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Robert Bolus, Individually, and D/B/A Bolus Truck Sales v. Fleetwood Motor Homes of In

August 17, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)


Presently before the Court are motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint filed by Defendants Cummins Atlantic ("Cummins") (Doc. 15) and Tom Johnson Camping Center Charlotte, Inc. ("Tom Johnson"). (Doc. 17.) Plaintiffs Robert Bolus ("Bolus") and Robert Bolus Truck Sales Center assert a number of claims against the three named Defendants related to a recreational vehicle (the "RV") that Plaintiffs purchased from Tom Johnson and was manufactured by Fleetwood Motor Homes of IN, Inc. ("Fleetwood"). Defendants Cummins and Tom Johnson move to dismiss the Complaint based on lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. Because these Defendants do not have "continuous and systematic" contact with this forum and have not "purposefully availed themselves of the privilege of conducting activities with the forum," the Court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over Cummins and Tom Johnson. However, because statute of limitations issues may arise as a result of the time that has lapsed between the filing of this action and now, justice requires that the action be transferred to the Middle District of North Carolina.

I. Background

Plaintiffs commenced this action against Fleetwood, Cummins, and Tom Johnson alleging that jurisdiction and venue in this Court are proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1391. (Compl., ¶¶ 1-3.)

Plaintiff Bolus is an adult citizen of Pennsylvania and Plaintiff Bolus Truck Sales Center is a business existing under the laws of Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-5.) Defendant Fleetwood is a business organized under the laws of Indiana with a principal place of business in Indiana. (Id. at ¶ 7.) Fleetwood is in the business of manufacturing motor coaches. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

Defendant Tom Johnson is a North Carolina corporation with a principal place of business in North Carolina. (Id. at ¶ 8) Tom Johnson is a licenced dealer of Fleetwood motor coaches and is also a full service repair center of motor coaches. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-12.)

Defendant Cummins is a North Carolina limited liability company with a principal place of business in North Carolina. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Cummins is in the business of manufacturing engines for motor coaches. (Id. at ¶ 27.)

Bolus was the owner of a 2007 Revolution L.E., Class A Motor Home. (Id. at ¶ 13.) In an attempt to upgrade his motor home, Bolus contacted employees or representatives for Tom Johnson and Fleetwood from his residence and business located in Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 14.) Bolus informed Tom Johnson and Fleetwood of his desired specifications for the RV, including an engine with at least 425 horse power. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16.) Tom Johnson then informed Bolus that Fleetwood was manufacturing an RV for an order that had recently been canceled. (Id. at ¶ 17.)

On or about October 12, 2009, Bolus visited Fleetwood's manufacturing plant in Indiana to inspect the RV. (Id. at ¶ 18.) At this time, Bolus was informed that the RV was equipped with a 425 horse power engine. (Id. at ¶ 19.) This was confirmed by the RV's window sticker. (Id.) Bolus then entered into an agreement to purchase the RV manufactured by Fleetwood and sold through Tom Johnson. (Id. at ¶ 20.)

After Bolus purchased the RV, he attempted to drive the vehicle to Florida. (Id. at ¶ 22.) During the trip, however, he noticed that the RV lacked power. (Id.) As such, he took the vehicle to Tom Johnson's service repair center in North Carolina. (Id.) Bolus agreed to leave the RV for repair and inspection and told Tom Johnson that he would return for it around Thanksgiving. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-25.)

Due to the lack of engine power, Tom Johnson sent the RV to Cummins, the manufacturer of the engine, for repair. (Id. at ¶¶ 26-27.) Despite the RV's window sticker, Cummins determined that the RV was not equipped with a 425 horse power engine. (Id. at ¶ 28.) Cummins then upgraded the engine. (Id. at ¶ 29.) However, while the RV was at Cummins' facility for repairs, the RV was vandalized causing a large amount of damage. (Id. at ¶ 30.)

Bolus learned of the vandalism once he returned to Tom Johnson's facility in North Carolina to pick up the RV. (Id. at ¶ 31.) Bolus then drove the RV to a service center in Florida and waited for payment from Cummins to have the RV repaired. (Id. at ¶¶ 32-33.) Cummins, however, did not provide enough money to pay for all of the necessary repairs, and Plaintiffs' attempts to obtain additional money were unsuccessful. (Id. at ¶¶ 34-37.) On or about September 2010, Bolus returned the RV to Tom Johnson for additional repairs and the RV has remained there ever since. (Id. at ¶¶ 39-40.)

As a result of the foregoing events, Plaintiffs commenced the present action on October 31, 2011 asserting a number of state law claims against Defendants. On March 19, 2012, Defendant Fleetwood filed an Answer with Affirmative Defenses. Thereafter, on May 4, 2012, Defendant Cummins filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 15), and on May 14, 2012, Defendant Tom Johnson filed a motion to dismiss. (Doc. 17.) Both motions seek dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. As the motions have now been fully briefed, they are ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

A. Personal Jurisdiction

While the Court can accept Plaintiff's allegations regarding jurisdiction as true for purposes of the motions to dismiss, "once the defendant raises the question of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, facts sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction." Carteret Sav. Bank, FA v. Shushan, 954 F.2d 141, 147 (3d Cir. 1992) (internal citation omitted).

District courts are permitted to exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident to the extent allowed under the laws of the state where the district court sits. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(e); Pennzoil Prods. Co. v. Colelli & Assoc., Inc., 149 F.3d 197, 200 (3d Cir. 1998). Pennsylvania's long-arm statute, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5322, "permits Pennsylvania courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over nonresident defendants 'to the constitutional limits of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.'" Id. (quoting Mellon Bank (East) PSFS, Nat'l Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1221 (3d Cir. 1992)).

Such due process requires that an out-of-state defendant "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.'" Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S. Ct. 154, 90 L. Ed. 95 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463, 61 S. Ct. 339, 85 L. Ed. 278 (1940)); see also Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations v. Brown, ---- U.S. ----, 131 S. Ct. 2846, 2853, 180 L. Ed. 2d 796 (2011) (affirming that "[t]he canonical opinion in this area remains International Shoe"). Due process also requires some voluntary action by the defendant; this action serves as "fair warning that a particular activity may subject [it] to the jurisdiction of a foreign sovereign." Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472, 105 S. Ct. 2174, 85 L. Ed. 2d 528 (1985) (citations omitted).

Having the requisite contacts with the forum state may subject the defendant to either general jurisdiction or specific jurisdiction. General jurisdiction allows a court to "hear any and all claims against [a party] when their affiliations with the State are so 'continuous and systematic' as to render them essentially at home in the forum State." Goodyear, 131 S. Ct. at 2851 (citing International Shoe, 326 U.S. at 317). The hallmark of general jurisdiction is "continuous and systematic" contacts with the forum state, even where the cause of action is unrelated to those contacts. See Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414--16, 104 S. Ct. 1868, 80 L. Ed. 2d 404 (1984).

Specific jurisdiction, on the other hand, "arises out of" or "relates to" the cause of action when the contacts are "isolated or specific." Burger King, 471 U.S. at 472--73. It depends not on an entity's overall vulnerability to suit in a forum, but "on an 'affiliatio[n] between the forum and the underlying controversy,' principally, [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State and is therefore subject to the State's regulation." Goodyear, 131 S.Ct. at 2851 (citing von Mehren & Trautman, Jurisdiction to Adjudicate: A Suggested Analysis, 79 Harv. L. Rev. 1121, 1136 (1966)).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) provides for dismissal of an action where the district court lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Once a defendant raises a jurisdiction defense, "the plaintiff must 'prove by affidavits or other competent evidence that jurisdiction is proper.'" Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc., 566 F.3d 324, 331 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Dayhoff Inc. v. H.J. Heinz Co., 86 F.3d 1287, 1302 (3d Cir. 1996)). And, where, as here, there has been no evidentiary hearing, "'the plaintiffs need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction.'" Id. (quoting O'Connor v. Sandy Lane ...

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