordingly, in determining whether personal jurisdiction exists, we ask whether, under the Due Process Clause, the defendant has "certain minimum contacts with ... [Pennsylvania] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." See Int'l Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 316 (internal quotation omitted).

III. Discussion

A. Cornell University

1. Personal Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant may be based either upon the specific acts of the defendant which gave rise to the cause of action (specific jurisdiction), or upon the defendant's general activity within the forum state (general jurisdiction). See Burger King, 471 U.S. at 473 & n. 15. These categories constitute "two distinct theories," and Pennsylvania caselaw recognizes the importance of separate analyses. O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 321 (citing Remick, 238 F.3d at 255; Grimes, 17 F.3d at 1559).

Under this rubric, we turn to Pennsylvania law, which, as described above, reaches to the full extent of the United States Constitution. In order for a Pennsylvania court to assert specific jurisdiction, the cause of action must arise out of the defendant's activities within the Commonwealth. See 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5322; Skinner v. Flymo, 351 Pa. Super. 234, 239 (1986). General jurisdiction, on the other hand, exists regardless of whether the cause of action is related to the defendant's activities in Pennsylvania, as long as the defendant's activities in this Commonwealth are "continuous and substantial." See Skinner, 351 Pa. Super. at 239-40 (citing Bork v. Mills, 458 Pa. 228, 231-232 (1974); Slota v. Moorings, Ltd., 343 Pa. Super. 96, 104-07, (1985)). Regardless of which test is used to impose jurisdiction over a non-resident, the result must satisfy the due process requirements of the United States Constitution -- i.e., that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

Id.; Int'l Shoe, 326 U.S. at 316.

a. Specific Jurisdiction

The inquiry as to whether specific jurisdiction exists has three parts. First, the defendant must have purposefully directed its activities toward the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 317; Burger King Corp., 471 U.S. at 472. Second, the litigation must arise out of or relate to at least one of those activities. O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 317 (citing Grimes v. Vitalink Commc'ns Corp., 17 F.3d 1553, 1559 (3d Cir. 1994)); Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 414. Third, if the prior two requirements are met, a court may consider whether the exercise of jurisdiction otherwise "comport[s] with 'fair play and substantial justice.' " O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 317; Burger King, 471 U.S. at 476 (quoting Int'l Shoe, 326 U.S. at 320).

In Pennsylvania, this specific jurisdiction long-arm statute is codified at 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5322. Plaintiff asserts that Cornell has satisfied the requirements for the exercise of specific jurisdiction because Cornell meets one of the specific categories of contacts listed under § 5322 -- namely, either subsection (a)(1)(v) or (a)(5) concerning the ownership, use, or possession of any real property located within the Commonwealth. To wit, Plaintiff refers to Cornell's "Middle Atlantic Regional Office," which operates out of an office suite in Eagle, Chester County, Pennsylvania. This office is charged with "serv[ing] as the regionally based representative to the Cornell Clubs and Alumni Associations," as well as "generally represent[ing] Cornell University to the alumni, parents, students and friends of Cornell throughout the Middle Atlantic Region."*fn1

See http://www.alumni.cornell.edu/regional/ma/index.cfm.*fn2

Even assuming, arguendo, that Plaintiff could satisfy the first (action directed toward Pennsylvania) and third (fair play and substantial justice) prongs of the specific jurisdiction test based on this minimum contact,*fn3 the second prong (relationship to the cause of action) proves fatal to Plaintiff's argument. As stated, it is a fundamental principal of specific jurisdiction jurisprudence that that the cause of action arise from the non-resident's activities within Pennsylvania. The animating principle behind this relatedness requirement is the notion of a tacit quid pro quo that makes litigation in the forum reasonably foreseeable. That is, out-of-state residents who exercise the privilege of conducting activities within a state enjoy the benefits and protection of the state's laws; in exchange, they must submit to jurisdiction over claims that arise from or relate to those activities. O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 322 (citing Int'l Shoe, 326 U.S. at 319; Burger King, 471 U.S. at 475-76). The relatedness requirement's function is to maintain balance in this reciprocal exchange and limit jurisdictional exposure to situations where a cause of action is closely tailored to a contact's accompanying substantive obligations. O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 322-23. While this does not mean that the defendant's activities have to be ...


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