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Gizinski v. Mission Mobility, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 15, 2017

KATHERINE GIZINSKI, Plaintiff
v.
MISSION MOBILITY, LLC, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

         Before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(3), or, alternatively, Defendant's motion to transfer venue from this Court to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404. (Doc. No. 5.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. (Doc. Nos. 9, 11-12.) For the following reasons, the Court will deny the motion to dismiss and grant the motion to transfer these proceedings to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         Defendant Mission Mobility, a Delaware Limited Liability Company with its principal place of business in Norfolk, Virginia, employed Plaintiff Katherine Gizinski as a Sales Director from September 24, 2012 until October 15, 2015. (Doc. Nos. 1 ¶¶ 6-8; 5 ¶ 4.) As Sales Director, Defendant worked from home offices in Alabama, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 8.) As Defendant's employee, Plaintiff was entitled to an annual salary, commission, and various benefits which are outlined in the exhibits attached to the complaint. (Doc. Nos. 1 ¶¶ 10-13; 1-1 at 1, 4-5.)

         At an unknown time, Defendant began to belatedly deposit Plaintiff's paychecks. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 14.) Plaintiff thereafter voluntarily separated from Defendant. (Id. ¶ 18.) However, Defendant failed to pay Plaintiff's final paycheck, commissions due to her, and compensation for her accrued vacation time. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 23.) Because Plaintiff has been unable to collect her compensation, Plaintiff commenced this action on April 8, 2016. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant breached her employment contract by failing to pay the agreed compensation. (Doc. Nos. 1 ¶¶ 22-23; 1-1 at 1, 4-5.) In addition, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated Pennsylvania's Wage Payment and Collection Law, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 260.1 et seq. (1961), by failing to pay her wages on her regular payday. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 25.)

         On June 16, 2016, Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's action pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(3) or transfer Plaintiff's action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404. (Doc. No. 5.) Defendant argues that because this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendant, Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed. (Id. at 1.) Alternatively, Defendant argues that the Middle District of Pennsylvania is an improper venue for this action, and that therefore, the action should be dismissed. (Id.) Finally, Defendant argues that even if this Court does have personal jurisdiction over Defendant, and even if the Middle District of Pennsylvania is a proper venue, the action should be transferred from this Court to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. (Id.) The motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for disposition. (Doc. Nos. 9, 11-12.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), a defendant may move to dismiss a complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(2). Once “the defendant raises the question of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, facts sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction.” Carteret Sav. Bank, FA v. Shushan, 954 F.2d 141, 146 (3d Cir. 1992). However, at the pleading stage, the plaintiff must only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and the court must accept plaintiff's allegations as true and construe disputed facts in the plaintiff's favor. See Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc., 566 F.3d 324, 330 (3d Cir. 2009); Carteret Sav. Bank, 954 F.2d at 146. The court may consider the parties' affidavits and other evidence when making determinations regarding personal jurisdiction. See Metcalfe, 566 F.3d at 330; Connell v. CIMC Intermodal Equip., No. 1:16-CV-714, 2016 WL 7034407, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 2, 2016).

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3), a defendant may move to dismiss for improper venue. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(3). The defendant has the burden of establishing improper venue, Connell, 2016 WL 7034407, at *2 (citing Myers v. Am. Dental Ass'n, 695 F.2d 716, 725 (3d Cir. 1982)), and the court must accept the allegations in the pleadings as true and view facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Connell, 2016 WL 7034407, at * 2; Heft v. AAI Corp., 355 F.Supp.2d 757, 762 (M.D. Pa. 2005). If a district court determines that venue is improper, the court must either dismiss the complaint or transfer the case “to any district or division in which it could have been brought, ” as long as transfer is “in the interest of justice.” 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant argues that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendant and that venue in the Middle District of Pennsylvania is improper. (Doc. No. 5 at 1.) Alternatively, Defendant requests that the Court transfer these proceedings to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404. (Id.) The Court will consider each of these arguments in turn.

         A. Personal Jurisdiction

         “A federal court may assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident of the state in which the court sits to the extent authorized by the law of the state.” Carteret Sav. Bank, 954 F.2d at 144-45 (quoting Provident Nat'l Bank v. Cal. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 436 (3d Cir. 1987)). The Pennsylvania long-arm statute permits the Court to exercise personal jurisdiction “to the fullest extent allowed under the Constitution of the United States . . . .” 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5322(b). Therefore, in its exercise of personal jurisdiction, this Court is constrained only by the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, which requires that a defendant “have certain minimum contacts with [the forum state] such that maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Int'l Shoe Co. v. Wash., 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). Requiring “minimum contacts” between the defendant and the forum state gives “fair warning” to a defendant that he or she may be called to defend a lawsuit in that state. See Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 296 (3d Cir. 2007).

         Two types of personal jurisdiction conform with these notions of due process. General jurisdiction exists when a defendant has “systematic and continuous contacts” with the forum state. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 415 (1984); Marten, 499 F.3d at 296. Specific jurisdiction exists when the claims arise out of or relate to activities that the defendant “purposefully directed” at the forum state. See Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985); Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 414; Marten, 499 F.3d at 296. To determine whether specific jurisdiction exists, the court must consider: (1) whether the defendant “purposefully directed” activities at the forum state and (2) whether the plaintiff's claims arise out of or relate to those activities. Marten, 499 F.3d at 296. If these two factors are met, the court may determine whether exercising personal jurisdiction over the defendant “comport[s] with fair play and substantial justice.” Id. (quoting Burger King, 471 U.S. at 476).

         In this case, Plaintiff asserts that the Court has specific jurisdiction over Defendant. (Doc. No. 11 at 5.) In general, Plaintiff maintains that Defendant “purposefully directed” activities at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by allowing Plaintiff to move to and work in Pennsylvania and by complying with legal obligations regarding employing a Pennsylvania resident. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that she moved from Colorado to Pennsylvania after discussing her move with Defendant's CEO, Michael Smack. (Doc. No. 11-1 ¶¶ 5.) Plaintiff claims that Mr. Smack indicated that “it was critical to Mission Mobility's success, and consequently, the security of [Plaintiff's] employment[, ] that Mission Mobility have a presence within driving distance of the greater D.C. area.” (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff alleges that in order to be in reach of “the greater D.C. area, ” she discussed the possibility of a home office in Maryland, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia with Mr. Smack. (Id. ΒΆ 9.) After Plaintiff moved to Pennsylvania, Plaintiff avers that Defendant updated employment records to reflect Plaintiff's new Pennsylvania address, paid payroll taxes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and deposited paychecks and commissions ...


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