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Mueller v. Sunshine Restaurant Merger Sub LLC

April 23, 2009

CYNTHIA J. MUELLER, PLAINTIFF
v.
SUNSHINE RESTAURANT MERGER SUB LLC, D/B/A INTERNATIONAL HOUSE OF PANCAKES CHESTER TAYLOR, OWNER, AND TAYLOR MADE 141, INC., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Smyser

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. Background and Procedural History

The plaintiff, Cynthia J. Mueller, commenced this action by filing a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of York County, Pennsylvania.

The caption of the complaint lists the defendant as "Sunshine Restaurant Merger Sub LLC dba International House of Pancakes Chester Taylor, Owner." Paragraph 2 of the complaint provides that "Defendant is Sunshine Restaurant Merger Sub LLC, owned by Chester Taylor; owner of International House of Pancakes (IHOP) located at 2900 W Intl Speedway Blvd Daytona Beach, Florida 32124." Although the complaint is ambiguous, we construe the complaint as naming two defendants: 1) Sunshine Restaurant Merger Sub LLC dba International House of Pancakes; and 2) Chester Taylor.*fn1 By a stipulation filed on April 23, 2009, the parties agreed that the complaint also names Taylor Made 141, Inc. as a defendant.

The plaintiff alleges that, on February 2, 2008, she was injured at an IHOP restaurant in Daytona Beach, Florida. She alleges that an employee of the restaurant attempted to lift a large wooden highchair over her head, dropped the highchair on her neck and shoulder and injured her.

On March 10, 2009, the defendants removed the case to this court.

The parties consented to proceed before a magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). A case management order was issued on April 17, 2009, and the case is scheduled for a jury trial beginning on April 5, 2010.

On March 23, 2009, the defendants*fn2 filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. On March 30, 2009, the defendants filed a brief in support of the motion to dismiss. On April 3, 2009, the plaintiff filed a response and a brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss. On April 10, 2009, the defendants filed a reply brief.

The defendants contend that the court lacks personal jurisdiction over them and that venue is not proper in this court.

We address the personal jurisdiction issue first.

II. Personal Jurisdiction

"In deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, we take the allegations of the complaint as true." Dayhoff Inc. v. H.J. Heinz Co., 86 F.3d 1287, 1302 (3d Cir. 1996). "But once a defendant has raised a jurisdictional defense, a plaintiff bears the burden of proving by affidavits or other competent evidence that jurisdiction is proper." Id. "However, when the court does not hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction and the plaintiff is entitled to have its allegations taken as true and all factual disputes drawn in its favor." Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 97 (3d Cir. 2004).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 authorizes federal courts to assert personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants to the extent permissible under the law of the state where the district courts sits. Mellon Bank (East) PSFS, Nat'l Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1221 (3d Cir. 1992). The forum state in this case is Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania law permits courts within Pennsylvania to exercise jurisdiction "to the fullest extent allowed under the Constitution of the United States" and provides that jurisdiction "may be based on the most minimum contact with this Commonwealth allowed under the Constitution of the United States." 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 5322(b). Thus, this court may properly exercise jurisdiction over the defendants as long as the exercise of that jurisdiction does not violate the due process rights of the defendants. Mellon, supra, 960 F.2d at 1221.

"The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that nonresident defendants have 'certain minimum contacts with [the forum state] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" Kehm Oil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 537 F.3d 290, 299-300 (3d Cir. 2008)(quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). "Having minimum contacts with another state provides 'fair warning' to a defendant that he or ...


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