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Merical v. Valor Healthcare, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 25, 2013

ANNE MERICAL, Plaintiff,


CATHY BISSOON, District Judge.


For the reasons that follow, Defendant Simon's and Defendant McMorris's Motions to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction (Docs. 11 and 12) will be granted.


Plaintiff began working as a behavior health therapist at Valor's Outpatient Clinic in Greensburg, Pennsylvania in February 2009. Comp. at ¶ 11. Valor is a District of Columbia Corporation with its principal place of business in the District of Columbia. Id. at 5. Defendant Michelle R. Simon, M.D., was Plaintiff's supervisor, and at all relevant times, worked in Valor's Houma, Louisiana office. Id. at 8. Defendant Keith McMorris was Valor's Human Resources Director and was employed at all relevant times in Valor's District of Columbia office. Id. at 9.

Plaintiff is a Caucasian woman in her mid-fifties who is epileptic and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety/stress. Id. at 18, 24, 41. Plaintiff alleges that during her employment with Valor, her patient load was excessive and nearly impossible to manage, which subjected her to "constant and continual stress." Id. at 19. Plaintiff alleges that she frequently asked Valor's management for help with her case load and submitted several complaints to the VA Office of Inspector General regarding Valor's treatment of its veteran patients, but Valor refused to provide her with assistance. Id. at 23, 27. Plaintiff alleges that the majority of Valor's middle-management is African-American and the Human Resources Director, Defendant McMorris, exhibited a "racial and gender animosity" toward her. Id. at 24. Plaintiff also alleges that her Administrator, Defendant Milich-Franusich, "engaged in a concerted effort to harass, demean, and humiliate her" as a result of her age and disability. Id. at 30. Plaintiff, unlike other health care providers at her clinic, also allegedly was denied 10 paid days off for training and a $2, 000 annual benefit in February 2011. Id. at 32.

As a result of a mental health evaluation in March 2011, Plaintiff's PCP provided Valor's Human Resources Director, Defendant McMorris, with a medical certificate on March 16, 2011, stating that, due to illness, Plaintiff was unable to return to work until March 28, 2011. Id. at 35. On March 21st, Plaintiff's psychiatrist also informed McMorris that Plaintiff could not return to work "until further notice." Id . Valor approved an unpaid medical leave for Merical through March 27th. Id. at 36. Plaintiff's psychiatrist subsequently provided McMorris with a notice that Plaintiff would not be able to return until June 30th and Plaintiff submitted an application for short term disability benefits to McMorris via Fed-Ex on April 6th. Id. at 38. Valor subsequently terminated Plaintiff's employment on April 13th, stating that "based upon our business needs, and in light of the continuing hostile and inappropriate behavior that you have displayed to members of our team, Valor has decided not to continue your discretionary leave of absence." Id. at 39. Valor was replaced with a male in his mid-30's. Id. at 42.

Plaintiff filed a five-count complaint (Doc. 1) on November 15, 2012, alleging in Count IV that Defendants Simon and McMorris aided and abetted her employer, Valor, in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. C. S. A. §955(e) ("PHRA") by allegedly being "well aware of the unlawful harassment and discrimination based upon gender, age, race, and disability... and [by doing] nothing to stop [it], and in fact, they even perpetuated it and retaliated against Plaintiff by supporting and recommending [her] discharge. Id. at 70. Simon and McMorris filed separate motions (Docs. 11 and 12) to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2).


For purposes of Rule 12(b)(2), a court must accept Plaintiff's allegations as true and draw in the plaintiff's favor all reasonable inferences supported by the well-pleaded factual allegations. Carteret Sav. Bank, FA, v. Shushan , 954 F.2d 141, 151 n.1 (3d Cir. 1992). However, "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." Dayhoff Inc. v. H.J. Heinz Co. , 86 F.3d 1287, 1302 (3d Cir. 1996); see also Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc. , 566 F.3d 324, 330 (3d Cir. 2009) (unless court holds an evidentiary hearing, plaintiff need only make prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2)). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(2) motion, a Court may consider the well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint in addition to the parties' jurisdictional evidence. Metcalfe , 566 F.3d at 330-31.

A federal district court may assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident to the extent authorized by the state's long-arm statute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k); Marten v. Godwin , 499 F.3d 290, 296 (3d Cir. 2007). Pennsylvania's long-arm statute provides for jurisdiction "to the fullest extent" permitted under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 5322(a)-(b). In order to satisfy due process, the defendant must 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." Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington , 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). The focus of the minimum contacts analysis is "the relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation, " specifically the extent to which the defendant has, through its contacts, "purposefully avail[ed] itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefit and protection of its laws." Shaffer v. Heitner , 433 U.S. 186, 204 (1977); Hanson v. Denckla , 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958). Jurisdiction "over an employee does not automatically follow from jurisdiction over the corporation which employees him." Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, Inc. , 465 U.S. 770, 781 n.13 (1984). Instead, each defendant's contacts "must be assessed individually." Id.

In order for a court to exercise general personal jurisdiction, the defendant must have "maintained systemic and continuous contacts" with the forum state. Marten , 499 F.3d at 296 (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall , 466 U.S. 408, 414-15 & n. 8 (1984)). Alternatively, specific personal jurisdiction exists "when the claim arises from or relates to conduct purposely directed at the forum state." Id . To establish specific jurisdiction, the plaintiff must prove: (1) the defendant has purposefully directed his activities at the forum; (2) the plaintiff's claim arises out of or relates to at least one of those specific activities, and (3) that the court's exercise of jurisdiction over the defendant comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Marten , 499 F.3d at 296 (discussing Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz , 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985); Helicopteros , 466 U.S. at 414; Int'l Shoe , 326 U.S. at 320)).

When a Plaintiff's complaint alleges intentionally tortious conduct, the "effects test, " established in Calder v. Jones , 465 U.S. 783 (1984), could "enhance otherwise insufficient contact with the forum such that the minimum contacts' prong of the Due Process test is satisfied." IMO Indus., Inc. v. Kiekert AG , 155 F.3d 254, 260 (3d Cir. 1998). Under this test, a Plaintiff can demonstrate personal jurisdiction if she shows "(1) The defendant committed an intentional tort; (2) The plaintiff felt the brunt of the harm in the forum such that the forum can be said to be the focal point of the harm suffered by the plaintiff as a result of that tort; [and] (3) The defendant expressly aimed his tortious conduct at the forum such that the forum can be said to be the focal point of the tortious activity." Marten , 499 F.3d at 297.

Here, Plaintiff has provided the Court with additional materials beyond her complaint in an attempt to support her assertion that this Court has personal jurisdiction over Defendants Simon and McMorris.[1] Specifically, Plaintiff has provided the Court with a copy of her EEOC charge and a signed declaration with attached exhibits. Plaintiff asserts that she has met her burden of proving personal jurisdiction under both the general and specific theories, and argues that she has also shown that the Defendant's tortious conduct caused harm in Pennsylvania. After thorough examination of those documents, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has not met her ...

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