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Grigg v. O'Brien

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 14, 2014

RONALD W. GRIGG, Plaintiff,


KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Before the Court are two motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue (ECF Nos. 16 and 18) filed by Defendants Gregory O'Brien, ADR Services Inc., and Whittier College. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that venue is improper in this district, and this case will be transferred to the United States District Court for the Central District of California pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a).

II. Background

This unusual case arises out of a dispute between an attorney and his client that resulted in a binding arbitration proceeding held in California. In 2006, Plaintiff Ronald W. Grigg represented an individual named Blaine Chaney in conjunction with Chaney's marital dissolution. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27). As part of this representation, Chaney and Grigg executed a contingency fee agreement that contained a mandatory arbitration clause. ( Id. ¶ 27). Over the course of several months, Grigg provided legal services to Chaney, and Grigg helped Chaney secure a settlement valued at over $30 million. ( Id. ¶ 31). Although Chaney made laudatory comments about Grigg's services, he later became dissatisfied with Grigg and sought to have the contingency fee agreement invalidated. ( Id. ¶¶ 31-33).

In September 2006, Chaney filed suit in the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles. In accordance with the parties' fee agreement, Judge Aurelio Munoz ordered the case to arbitration, and Defendant Gregory O'Brien served as the arbitrator. ( Id. ¶ 35). In November 2007, O'Brien issued an interim award, finding that the fee agreement was unconscionable. (ECF No. 17-2 at 2). In November 2008, O'Brien issued a final award in favor of Chaney and against Grigg in the amount of $2, 816, 957.35, plus interest. (ECF No. 17-1 at 1). The trial court confirmed the arbitration award in 2010, and the Court of Appeals of California affirmed the decision in 2011. (ECF No. 17-2).

Grigg is now suing arbitrator O'Brien, ADR Services, Inc., and Whittier College, alleging that they misrepresented O'Brien's legal credentials. Specifically, Grigg claims that Defendants deceived him into thinking that O'Brien attended Whittier College School of Law, an ABA-accredited law school, when he actually attended Beverly College of Law, a now defunct corporate entity that never received ABA-accreditation.

For purposes of this decision, it is unnecessary to discuss the exact contours of Defendants' alleged conduct. It suffices to say that O'Brien purportedly represented to Grigg that he attended Whittier College School of Law, though he attended Beverly College of Law. In 2001, Agents of Whittier College allegedly changed the name of Beverly College of Law to "Whittier Law School" by filing an amended Articles of Incorporation with the California Secretary of State; this filing apparently created the false impression that Beverly College of Law is affiliated with Whittier College School of Law. (Am. Compl. ¶ 56). Grigg further avers that ADR Services, Inc.-which employs O'Brien as an arbitrator-included material misrepresentations on its website about O'Brien's credentials. ( Id. ¶¶ 9-10).

The crux of Grigg's amended complaint is that, had he known the truth about O'Brien's legal education, he would have objected to O'Brien serving as the arbitrator. Grigg further argues that Defendants' misrepresentations caused him to incur "significant financial losses" that ultimately led to his bankruptcy filing in Pennsylvania. ( Id. ¶ 21). Grigg seeks to invoke this Court's diversity jurisdiction because Defendants are citizens of California and Grigg is a citizen of Pennsylvania. Defendants now move to dismiss this case for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue.

III. Standard of Review

A motion filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(3) permits a party to move for dismissal when venue is improper. The pertinent statute-28 U.S.C. § 1391-provides in material part as follows:

(b) Venue in general.-A civil action may be brought in-
(1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in ...

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