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Jeffs v. World Monuments Fund, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 25, 2017

BENJAMIN JEFFS Plaintiff,
v.
WORLD MONUMENTS FUND, INC., et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          C. Darnell Jones, II J.

         Defendant World Monuments Fund, Inc. is a non-profit New York corporation that has its principal place of business in New York City. Defendants Lisa Ackerman and Joshua David are the Executive Vice President and President of WMF, respectively. Ackerman recruited and hired Plaintiff, a citizen and then resident of the United Kingdom, to work in WMF's New York office. Plaintiff moved to Pennsylvania for the position and commuted to WMF's New York office daily. Defendant WMF terminated Plaintiff's employment after only one year, allegedly in contravention of the guaranteed term of employment promised in Plaintiff's employment contract. As a result thereof, Plaintiff commenced the instant action alleging violations of state labor laws, breach of contract, and fraud. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), Defendants moved to dismiss each count of the Amended Complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED, and this case is DISMISSED.

         BACKGROUND

         In support of their Motion, Defendants present affidavits attesting to their limited contacts with Pennsylvania. (Declaration of Joshua David, March 22, 2017; Declaration of Lisa Ackerman, March 23, 2017.) Plaintiff submits an affidavit in opposition to Defendants' Motion, but does not challenge the veracity of the statements Defendants proffer. (Declaration of Benjamin Jeffs, May 19, 2017.) As such, the Court deems the jurisdictional facts in this case largely undisputed.

         Plaintiff Benjamin Jeffs is a citizen and former resident of the United Kingdom currently residing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) Defendant World Monuments Fund, Inc. (“WMF”) is a non-profit New York corporation with its principal place of business in New York City. (Am. Compl. ¶ 2.) At all times material, both Defendant David, the President of WMF, and Defendant Ackerman, the Executive Vice President of WMF, worked and resided in New York. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 4; David Decl. ¶¶ 2, 3; Ackerman Decl. ¶¶ 2, 3.)

         Through several Skype and telephonic conversations from October of 2014 through March of 2015, Plaintiff and Defendant Ackerman negotiated the terms of a potential full-time position at Defendant WMF. (Jeffs Decl. ¶ 1.) All throughout this negotiation period, Plaintiff resided in the United Kingdom and Defendant Ackerman was based out of Defendant WMF's office in New York. (Ackerman Decl. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff requested that the position guarantee an initial three-year term of employment, as recompense for the expense and effort of relocating from the United Kingdom to the United States. (Am. Compl. ¶ 13.) Negotiations continued and in March of 2015, Plaintiff received an official offer of employment from Defendant WMF, addressed to Plaintiff's residence in the United Kingdom. (Am. Compl. ¶ 10; Employment Offer Letter, March 1, 2015, 1.) The offer stated that the position would be based out of New York and required that Plaintiff be present in WMF's New York office Monday through Friday of each work week. (Offer Letter, 1.)

         Despite Plaintiff's earlier request, the offer included a two-year initial term of employment, not three. (Am. Compl. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff contacted Defendant Ackerman about the discrepancy, and Defendant Ackerman responded that she thought the proffered term was two and one half years, and if not, she would send a “definitive employment letter” reflecting the correct term. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16.) Allegedly relying on this representation, Plaintiff accepted the position at Defendant WMF, moved to Philadelphia, and began working out of Defendant WMF's New York office on June 1, 2015. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 18, 21.) A year later, Defendant David informed Plaintiff that his employment with Defendant WMF was terminated. (David Decl. ¶ 8.) An official letter to that effect was mailed to Plaintiff's Philadelphia residence. (Am. Compl. ¶ 24.)

         Plaintiff resided in Pennsylvania throughout the entire course of his employment. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff was occasionally allowed to work from home, and on about six occasions, Plaintiff conducted meetings in Pennsylvania on Defendant WMF's behalf. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6; Jeffs Decl. ¶¶ 6-10.) On balance, Plaintiff spent 190 days-74% of his employment-working in New York and the equivalent of 20 full time days-8% of his employment-working from home in Pennsylvania. (Ackerman Decl. ¶¶ 17, 19-20.)

         During the course of Plaintiff's employment, Defendant WMF had one active project in Pennsylvania-the New Hope project-out of seventy total active projects worldwide. (Ackerman Decl. ¶¶ 25, 29.) Defendant Ackerman traveled to Pennsylvania twice in 2015 on WMF business, not at all in 2016, and communicated with faculty at the University of Pennsylvania a few times each year to maintain personal contacts therewith. (Ackerman Decl. ¶¶ 30-32.) Defendant David has not traveled to Pennsylvania since his employment with WMF began in 2015. (David Decl. ¶ 5.)

         Based on all of the foregoing, Defendants timely filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). Upon consideration of said Motion, Plaintiff's Response in opposition thereto, Defendants' Reply, and the record before us, this Court finds the exercise of personal jurisdiction improper here. Defendants' Motion is granted, and Plaintiff's case is dismissed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), a defendant may move to dismiss a claim for lack of personal jurisdiction. Once a defendant has raised this jurisdictional defense, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to present a prima facie case establishing jurisdiction over the non-resident defendant in the forum. Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 368 (3d Cir. 2002); see also Miller Yacht Sales, Inc., v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 97 (3d Cir. 2004) (“[W]hen the court does not hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction.”). A plaintiff has the burden to show, “with reasonable particularity, ” enough contact between the defendant and the forum to support the exercise of personal jurisdiction by the forum state. Mellon Bank v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir. 1992) (internal citations omitted); see also Action Mfg. Co. v. Simon Wrecking Co., 375 F.Supp.2d 411, 418 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (“In order to establish a prima facie case, the plaintiff must present specific facts that would allow the court to exercise jurisdiction over the defendant.”) (emphasis in original).

         In determining the existence of personal jurisdiction, courts “must accept all of the plaintiff's allegations as true and construe disputed facts in favor of the plaintiff.” Pinker, 292 F.3d at 368. Once the plaintiff's “allegations are contradicted by an opposing affidavit . . . [he or she] must present similar evidence in support of personal jurisdiction.” In re Chocolate Confectionary Antitrust Litig., 602 F.Supp.2d 538, 556 (M.D. Pa. 2009). To counter opposing affidavits, “[p]laintiffs may not repose upon their pleadings in this manner. Rather, they must counter defendant['s] affidavits with contrary evidence in support of purposeful availment jurisdiction.” Id. at 559. To that end, “[t]he plaintiff must respond to the defendant's motion with ‘actual proofs'; ‘affidavits which parrot and do no more than restate [the] plaintiff's allegations . . . do not end the inquiry.'” Lionti v. Dipna, Inc., Civ. No. 17-1678, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98956, at *3-4 (E.D. Pa. June 27, 2017) (quoting Time Share Vacation Club v. Atl. Resorts, Ltd., 735 F.2d 61, 66, n.9 (3d Cir. 1984); see also Lehigh Gas Wholesale, LLC v. LAP Petro., LLC, Civ. No. 14-5536, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36569, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 23, 2015) (“Plaintiff ...


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