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Carol Lingo v. Harrah's Entertainment

July 1, 2011

CAROL LINGO
v.
HARRAH'S ENTERTAINMENT, INC., ET AL.



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

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 4.) For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant Harrah's Entertainment owns and operates Defendant Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino ("Rio"), which is located in Las Vegas, Nevada. Defendants mailed Plaintiff Carol Lingo, a Pennsylvania citizen, numerous invitations offering her a complimentary stay at the Rio. On February 4, 2010, while staying at the Rio, Plaintiff slipped and fell in the shower and sustained injuries. On December 2, 2010, Plaintiff filed a one count Complaint, alleging a claim for negligence. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Defendants move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

To survive a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), plaintiff has the burden of establishing jurisdiction over defendant. Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 97 (3d Cir. 2004). Plaintiff need only establish a prima facie case of jurisdiction, and we accept all of the allegations as true and resolve all factual disputes in favor of the plaintiff. Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc., 566 F.3d 324, 330 (3d Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). Once defendant has properly raised a jurisdictional defense, plaintiff must demonstrate, through sworn affidavits or other competent evidence, sufficient contacts with the forum state to establish personal jurisdiction. N. Penn Gas Co. v. Corning Natural Gas Corp., 897 F.2d 687, 689 (3d Cir. 1990).

III. DISCUSSION

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(1)(A) authorizes a district court to exercise personal jurisdiction according to the law of the state in which it sits. Pennsylvania's long-arm statute provides that Pennsylvania courts may exercise jurisdiction "to the fullest extent allowed under the Constitution of the United States and may be based on the most minimum contact with this Commonwealth allowed under the Constitution of the United States." 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5322(b). To determine whether personal jurisdiction exists, we ask whether, under the Due Process Clause, the defendant has had "certain minimum contacts with . . . [Pennsylvania] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." O'Connor v. Sandy Lane Hotel Co., 496 F.3d 312, 316-17 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)).

The two types of personal jurisdiction are general jurisdiction and specific jurisdiction. Courts exercise general jurisdiction over a defendant in a suit not arising out of or related to the defendant's contacts with the forum. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 n.9 (1984). Plaintiffs must show "significantly more than mere minimum contacts to establish general jurisdiction." Provident Nat'l Bank v. Cal. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 437 (3d Cir. 1987). The defendant must have "continuous and systematic" contacts with the forum, whether or not those contacts are related to the plaintiff's cause of action. Metcalfe, 566 F.3d at 334 (quoting Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 416). Specific jurisdiction exists where the nonresident 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 Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472-73 (1985) (citations omitted). To establish specific jurisdiction, "a plaintiff must show that the defendant has minimum contacts with the state 'such that [the defendant] should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.'" N. Penn Gas, 897 F.2d at 690 (quoting World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980)).

Defendants argue that there is no basis for either general or specific jurisdiction. Defendants argue that we cannot exercise general jurisdiction because Defendants do not have any business in Pennsylvania; are not licensed to do business in Pennsylvania; do not own property in Pennsylvania; and do not have any employees or agents in Pennsylvania. (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 3.) Defendants contend that specific jurisdiction is inappropriate because Plaintiff's negligence claim arises out of activities that are not related to Defendants' contacts with the forum. Plaintiff responds that Defendant Harrah's Entertainment has had continuous and systematic contacts with Pennsylvania through its subsidiary, Chester Downs and Marina, LLC., a casino and racetrack that is located in Chester, Pennsylvania.

A. General Jurisdiction

"[A] foreign corporation is not subject to the jurisdiction of the forum state merely because of its ownership of the shares of stock of a subsidiary doing business in the state." Lucas v. Gulf & W. Indus., Inc., 666 F.2d 800, 805-06 (3d Cir. 1981), abrogated on other grounds by EF Operating Corp. v. Am. Bldgs., 993 F.2d 1046, 1049 (3d Cir. 1993); see Cannon Mfg. Co. v. Cudahy Packing Co., 267 U.S. 333, 336 (1925). A "parent-subsidiary relationship is by itself an insufficient reason to pierce the corporate veil in the jurisdictional context." Dutoit v. Strategic Minerals Corp., 735 F. Supp. 169, 171 (E.D. Pa. 1990).

The case of Blackwell v. Marina Associates, No. 05-5418, 2006 WL 573793 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 9, 2006), is illustrative. In Blackwell, the plaintiff, a Pennsylvania citizen, received a voucher offering a complimentary overnight stay at Harrah's Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Id. at *1. Plaintiff was injured when a slot machine stool collapsed and he filed suit in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Defendant hotel removed the action to this court and subsequently moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Court in Blackwell rejected the plaintiff's argument that it should find general jurisdiction because of Harrah's subsidiary in Chester. In reaching this conclusion, the court stated that"in order to impute the jurisdictional contacts of Harrah's Chester operations, Blackwell must present prima facie evidence to overcome the general rule that mere ownership of a subsidiary does not subject the parent corporation to personal jurisdiction. . . . Here, Blackwell has presented no evidence to overcome this presumption." Id. at *5.

In determining whether the jurisdictional contacts of a subsidiary should be imputed to the parent corporation, courts consider the following factors: 1) whether the subsidiary corporation played any part in the transactions at issue; 2) whether the subsidiary was an alter ego or agent of the parent; 3) whether the independence of the separate corporate entities was disregarded; and 4) whether the subsidiary is necessarily performing activities that the parent would otherwise have to perform in the absence of the subsidiary. Arch v. Am. Tobacco Co., 984 F. Supp. 830, 837 (E.D. Pa. 1997) (citing Lucas, 666 F.2d at 805-06). Plaintiff ...


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