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BabyAge.Com, Inc. v. Center for Environmental Health

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 27, 2015

BABYAGE.COM, INC., Plaintiff,

Page 349

For BABYAGE.COM, INC., Plaintiff: Andrew J. Katsock, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Andrew J. Katsock, III, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

For Center for Environmental Health, Defendant: Oday Salim, LEAD ATTORNEY, Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services, Pittsburgh, PA; Joseph J Mann, Mark N Todzo, Lexington Law Group, San Francisco, CA.

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Robert D. Mariani, United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

Presently before the Court are a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 10) and a Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 14). Both Motions attack the Complaint in this action, in which a Pennsylvania Plaintiff asks this Court to declare a California health and safety law, as sought to be enforced by a private California non-profit corporation, unconstitutional. The Motion to Dismiss argues that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction to hear this action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) or, in the alternative, that this Court should abstain from hearing the case under the Declaratory Judgment Act or dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule 12(b)(6). The Motion for Sanctions argues that, because the Plaintiff's claims were brought for an improper purpose and are legally and evidentiarily frivolous, the Court should impose sanctions on the Plaintiff in an amount sufficient to compensate the Defendant for the cost of defending this lawsuit.

For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(2). Because, at the most fundamental level, this Court does not have personal jurisdiction over the California Defendant, the Court need not address the merits of the Defendant's arguments concerning abstention or Rule 12(b)(6). The Court will deny the Motion for Sanctions.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

As discussed in Section III, infra, when the Court reviews a Complaint under Federal Rule 12(b)(2) for the existence of personal jurisdiction, it must look to " sworn affidavits or other competent evidence" outside the pleadings, and not merely rely on the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint alone. See Time Share Vacation Club v. Atlantic Resorts, Ltd., 735 F.2d 61,66 n.9

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(3d Cir. 1984).[1] In discussing the factual background of this case, the Court therefore considers all the evidence of record.

The parties agree that the Plaintiff, BabyAge, is a Pennsylvania business and that the Defendant, the Center for Environmental Health (" CEH" ) is a California non-profit corporation. (See Compl., Doc. 1, at ¶ ¶ 6-7; Def.'s Br. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, Doc. 11, at 3.) The events giving rise to this Pennsylvania lawsuit began when CEH sued BabyAge in California state court pursuant to California's Proposition 65. ( See Compl. at ¶ 11.) Proposition 65, as described by the California Department of Justice, is " a California law passed by citizen initiative" codified in relevant part at California Health & Safety Code § 25249.6. ( See Office of Attorney General, Frequently Asked Questions, Doc. 13-2, at 1.)[2] That section provides that " [n]o person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning to such individual." Cal. Health & Safety Code § 25249.6. California purports to publish a list of chemicals that it believes to cause cancer, and requires businesses selling such products to provide " clear and reasonable" warnings that a product contains a listed chemical. ( See Doc. 13-2 at 1.)

The law further allows " a person in the public interest" who meets certain statutory prerequisites to bring a private action to enforce its requirements. Cal. Health & Safety Code § 25249.7(d). CEH--a private actor that purports to have met all statutory prerequisites to bring a cause of action--filed a lawsuit against BabyAge and other defendants in the Superior Court of Alameda County, California, alleging, inter alia, that BabyAge sold upholstered furniture in California that will expose consumers to one of California's enumerated carcinogenic chemicals without providing a clear and reasonable warning. (See California Compl., Doc. 13-6 at ¶ ¶ 15,28-30,55-59; Am. to California Compl., Doc. 13-7, at ¶ 2; see also Compl. at ¶ 11.)

BabyAge did not enter an appearance in California or otherwise defend that lawsuit. ( See Joseph Mann Decl., Doc. 13, at ¶ ¶ 10-18.) Instead, it filed the instant declaratory judgment action in Pennsylvania. Though the Pennsylvania Complaint appears to raise affirmative defenses to the California action, (see, e.g., Compl. at ¶ ¶ 12,16), its requested relief attacks the validity of Proposition 65 itself: it seeks a declaration that Proposition 65 is preempted by federal law, violates the Commerce Clause, and cannot permissibly confer standing on private parties like CEH, (see id. at pp. 11-12). The Complaint seeks this relief by way of two counts, styled " Preemption" and " Commerce Clause." ( Id. at pp. 6,9.)

In response, CEH concurrently filed a Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Sanctions. The Motion to Dismiss argues that this Court cannot assert personal jurisdiction

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over the California Defendant because, in sum:

CEH is a non-profit organization incorporated under California law, with its headquarters in California. CEH has no physical presence in Pennsylvania, and it has never owned nor leased any property here. It is not authorized to do business in Pennsylvania, has no Pennsylvania licenses or employees, and has no Pennsylvania agent for service of process. It has not brought suit in Pennsylvania nor, prior to the present case, been sued here. It has no Pennsylvania bank accounts, and has entered no contracts here.

( Doc. 11 at 7-8 (internal citations omitted).) CEH's only contact with Pennsylvania, it argues, is that it maintains " a website that can be viewed by persons in Pennsylvania." ( Id. at 8.)

BabyAge does not dispute CEH's factual representations. Instead, it argues that personal jurisdiction exists based on the facts that CEH " purchased the piece of children's furniture that allegedly contained the offending chemical on-line on the Plaintiff's website and that from 2007 through to the present, it has writing to ( sic], communicating with and had active dealings with the Plaintiff,, Inc." (Doc. 19 at 10.) Read in the context of Plaintiff's other filings, the " dealings" beginning in 2007 appear to refer to another action in which CEH sued or threatened to sue BabyAge in California state court. ( Cf. id. at 2.) BabyAge also argues, albeit summarily, that the case Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783, 104 S.Ct. 1482, 79 L.Ed.2d 804 (1984)--in which the Supreme Court found that a California court could exercise jurisdiction in a libel action by a California plaintiff against Florida newspapermen for statements made in an article published in Florida--establishes " specific jurisdiction over this Defendant based on the effects of the Defendant's California conduct against the Plaintiff had ( sic] upon the Plaintiff in Pennsylvania." (Doc. 19 at 11.)

III. Analysis

a. Motion to Dismiss

i. Standard of Review

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