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Pineda v. Chromiak

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 27, 2018

EDDY PINEDA Plaintiff
v.
RICHARD E. CHROMIAK, WOLFE TRUCKING, and RITE-WAY ENTERPRISES, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          HENRY S. PERKIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant, Rite-Way Enterprise, Inc.'s 12(b)(2) Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 16) and Defendant, Rite-Way Enterprise, Inc.'s Brief in Support of its Rule 12(b)(2) Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 16-9), both filed on April 19, 2018. Plaintiff, Eddy Pineda's Response to Defendant, Rite-Way Enterprise Inc.'s 12(b)(2) Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 17) was filed on May 2, 2018. Defendant, Rite-Way Enterprise, Inc's Reply to Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Defendant's Rule 12(b)(2) Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 32) was filed with leave of Court on July 11, 2018. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Having reviewed and considered the contentions of the parties, the Court is prepared to rule on this matter.

         I.PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed a writ of summons on August 31, 2017 against defendants Richard Chromiak (“Chromiak”), Wolfe Trucking, Inc. (“Wolfe Trucking”), and Rite-Way Enterprises, Inc. (“Rite-Way”). Def's. Mot. ¶ 1. A second writ of summons against the same three defendants was filed on October 17, 2017. Id. Around that time, the attorney for Chromiak and Wolfe Trucking informed Plaintiff's attorney that Rite-Way “has no relationship” to the accident. Id. Ex. A.

         Plaintiff filed his complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on December 8, 2017. Def.'s Mot. ¶ 4; Ex. B. p. 2. Defendants Chromiak and Wolfe Trucking filed a Notice of Removal on December 28, 2017, invoking diversity jurisdiction, and removed the case to this Court. Id. ¶ 6; Ex. C. Although Rite-Way consented to the removal, it reserved all defenses, including its defense based upon lack of personal jurisdiction. Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Opp'n p. 2. Defendants Chromiak and Wolfe Trucking filed an Answer on January 22, 2018. Rite-Way did not join in the Answer and has never filed an Answer.

         In February 2018, the same attorney representing Chromiak and Wolfe Trucking was retained to represent Rite-Way. Def. Mot. ¶ 11. During a February 28, 2018 conference call with this Court, counsel for Chromiak and Wolfe Trucking informed Plaintiff's counsel that Rite-Way is not a proper party and that personal jurisdiction over Rite-Way is lacking. On March 26, 2018, Defendants' counsel contacted Plaintiff's counsel, asking that Rite-Way be voluntarily dismissed. Id. Ex. G. Plaintiff's counsel did not agree to dismiss Rite-Way from the litigation, Id. ¶ 14, and Rite-Way filed a Motion to Dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) on April 19, 2018. Plaintiff filed a Brief in Opposition to Rite-Way's Motion to Dismiss on May 2, 2018. With leave of Court, Rite-Way's Reply to Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition was filed on July 11, 2018.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Taking the averments in the Complaint as true, [1] the pertinent facts to this Court's determination are as follows:

         On October 20, 2015, Plaintiff Eddy Pineda was occupying a vehicle that was stopped in a parking lot in Luzerne County. Compl. ¶ 6. At the same time, Defendant Chromiak, within the course of his employment with Defendant Wolfe Trucking, was operating a tractor trailer owned by Wolfe Trucking in the same parking lot. Id. ¶ 8. Chromiak, driving “at an excessive rate of speed” and having “failed to make an appropriate turn, ” struck the front of Plaintiff's vehicle. Compl. ¶ 9. Plaintiff claims to suffer serious injury and impairments, including spinal injuries and resulting medical expenses and loss of earnings. Id. ¶ ¶ 19-21.

         Plaintiff is a Pennsylvania resident. Id. ¶ 1. Chromiak is a California resident. Id. ¶ 2. Wolfe Trucking and Rite-Way are California corporations with their principal place of business located in Van Nuys, California. Id. ¶ ¶ 3, 4; Def.'s Mot.; Ex. C at ¶ ¶ 8-9. Rite-Way claims it is not a parent or affiliate of Wolfe Trucking and it “did not control” Wolfe Trucking at the time of the accident. Notice of Removal ¶ 10; Def.'s Mot. p. 3; Def.'s Br., Ex. H ¶ 5. However, Plaintiff alleges the companies have an “intertwined” history that continues to this day. Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n p. 2; Ex. D, F. Taking these disputed facts in favor of the plaintiff, the Court acknowledges some connection between the two Defendant companies.

         Rite-Way is a truck brokerage and factoring company. Def's. Mot. ¶ 19. According to Defendants, a truck brokerage company matches available trucks with freight that needs to be hauled. Factoring is a form of alternative financing. A factoring company is a third party that buys a company's invoices at a discount price to provide cash to the company. Def's. Mot. ¶ 20; Ex. H ¶ ¶ 8, 9. According to the affidavit of Rite-Way's Chief Financial Officer, Jack Wolfe, Rite-Way does not do business in Pennsylvania; is not registered to do business in Pennsylvania; has never maintained offices, locations, or financial accounts in Pennsylvania; has never advertised in Pennsylvania; and has never employed agents, brokers, or employees in Pennsylvania. Def.'s Mot. ¶ ¶ 21-26; Ex. H ¶ ¶ 2, 12-17. According to Wolfe, Rite-Way likely provided factoring services relative to the load being hauled by Wolfe Trucking and Chromiak, but any such factoring agreement would have been negotiated in California. Id. Ex. H. ¶ 10-11. Additionally, Rite-Way's former Secretary, Yale Herr, claims in his affidavit that Rite-Way did not own, control, or lease the truck involved in the accident, nor did it employ Chromiak at any time. Id. Ex. D ¶ 6-7.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When a defendant raises the defense of the court's lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff must establish “with reasonable particularity sufficient contacts between the defendant and the forum state” through “affidavits or competent evidence.” Dayhoff, 86 F.3d at 1302; Mellon Bank (East) PSFS, Nat. Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir. 1992) (citing Provident Nat. Bank v. California Fed. Sav. & Loan Assoc., 819 F.2d 434 (3d Cir. 1987)). Although it is the plaintiff's burden to demonstrate facts establishing personal jurisdiction, the court “must accept all of the plaintiff's allegations as true and construe disputed facts in favor of the plaintiff.” Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 368 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Cateret Sav. Bank, FA v. Shushan, 954 F.2d 141, 142 n.1 (3d. Cir. 1992)). Once a plaintiff demonstrates a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction over a defendant, the defendant has the burden of establishing the court's exercise of jurisdiction is unreasonable. Financial Software Sys., Inc. v. Questrade, No. 18-742, 2018 WL 3141329, at *2 (E.D. Pa. June 27, 2018) (citing Stann v. Olander Prop. Mgmt. Co., No. 11-CV-7865, 2014 WL 3628588, at *2 (E.D. Pa. July 23, 2014)).

         Rule 4(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “authorizes personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants to the extent permissible under the law of the state where the district court sits.” Mellon Bank, 960 F.2d at 1221. Pennsylvania's long-arm statute, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5322 (1981), permits the courts of Pennsylvania to exercise personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants that comports with “the ...


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