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Orazi v. Hilton Hotels Corp.

November 19, 2010

DANTE ORAZI AND EILEEN ORAZI, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HILTON HOTELS CORPORATION D/B/A HAMPTON INN; HAMPTON INN; ALLEN STACY HOTEL, LTD.; GATEWAY HOSPITALITY LLC; GATEWAY GATEWAY HOSPITALITY GROUP, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rufe, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction and Improper Venue, or, in the Alternative for Transfer to the Eastern District of Texas, filed by Defendants Hampton Inn ("Hampton Inn"), Allen Stacy Hotel, Ltd. ("Allen Stacy") and Gateway Hospitality Group, Inc. ("Gateway Group") [Doc. No. 3]. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is denied with leave to renew following the close of jurisdictional discovery.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Dante and Eileen Orazi ("Plaintiffs"), both residents of Pennsylvania, bring counts of negligence and loss of consortium against Defendants for injuries occurring during their stay at a Texas hotel.*fn1 Mr. Orazi, age 80 at the time of the incident giving rise to these claims, researched hotels online from his home in Narberth, Pennsylvania.*fn2 He reserved a handicapped room at the Hampton Inn in Allen, Texas, a franchise hotel owned by Allen Stacy, via the website www.hilton.com or www.hamptoninn.com, and received confirmation of his reservation while in Pennsylvania.*fn3 When the Orazis arrived at the Allen, Texas Hampton Inn on October 25, 2007, they found their reservation to be in place, registered, and were assured they had a handicapped room.*fn4 At some point after the Orazis checked into their assigned room, Mr. Orazi "was caused to slip, trip and fall" in the bathroom, suffering injuries, including fractured vertebrae, that required surgery.*fn5

In October 2009, Plaintiffs filed a complaint in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas against Hilton Hotels Corporation, Inc. n/k/a Hilton Worldwide ("Hilton"), Hampton Inn, Allen Stacy Hotel, Ltd. ("Allen Stacy"), Gateway Hospitality LLC,*fn6 and Gateway Hospitality Group, Inc. ("Gateway Group"), alleging negligence and loss of consortium. Defendants removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a) and 1441(a) [Doc. No. 1]. On December 21, 2009, Defendants Allen Stacy, Gateway Group, Hampton Inn and Hilton filed the pending motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue, pursuant to Rules 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or, in the alternative for transfer to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Hilton has since withdrawn from the motion entirely [Doc. Nos. 13 & 14] and has filed no further answer or alternative motion,*fn7 and Gateway Group has since conceded it is subject to personal jurisdiction in Pennsylvania, and thus challenges only venue.*fn8 Accordingly, the pending motion for dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction applies only as to Hampton Inn and Allen Stacy, and the motion for dismissal for improper venue applies as to Hampton Inn, Allen Stacy and Gateway Group ("Moving Defendants").

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Plaintiffs bear the burden of demonstrating personal jurisdiction over Hampton Inn and Allen Stacy.*fn9 If a jurisdictional defense is raised and neither discovery nor an evidentiary hearing has been held, a plaintiff need make only a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction.*fn10 Courts must construe all disputed facts alleged in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.*fn11

Plaintiffs, however, cannot rely on general averments in the complaint or unsupported statements in their response, but must instead provide jurisdictional facts supported by affidavits or competent evidence to sustain their burden.*fn12 That burden is met "by establishing with reasonable particularity sufficient contacts between the defendant and the forum state."*fn13

Whereas Plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction, Defendants bear the burden of showing improper venue.*fn14 "In considering a motion to dismiss for improper venue, courts must generally accept as true the allegations in the Complaint, although the parties may submit affidavits in support of their positions."*fn15 But the court must "draw all reasonable inferences and resolve all factual conflicts in favor of the Plaintiff."*fn16

III. DISCUSSION

A. Personal Jurisdiction

Federal courts in Pennsylvania may assert jurisdiction over a defendant to the extent that the defendant would be subject to jurisdiction in Pennsylvania state courts.*fn17 Pennsylvania's long-arm statute permits the exercise of jurisdiction over non-resident defendants to the full extent permitted under the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution.*fn18 To establish general jurisdiction-jurisdiction based on contacts with the state that are unrelated to the cause of action-due process requires the plaintiff to demonstrate that the non-resident defendant's contacts with Pennsylvania were "continuous and systematic."*fn19 The standard is demanding.*fn20 Specific jurisdiction may be found where the plaintiff's claim is "related to or arises out of the defendant's contacts with the forum," and the defendant had "the minimum contacts with the forum necessary for the defendant to have reasonably anticipate[d] being haled into court there."*fn21 Upon a finding that the first two criteria are met, specific jurisdiction requires the Court to find that exercising jurisdiction "comport[s] with fair play and substantial justice."*fn22

In some circumstances, the contacts of another defendant or even a non-party can be imputed to a non-resident defendant for purposes of exercising either general or specific jurisdiction over that defendant.*fn23 First, forum-state contacts of an agent may be imputed to the principal.*fn24 Agency requires that the purported principal controls the undertaking at issue, the principal has manifested intent that the agent shall act on its behalf and the agent accepts the undertaking.*fn25 In reservation-services cases, whether the purported reservation agent is empowered to bind the principal to the booking has been a key consideration.*fn26 Second, in some cases, the relevant forum-state contacts may be imputed where the purported agent performs functions that but for its presence, the principal would otherwise have to perform.*fn27

1. Personal Jurisdiction Over Hampton Inn

Plaintiffs have named Hampton Inn, purportedly a corporate citizen of Delaware with an address of 830 Stacy Road in Allen, Texas, as a Defendant in this action.*fn28 But Plaintiffs have made only a weak attempt to establish personal jurisdiction over it. Plaintiffs' conclusory assertion in the Complaint that Hampton Inn "regularly conducts, conducted, transacts and/or transacted business in the City and County of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,"*fn29 is insufficient to support jurisdiction.*fn30 And though Hampton Inn is among the Moving Defendants, Plaintiffs' Response is devoid of any argument that Hampton Inn is subject to this Court's jurisdiction.*fn31

The only facts alleged as to any Hampton Inn entity, beyond the Allen, Texas Hampton Inn franchise location, are that: (1) Dante Orazi reserved the hotel room using a www.hamptoninn.com or www.hilton.com website;*fn32 (2) a Hampton Inn hotel located in downtown Philadelphia provides a directory of other such hotels around the country, including the Allen, Texas Hampton Inn, and advertises Hilton's affinity credit card and loyalty programs;*fn33 and (3) other Philadelphia-area Hampton hotels participate in promotional efforts with the local tourism board.*fn34

These facts do not support jurisdiction over Hampton Inn. First, Plaintiffs neither allege nor provide evidence that Defendant Hampton Inn owned, operated, controlled or had any relationship, beyond sharing a brand identity, with the in-forum Hampton hotels located in Pennsylvania. Thus, the presence of the in-forum hotels and their independent actions to promote themselves or other Hampton Hotels are not relevant to Defendant Hampton Inn.*fn35

Second, Plaintiffs concede that the www.hamptoninn.com website used by Mr. Orazi is Hilton's website,*fn36 but neither allege nor support any agency or other relationship between Hilton and Hampton such that any website contacts might be imputed to Hampton Inn. Third, even if the advertising materials distributed within Pennsylvania by certain Hampton hotels could be imputed to the Defendant Hampton Inn, those contacts are insufficient to subject it to the jurisdiction of this Court where there is no showing that ...


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