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Davis v. Martin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 12, 2015

DAVID DAVIS, by and through his legal guardian, Maribeth Donohue, Plaintiff,
v.
RANDALL MARTIN, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

JOHN E. JONES, III, District Judge.

Three motions are presently pending before the Court: a Motion to Transfer Venue filed by the Maryland State Defendants (Doc. 3); a Motion to Dismiss filed by the Maryland State Defendants (Doc. 5); and a Motion to Dismiss or to Transfer Venue filed by Defendants Randall Martin, Theresa Martin, Lifeline, Inc., and Lifeline, LLC (Doc. 7). For the reasons herein articulated, the Court will transfer this action to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, David Davis, is a disabled individual who is a resident of Maryland and, at all times relevant, was committed to the care of a residential facility in Maryland. (Doc. 1-3, ¶¶ 1, 3). His legal guardian, Maribeth Donohue, is also a Maryland resident.

There are 15 named Defendants in this action. The defendant corporate entities are Lifeline, Inc.; Lifeline, LLC; Lifeline of Maryland/Virginia, Inc.; and Lifeline of Pennsylvania, Inc. (together, the "Lifeline Corporation" or "Lifeline"). ( Id. ¶¶ 10-13, 28). The Lifeline Corporation managed the facility in which Plaintiff Davis lived. ( Id. ¶ 28). Defendants Randall Martin and Theresa Martin were the sole shareholders, officers, and directors of the above corporation. ( Id. ¶¶ 4-6). (Collectively, we shall refer to these defendants as the "Lifeline Defendants.") The following state and municipal entities are also named as defendants in this action: Comptroller of Maryland, Maryland State Treasurer's Office, Office of the Governor of Maryland, Board of Public Works (Maryland), Maryland Department of Disabilities, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (Maryland), Department of Human Resources (Maryland), Baltimore Social Services Department, and the State of Maryland (collectively, the "Maryland Defendants"). ( Id. ¶¶ 17-25). All of the Defendants are residents of the state of Maryland except for Lifeline of Pennsylvania, which is a Pennsylvania corporation.

By way of brief summary, the Lifeline Corporation offered residential and other services to "medically fragile" individuals, many of whom were confined to bed or wheelchair by paralysis, cerebral palsy, and other disabilities. ( Id. ¶¶ 28, 30, 34). Maryland officials have investigated and sanctioned Lifeline on multiple occasions for, among other things, inadequate care, abuse, and understaffing that has resulted in harm to and in some cases the death of residents. ( Id. ¶¶ 36, 37, 39). The Complaint recounts that a quadriplegic resident was left in her urine and feces; a blind paraplegic resident suffered two open wounds on his buttocks and, after having no bowel movement for four days, was hospitalized and died soon after; and another resident died after being hospitalized for acute respiratory failure, having not been administered a regime of antibiotics correctly or repositioned appropriately in his bed/wheelchair. ( Id. ¶¶ 42, 50-54). Meanwhile, the State of Maryland was awarding Lifeline millions of dollars worth of contracts for its residential services. ( Id. ¶¶ 45, 60). Even so, Lifeline experienced serious financial problems, becoming insolvent and eventually filing for bankruptcy. ( Id. ¶¶ 67-69).

The Complaint relates 10 year-old Damaud Martin's story in detail, who died on July 2, 2014, while in Lifeline's care in a group home in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. ( Id. ¶¶ 96, 102). The nurse on duty recounted that she was watching over Damaud and two other children immediately before Damaud's death, although each of the children's treatment plans called for one-on-one nursing. ( Id. ¶ 97). Damaud had been in a coma-like state since 2008 and had a tracheostomy tube requiring frequent suctioning. ( Id. ¶¶ 106, 114). He died after going into cardiac arrest. ( Id. ¶¶ 101-02). The state investigation following Damaud's death was wholly inadequate, and the nurses on duty were not even interviewed. ( Id. ¶¶ 113, 115).

Plaintiff Davis developed severe bedsores while in Lifeline's care in a Maryland group home. ( Id. ¶ 40). The sores were left untreated and became infected, progressing to the point that Davis's skin and flesh rotted to the bone. ( Id. ¶ 249). He was eventually hospitalized on or about May 22, 2014, and underwent three surgical procedures over three weeks. ( Id. ¶ 40).

The Complaint recounts numerous instances where Maryland agencies failed to adequately oversee and/or investigate Lifeline and did not act satisfactorily to address Lifeline's deficiencies, all the while continuing to award the company additional contracts.

Plaintiff initiated this action by way of a Writ of Summons, filed on December 15, 2014, and the Complaint was filed on February 11, 2015, in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. The four-count Complaint alleges negligence (Count I); a civil rights violation predicated on the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution (Count II); punitive damages (Count III); and class action (Count IV).

On March 13, 2015, the Maryland Defendants filed a Notice of Removal in this Court based on federal question jurisdiction, which was concurred in by the Lifeline Defendants. (Doc. 1). Thereafter, on March 20, 2015, all three pending motions were filed. The Maryland Defendants' Motion to Transfer argues that venue is appropriate in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland (Doc. 3), and their Motion to Dismiss is based on lack of personal jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, and immunity (Doc. 5). The Motion to Dismiss or to Transfer Venue filed by the Lifeline Defendants asserts that the case should be dismissed on personal jurisdiction grounds or, in the alternative, transferred to the federal court in Maryland. (Doc. 7). All of the motions have been briefed and are ripe for disposition.[1]

II. DISCUSSION

The concepts of personal jurisdiction and venue both concern the territorial reach of the tribunal and not its basic adjudicative power. 4D WRIGHT & MILLER, FED. PRAC. & PROC. § 3801 (4th ed.). Personal jurisdiction focuses on the defendant's activities availing him of the forum and involves both statutory and constitutional dimensions. See Provident Nat'l Bank v. Cal. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 436-37 (3d Cir. 1987). Considerations relevant to venue are solely statutory, and the inquiry is broader, looking into the location of other parties and their activities. See Heft v. AAI Corp., 355 F.Supp.2d 757, 762 (M.D. Pa. 2005). Under both analyses, we largely accept the allegations of the complaint as true, and we must view the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See id.

Courts generally address issues of personal jurisdiction before considering the appropriateness of venue. See Cumberland Truck Equip. Co. v. Detroit Diesel Corp., 401 F.Supp.2d 415, 419 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (citing Leroy v. Great Western United Corp., 443 U.S. 173, 180 (1979)). However, there are instances favoring a reversal of the inquiries, and, to that end, a court has the power to transfer an action even where it lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendants. See United States v. Berkowitz, 328 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1964) (citing Goldlawr, Inc. v. Heiman, 369 U.S. 463 (1962)). Where defendants have sought dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction, and simultaneously and alternatively moved to transfer, interests of judicial economy militate toward consideration of the transfer issue as an initial matter. See Allied Sec. Inc. v. Massey Energy Co., No. 08-337, 2008 WL 4140389, at *1 (E.D. Pa. ...


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