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PBS Coals, Inc. v. CDS Family Trust, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 19, 2014

PBS COALS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
CDS FAMILY TRUST, LLC; THE CARL DELSIGNORE FAMILY TRUST; and CARMEN P. DELSIGNORE, JR., in his capacity as Trustee of The Carl DelSignore Family Trust, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff PBS Coals, Inc. ("PBS") seeks a declaratory judgment establishing its rights and obligations under an alleged agreement to mine coal in Garrett County, Maryland. Before the Court is a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction (ECF No. 11) filed by Defendants CDS Family Trust, LLC, the Carl DelSignore Family Trust, and Carmen P. DelSignore, Jr., in his capacity as trustee of the Carl DelSignore Family Trust (collectively, "Defendants"). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

II. Background

PBS is a provider of metallurgical and steam coals for the metals, energy, and industrial sectors. (Compl. ¶ 6). PBS is a Delaware corporation maintaining its principal office at 1576 Stoystown Road, Friedens, Pennsylvania. ( Id. ¶ 1). Defendant CDS Family Trust, LLC ("CDS") is a Delaware limited liability company with its principal office at 815 Table Rock Road, Oakland, Maryland. ( Id. ¶ 2). The remaining Defendants-the Carl DelSignore Family Trust and its trustee, Carmen P. DelSignore, Jr.-are also citizens of Maryland. ( Id. ¶ 3).

PBS claims that, on or about January 13, 2011, it acquired a permit to mine coal in the Table Rock coal lands in Garrett County, Maryland. (Compl. ¶ 7). At that time, PBS contacted Defendants-the owners of the relevant parcels of land-to negotiate the terms of a coal lease. In exchange for a royalty, Defendants allegedly granted PBS "the exclusive right to mine, excavate, remove, ship, and market the coal from the portion of Table Rock at issue." ( Id. ¶ 10). Defendants do not dispute that the parties have attempted to negotiate a lease, but they claim that these negotiations occurred only after PBS extracted the coal without Defendants' permission. (ECF No. 12-1 ¶ 4).

PBS eventually mined, hauled, processed, and sold 36, 409 clean tons of coal from Defendants' land. ( Id. ¶ 13). PBS now claims that it owes Defendants a royalty that accounts for its costs associated with transporting the coal from the mine site to a Pennsylvania preparation plant, a distance of approximately 82 miles. ( Id. ¶ 16). Defendants disagree with this royalty calculation.

On October 16, 2013, PBS issued a wire transfer to Defendants in the amount of $185, 377.50. (Compl. ¶ 19). Defendants refused this payment. ( Id. ). To date, the parties have not executed a written lease, and they dispute the applicable royalty fee. On October 22, 2013, PBS filed this declaratory judgment action, seeking a declaration that PBS owes a royalty in the amount of $185, 377.50. PBS brings this suit under four alternative legal theories, including an express contract (Count 1), a contract implied-in-fact (Count 2), unjust enrichment (Count 3), and promissory estoppel (Count 4).

Defendants now move to dismiss this case under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction.[1]

III. Standard of review

When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the court must accept as true the factual allegations in the pleadings and resolve all factual disputes in the plaintiff's favor. Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 368 (3d Cir. 2002). The court need not limit the scope of its review to the pleadings and instead must consider affidavits and other competent evidence submitted by the parties. Patterson by Patterson v. F.B.I., 893 F.2d 595, 603-04 (3d Cir. 1990); Time Share Vacation Club v. Atl. Resorts, Ltd., 735 F.2d 61, 66 n.9 (3d Cir. 1984).

Once the defendant raises a question of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the court's jurisdiction over the defendant. Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 97 (3d Cir. 2004). Although the plaintiff must ultimately prove personal jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence, such a showing is unnecessary at the early stages of litigation. Mellon Bank (E.) PSFS, Nat. Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir. 1992). Rather, the plaintiff must "present[ ] a prima facie case for the exercise of personal jurisdiction by establishing with reasonable particularity sufficient contacts between the defendant and the forum state." Id. at 1223 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Once the plaintiff meets this burden, the defendant must establish the presence of other considerations that would render personal jurisdiction unreasonable. Carteret Sav. Bank, FA v. Shushan, 954 F.2d 141, 150 (3d Cir. 1992) (citation omitted).

III. Discussion

A district court sitting in Pennsylvania has personal jurisdiction over the parties to the extent provided under Pennsylvania law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A). The Pennsylvania long-arm statute establishes jurisdiction "to the fullest extent allowed under the Constitution of the United States." 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5322. Thus, in determining whether personal jurisdiction exists, the test is whether, under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the defendant has "certain minimum contacts with... [Pennsylvania] such that the maintenance of the suit does not ...


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