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Sam Mannino Enterprises, LLC v. John W. Stone Oil Distributor, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 19, 2014



KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Pending before the Court is a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction filed by Defendant John W. Stone Oil Distributor, LLC. (ECF No. 11). For the reasons explained below, the motion will be denied.

II. Background

Plaintiff Sam Mannino Enterprises, LLC ("Mannino") alleges the following facts in its complaint, which the Court accepts as true for the disposition of the pending motion. Mannino is a Pennsylvania limited liability company, and Defendant John W. Stone Oil Distributor, LLC ("Stone") is a Louisiana limited liability company. (ECF No. 1-2, Compl. ¶¶ 1-2). Mannino alleges that, on or about July 3, 2013, an agent of Stone contacted him "about leasing sixty tank type railcars." ( Id. ¶ 4). Mannino claims that it negotiated with Stone's agent "to enter into an Agreement by which Plaintiff would Lease railcars from Defendant for the purpose of sub-leasing to other Investment Grade' company(ies)." ( Id. ). Mannino and Stone executed an agreement on November 26, 2013 ("Agreement") whereby "Plaintiff would lease forty or more cars to an Investment Grade' Company, in exchange for $1500.00/month." ( Id. ¶ 5). The Agreement also includes a "Governing Law" provision stating the following:

The Agreement shall be deemed to have been executed and entered into in the States of Pennsylvania or Louisiana. The formation, operation, and performance of this Agreement shall be governed, construed, performed, and enforced in accordance with the substantive laws of either state without regard to its conflict of laws rules. Parties agree that any suit claiming any breach or right under this agreement must be brought in the state court of Pennsylvania or Louisiana.

(ECF No. 1-2 at 10 ¶ 7). On December 4, 2013, Mannino wired Stone $124, 000 "in consideration for a lease of forty railcars for the months of December 2013 and January 2014." (ECF No. 1-2, Compl. ¶ 8). On December 6, 2013, Stone allegedly "agreed to lease an additional twenty railcars to Plaintiff for purposes of subleasing, under the same terms as the previous forty cars." ( Id. ¶ 9). That same day, Mannino wired Stone $31, 000 for the twenty additional railcars. ( Id. ¶ 10). Mannino now contends that this December 6, 2013 transaction was made pursuant to the Agreement and that Stone failed to provide the twenty railcars as promised. ( See id .).

On December 18, 2013, Stone expressed in writing that it wished to terminate the lease on all sixty railcars. ( Id. ¶ 11). Stone filed a declaratory action in Louisiana state court on December 19, 2013, seeking to have the court declare that the Agreement was terminated by the December 18, 2013 termination letter to Mannino. ( See ECF No. 13 at 3). Mannino filed suit in Pennsylvania state court on January 10, 2014, alleging breach of contract, tortious interference, and common law fraud. ( See Compl., ECF No. 1-2). Stone removed the action to this Court, and now moves to dismiss Mannino's complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. In the alternative, Mannino moves to stay or dismiss this action under the first-to-file rule.

III. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) allows a party to seek dismissal of a complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction over the defendant. In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(2) motion, "a court must accept the 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 (3d Cir. 1992). 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 "need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction." Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine Inc. , 556 F.3d 324, 330 (3d Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted).

IV. Discussion

It is well established that personal jurisdiction is a waivable right. Burger King v. Rudzewicz , 471 U.S. 462, 472 n.14 (1985). Relevant here, a defendant may consent to personal jurisdiction through the execution of a valid forum selection clause. See Ins. Corp. of Ireland, Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee , 456 U.S. 694, 703-04 (1982) (finding that a forum selection clause may act as consent to personal jurisdiction, thus obviating the need for the traditional minimum contacts analysis); see also, e.g. , SKF USA Inc. v. Okkerse , CIV.A. 13-5111, 2014 WL 185221 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 15, 2014). In such cases, the court need only determine the validity and effect of the forum selection clause to find that a defendant has consented to personal jurisdiction. SKF USA Inc. , 2014 WL 185221, at *7; Provident Mutual Life Ins. Co. of Phila. v. Bickerstaff , 818 F.Supp. 116, ...

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