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Jackson v. Saber Healthcare Group LLC

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 26, 2013




Roslynn Jackson, plaintiff, brings this wrongful termination suit alleging breach of contract and violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Pennsylvania public policy. Saber Healthcare Group, LLC, defendant, moves to dismiss this case for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). In the alternative, Saber requests that I transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Norther District of Ohio. For the reasons that follow, I will deny defendant's motion.

I. Background

Accepting the well pleaded allegations as true, Ms. Jackson applied to Saber for an AR Regional Consultant position on or about December 12, 2012. Am. Compl., doc. no. 13, ¶12. Ms. Jackson is African American. Id . ¶ 52. At the time of her application, Ms. Jackson lived in California and was employed by Lancaster Healthcare Center. Id . ¶ 13, 23. After a series of phone interviews with Rick Moe, vice president of contracting at Saber, and Jim Gerrity, Saber's regional vice president, defendant offered plaintiff a position in Pennsylvania. Id . ¶ 16-22. Saber also offered Ms. Jackson a loan to cover her relocation expenses, and sent her a written contract covering the terms of the loan by email dated February 19, 2013.[1] Id . ¶ 18, 24-25, 43. Upon accepting the position, plaintiff traveled to defendant's office in Aurora, Ohio for orientation where she completed an employment application and background check. Id . ¶ 27.

Ms. Jackson arrived in Pennsylvania on March 15, 2013. Id . ¶ 29. On April 24, 2013, Mr. Moe called Ms. Jackson and advised her there was a misdemeanor on her criminal background. Id . ¶ 30-32. Mr. Moe also told Ms. Jackson to hold off refunding residents who paid fees which were later covered by insurance. Id . ¶ 33. Plaintiff believed that this amounted to stealing and she complained to the business office manager at the Bryn Mawr Care Center that she opposed the practice. Id . ¶34. On May 16, 2013, Ms. Jackson also complained about charges billed to a specific resident. Id . ¶ 35. On May 17, 2013, Mr. Moe called Ms. Jackson and terminated her due to the misdemeanor on her background check. Id . ¶ 36. As plaintiff left the Ambler Extended Care Center, the facility administrator demanded that plaintiff return her phone and laptop. Id . ¶ 39. Saber never reimbursed plaintiff for her relocation expenses. Id . ¶ 43.

II. Standard of review

On defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, I must "accept the plaintiff's allegations as true, and is to construe disputed facts in favor of the plaintiff." Toys "R" Us, Inc. v. Step Two, S.A. , 318 F.3d 446, 457 (3d Cir.2003) The plaintiff has the burden of establishing a prima facie case for jurisdiction by affidavits or other competent evidence. Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc. , 566 F.3d 324, 330 (3d Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). The plaintiff satisfies this burden by "establishing with reasonable particularity sufficient contacts between the defendant and the forum state." Mellon Bank (E.) PSFS, Nat. Ass'n v. Farino , 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir. 1992) (citations omitted).

III. Discussion

A. Personal Jurisdiction

A federal court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant to the same extent provided by the law of the state in which the federal court sits. Time Share Vacation Club v. Atl. Resorts, Ltd. , 735 F.2d 61, 63 (3d Cir. 1984). Pennsylvania statute provides that a court in the Commonwealth 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.C.S. § 5322(b).[2] Thus, the reach of the Pennsylvania statute is coextensive with the due process clause of the United States Constitution. Time Share Vacation Club , 735 F.2d at 63. Accordingly, plaintiff must establish that defendant has minimum contacts with Pennsylvania "such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." D'Jamoos ex rel. Estate of Weingeroff v. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. , 566 F.3d 94, 102 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington , 326 U.S. 310, 316, (1945)).

There are two distinct theories under which personal jurisdiction comports with due process. General jurisdiction is based on a defendant's continuous and systematic contacts with the forum state. See Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S. A. v. Hall , 466 U.S. 408, 416 (1984). Specific jurisdiction can be exercised when the plaintiff's cause of action arises out of the defendant's forum-related activities. See World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson , 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980). In its motion to dismiss, Saber urges that this court has neither general nor specific jurisdiction over it. In response, plaintiff argues that this is a specific jurisdiction case. Since plaintiff has not attempted to meet her burden with respect to general personal jurisdiction, I will only address specific jurisdiction.

The constitutional test for specific jurisdiction consists of three parts. First, the defendant must have purposefully directed its activities at the forum "such that [the defendant] should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. , 444 U.S. 286, 297; Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz , 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985). Second, the litigation must "arise out of or relate to" defendant's forum related activities. Helicopteros , 466 U.S. at 414. Finally, the inquiry shifts to considering whether exercising jurisdiction comports with "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Burger King Corp. , 471 U.S. at 476 (citing Int'l Shoe Co. , 326 U.S. at 320). However, the third step is discretionary. See Pennzoil Products Co. v. Colelli & Associates, Inc. , 149 F.3d 197, 205 (3d Cir. 1998) (noting that court has the "option" of evaluating the third prong).

A court's jurisdiction over separate claims for relief should be analyzed independently. See Remick v. Manfredy , 238 F.3d 248, 255 (3d Cir. 2001) ("[C]onclusion that the District Court has personal jurisdiction over one of the defendants as to a particular claim asserted by [plaintiff] does not necessarily mean that it has personal jurisdiction over that same defendant as to [plaintiff's] other claims."). A foreign tortfeasor will have minimum contacts with the forum sufficient for the court to exercise jurisdiction if the plaintiff meets the elements of the effects test. IMO Indus., Inc. v. Kiekert AG , 155 F.3d 254, 265-66 (3d Cir. 1998). Jurisdiction over a contract claim is proper when defendant's contacts with the forum were instrumental in either the formation of the contract or its breach. Gen. Elec. Co. v. Deutz AG , 270 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Phillips Exeter Acad. v. Howard Phillips Fund, Inc. , 196 F.3d 284, 289 (1st Cir.1999)). First, I will turn to plaintiff's tort claims.

Plaintiff asserts two claims for wrongful termination which sound in tort. Woodson v. AMF Leisureland Centers, Inc. , 842 F.2d 699, 701 (3d Cir. 1988) (citing Darlington v. General Electric , 504 A.2d 306, 318 (Pa.Super. 1986)) ("[A] wrongful discharge action is one that sounds in tort, not contract."). Count two of the complaint alleges wrongful termination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and count three alleges wrongful termination in violation of public policy. A court may exercise jurisdiction over a foreign tortfeasor when: "(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; (3) The defendant ...

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