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Cossart v. United Excel Corporation

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 30, 2014



GEORGE A. O'TOOLE, Jr., District Judge.

I. Background

This case arises out of a dispute over wages owed under a commission arrangement. The plaintiff William Cossart alleges that the defendants have violated the Massachusetts Wage Act, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 149, Section 148, by failing to pay him the commission for a California-based project.

The defendants, United Excel Corporation ("UEC") and Ky Hornbaker, have moved to dismiss the Complaint for, among other grounds, lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2).

UEC is a Kansas corporation with its principal place of business in Merriam, Kansas. Ky Hornbaker is a resident of Lake Quivira, Kansas. The defendants allege that Cossart's claim arises out of a commission agreement he entered into while in Kansas and, further, out of a proposed construction contract for a facility in California. Cossart contends that defendants have sufficient contacts with Massachusetts because they allowed him to base his work for UEC from Massachusetts and he solicited some Massachusetts organizations on behalf of UEC.

II. Discussion

A plaintiff has the burden of presenting evidence "which... is sufficient to support findings of all facts essential to personal jurisdiction." Bluetarp Fin., Inc. v. Matrix Constr. Co., Inc. , 709 F.3d 72, 79 (1st Cir. 2013). A plaintiff must prove that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant satisfies both the applicable state's long-arm statute and the federal due process requirements. U.S.S. Yachts, Inc. v. Ocean Yachts, Inc. , 894 F.2d 9, 11 (1st Cir. 1990). Even if a court is "presented with jurisdictional facts sufficient to survive due process scrutiny, a judge would be required to decline to exercise jurisdiction if the plaintiff was unable to satisfy at least one of the statutory prerequisites." Good Hope Indus., Inc. v. Ryder Scott Co. , 389 N.E.2d 76, 80 (Mass. 1979).

The only part of the Massachusetts long-arm statute that might be applicable is Section 3(a), which permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a cause of action arising from the person's "transacting any business in this Commonwealth." Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 233A, ยง 3(a). "Generally the purposeful and successful solicitation of business from residents of the Commonwealth... will suffice to satisfy this requirement." Tatro v. Manor Care, Inc. , 625 N.E.2d 549, 551-52 (Mass. 1994). Here, Cossart cannot show that any of UEC's attempts to transact business in the Commonwealth were successful. So far as appears from the parties' submissions, the fact that Cossart himself was located in Massachusetts was fortuitous; his location was a matter of indifference to the defendants. The work he performed on UEC's behalf could have been done from a base located anywhere, as far as the defendants were concerned.

There is no evidence that Hornbaker as an individual conducted activities within the scope of the long-arm statute. The fact that an officer of a corporation such as he might be liable under the Massachusetts wage statute does not answer the jurisdiction question.

Further, to satisfy due process, the plaintiff must prove that a defendant has minimum contacts with the state and that "maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington , 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). Due process analysis for personal jurisdiction falls under two categories: general and specific.

A. General Jurisdiction

General jurisdiction exists when an out-of-state defendant conducts systematic and continuous activity in the state, even though the activity does not relate to the relevant suit. Id . at 318. Here, Cossart contends that personal jurisdiction over UEC and Hornbaker is appropriate under both general and specific jurisdiction.

Cossart points to UEC's registration to do business in Massachusetts and the corporation's attempts to secure projects in Massachusetts. Registration and attempts at proposals, without any evidence of completed projects, cannot satisfy general jurisdiction's requirement of systematic and continuous activity. ...

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