United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
For SANDRA STEINFIELD, PAUL STEINFIELD, HUSBAND & WIFE, Plaintiffs: ADAM M. KOTLAR, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF ADAM M. KOTLAR, CHERRY HILL, NJ.
For EMPG INTERNATIONAL, LLC, doing business as EXPERIENCEPLUS! BICYCLE TOURS, Defendant: MICHAEL L. DETWEILER, MARSHALL DENNEHEY WARNER COLEMAN & GOGGIN, PHILADELPHIA, PAX.
EDWARD G. SMITH, United States District Judge.
Pennsylvania courts may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant if (1) the nature and quality of the defendant's commercial activity in the state constitutes purposeful availment of doing business in the state, (2) the cause of action is related to or arises out of the defendant's contacts with the state, and (3) the court's exercise of specific jurisdiction comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Regarding the second, relatedness prong, the Third Circuit requires a closer and more direct causal connection than the " but-for" test. The question presented by the motion to dismiss filed in this case is whether this court has personal jurisdiction in this personal injury and breach of contract action over a Colorado limited liability company with which the plaintiffs contracted for the sale of a Costa Rican bicycle tour by accessing the company's website from their home in Pennsylvania. As part of this question, the court must necessarily determine whether the plaintiffs' causes of action can be said to arise out of or relate to the company's contacts with Pennsylvania, where the plaintiffs unilaterally initiated the purchase of the tour. Based on the factual record, as stipulated by the parties, the court finds that plaintiffs' cause of action did not arise out of or relate to the company's contacts with Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, because the defendant EP is subject to general personal jurisdiction in the state of Colorado, the court will transfer the case to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado.
In addition to the personal jurisdiction issue, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
require a plaintiff to serve the summons and complaint upon a defendant within 120 days of the filing of the complaint. Thus far, despite the passage of approximately 13 months since the plaintiffs filed the complaint, they have failed to serve the remaining defendants, namely the Costa Rican entities and individuals that were also allegedly responsible for the bicycle tour. The plaintiffs have not demonstrated good cause for the delay in serving these defendants; accordingly, the court will also dismiss the complaint without prejudice against these remaining defendants.
I. ALLEGATIONS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On February 12, 2014, the plaintiffs, Sandra Steinfield and Paul Steinfield, commenced this action by filing a complaint against the defendants, EmPG International, LLC (" EP" ), Mario Cordero, Destino Tropical DT S.A., Fernando Guevara Bedoya, Jose Espinoza, John Does (1-10) and ABC Corporations (1-10). Compl., Doc. No. 1. In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege that they are long-time hobby cyclists who decided to plan a bicycling tour in Costa Rica in January 2012. Compl. at ¶ ¶ 12, 15. They performed an online search for a Costa Rican bicycle tour via Google " which returned a result marketing, advertising[,] and communicating the offered service of guided bicycle tours to international locations including Costa Rica." Id. at ¶ 16. The plaintiffs clicked on this search result and were directed to experienceplus.com, EP's website. Id. at ¶ 17.
Due to the plaintiffs' knowledge of issues that other people had with overseas bicycle tours, they considered multiple factors before booking the tour. Id. at ¶ ¶ 20-41. First, the plaintiffs wanted to ensure that EP was " a reputable, well established, [and] experienced company and was based in the United States of America." Id. at ¶ 21. Based upon EP's representations on their website, the plaintiffs formed the belief that " they were going to book an overseas bicycle tour with a reputable, responsible[,] and well established United States company." Id. at ¶ ¶ 21-27. Second, the plaintiffs were concerned with the quality of the bicycles that EP would provide for the tour. Id. at ¶ 28. EP represented to the plaintiffs that they would provide " quality" bikes in satisfactory condition. Id. at ¶ ¶ 31, 32. The plaintiffs relied upon EP's representations about its bikes and this information was " a substantial contributing factor in plaintiffs' decision to book the trip." Id. at ¶ 33. Finally, the plaintiffs also considered the difficulty rating of the tour because they had concerns about their abilities and whether the trail may pose any unreasonable safety risks. Id. at ¶ ¶ 34-36. On or about " January 4, ," the plaintiffs called EP to ask about the difficulty rating of the Costa Rican tour and were advised by staff that " the tour route was . . . suitable to all experience levels."  Id. at ¶ 36.
The plaintiffs allege that the aforementioned information EP provided to them led them to believe that the tour route would be safe, that the bicycles would be safe, and that the tour guides were trained and educated. Id. at ¶ ¶ 40, 42. Thus, they entered into a contract with EP to participate in the Costa Rican bicycling tour from February 11, 2012 to February 16, 2012.
While on the tour, the plaintiffs and the other tour participants found their bicycles to be substandard due to " faulty brakes, poorly adjusted components[,] and slipping gears." Id. at ¶ ¶ 64-66. While returning from an " excursion" to a coffee shop, Mrs. Steinfield was " going down a steep incline with sharp hairpin turns." Id. at ¶ ¶ 72-76. As she approached a sharp turn, she attempted to brake but there was no tension from the brake lines. Id. at ¶ 78. To avoid riding off the side of a cliff, she shifted her weight off the bicycle and to the ground. Id. at ¶ 79. She then slid approximately 80 feet and sustained significant injuries. Id. at ¶ ¶ 79-80.
Based on the aforementioned allegations, the plaintiffs assert causes of action against EP under theories of negligence, negligent hiring and retention, vicarious liability, joint enterprise, agency, breach of contract, violation of the Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Law, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. Id. at ¶ ¶ 14-17, 19, 22-28. Mr. Steinfield also asserts a loss of consortium claim against EP. Id. at ¶ ¶ 28-29.
To date, the plaintiffs have only served the summons and complaint upon EP and, as such, EP is the only named defendant to file a response to the complaint. EP responded to the complaint by filing the instant motion to dismiss on May 15, 2014. Doc. No. 7. In the motion, EP moved to have the court dismiss the claims against it because of a lack of personal jurisdiction and the failure to state a claim under which relief can be granted. Mot. to Dismiss of Def. EmPG Int'l, LLC d/b/a Experience Plus! Bicycle Tours at 1.
The court held an initial pretrial conference on June 10, 2014. Doc. No. 11. After the initial pretrial conference, the court entered a scheduling order allowing the parties to engage in jurisdictional discovery so they could properly address EP's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Scheduling Order, Doc. No. 10. The court also required the parties to submit a joint stipulation of facts with respect to jurisdiction. Id.
The plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to the motion to dismiss on October 22, 2014. Doc. No. 13. EP filed a reply to the plaintiffs' opposition on November 5, 2014. Doc. No. 14. The parties filed a joint stipulation of facts with respect to jurisdiction on January 7, 2015. Doc. No. 17.
In addition to the briefing and submissions relating to the motion to dismiss, on December 23, 2014, the court ordered the plaintiffs to show cause why the court should not dismiss the action against the remaining named defendants for failure to serve them with the summons and complaint within the 120-day period provided by Rule 4(m) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Doc. No. 15. The plaintiffs timely filed a letter in response to the order to show cause on ...