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Steven R. Kravitz v. Jeffrey A. Niezgoda

September 20, 2012

STEVEN R. KRAVITZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JEFFREY A. NIEZGODA, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Dr. Steven Kravitz filed a one count complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County charging Dr. Jeffrey Niezgoda with defamation. Dr. Niezgoda subsequently removed the case to this Court on diversity grounds and moved for dismissal under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction and 12(b)(3) for improper venue. Because Dr. Niezgoda does have sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state such that this Court has personal jurisdiction over him and venue is proper in this district, the Court will deny Dr. Niezgoda's motion.

BACKGROUND

Dr. Niezgoda is a member of the Board of Directors of the Council for Medical Education and Testing ("Council"), located in Richboro, Pennsylvania. Dr. Kravitz is the Executive Director of that organization. Dr. Niezgoda has attended a Council meeting in Philadelphia, and has participated in three separate board meetings by telephone. Dr. Niezgoda also is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Professional Wound Care Association ("Association"), which is headquartered in Feasterville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and has attended the Association's in-person conferences in Philadelphia on three occasions. Dr. Kravitz is the immediate past Executive Director of the Association.

According to the Amended Complaint, Dr. Niezgoda made defamatory statements about Dr. Kravitz to Dr. Robert Bartlett, Dr. James McGuire, Dr. Adrianne Smith and Dr. Allen Jacobs. First, Dr. Niezgoda called Dr. Robert Bartlett, President of the Council, to falsely inform him "that [Dr. Kravitz] had misused and/or stolen funds from the [Association] and falsely suggested that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was conducting a criminal investigation of Plaintiff." Am. Compl. at ¶ 18. Further, Dr. Niezgoda requested that Dr. Kravitz be removed as Executive Director of the Council. Dr. Niezgoda made a similar call to Dr. James McGuire.At the time of the call, Dr. Niezgoda was aware that Dr. McGuire lives in Pennsylvania, that he was the Director of the Wound Healing Center of Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine, which is located in this judicial district, and that Dr. Kravitz was a member of the faculty there. Dr. Kravitz also accuses Dr. Niezgoda of making similar defamatory remarks to Dr. Adrianne Smith in the fall of 2011. Last, Dr. Kravitz claims Dr. Niezgoda made a defamatory telephone call to Dr. Allen Jacobs, in which he disclosed the same false information.

Each of these statements relates to Dr. Kravitz's involvement in the Association, which is located in Pennsylvania. Additionally, the Amended Complaint alleges that these statements were published to the nationwide community of physicians and medical professionals involved in wound care. As a result, Dr. Kravitz claims that he has suffered damage, including injury to his professional reputation, and that this has lowered him in the estimation of the medical community by deterring third persons from associating with him. He has suffered the most damage in Pennsylvania.

LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Personal Jurisdiction

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(e) allows a district court to assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident 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-resident defendants "to the constitutional limits of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment." Mellon Bank (East) PSFS, Nat'l Ass'n. v. Farino, 920 F.2d 1217, 1221 (3d Cir. 1992) (interpreting 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5322(b)).

Due process requires that (1) the defendant have "minimum contacts" with the forum state, and (2) 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 Int'l 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.'" Id. (quoting Asahi Metal Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Superior Court of California, 480 U.S. 102, 109 (1987) (quoting Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985))).

A federal court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant in one of two ways. General personal jurisdiction is appropriate when a cause of action "arises from the defendant's non-forum related activities," and the defendant's contacts with the forum are continuous and systematic. Vetrotex Certainteed Corp. v. Consol. Fiber Glass Products Co., 75 F.3d 147, 151 n. 3 (3d Cir. 1996); see also Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 368 n. 1 (3d Cir. 2002) (noting distinction between general and specific jurisdiction). By contrast, specific personal jurisdiction can be invoked when a cause of action arises from the defendant's forum-related activities. Vetrotex, 75 F.3d at 151.

B. Venue

In a diversity matter, venue is proper only in:

(1) a judicial district where any defendant resides, if all defendants reside in the same State, (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated, or (3) a judicial district in which any defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction at the ...


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