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Matos v. Seton Hall Univ.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 4, 2015

MICHAEL FRANKLIN MATOS, Plaintiff,
v.
SETON HALL UNIVERSITY, AN EDUCATIONAL CORPORATION OF NEW JERSEY, Defendant

Pro Se Party Michael Franklin Matos, Plaintiff, Pro se, Shrewsbury, MA.

For Seton Hall University, an Educational Corporation of New Jersey, Defendant: Edward G. Sponzilli, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Norris McLaughlin & Marcus PA, Bridgewater, NJ; Miriam J. McKendall, LEAD ATTORNEY, Holland & Knight, LLP, Boston, MA; Katrina N. Chapman, Holland & Knight (B), Boston, MA; Keith McDonald, Nicholas F Pellitta, PRO HAC VICE, Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A., Bridgewater, NJ.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED COMPLAINT, OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, TO TRANSFER VENUE (Docket No. 15)

TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Plaintiff Michael Franklin Matos (" Plaintiff" ) asserts claims against Defendant Seton Hall University (" Seton Hall" or " the university" ) for breach of contract (Count I), breach of common law duty to provide fundamental and procedural fairness (Count II), and violations of New Jersey and federal disability discrimination law (Counts III and IV). Seton Hall moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and/or improper venue, or in the alternative, to transfer venue to the District of New Jersey (Docket No. 15). Seton Hall's motion is denied.

Background

Seton Hall University is incorporated under the laws of New Jersey as an educational corporation. Plaintiff is a resident of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts and a former Seton Hall student. On December 27, 2011 Seton Hall mailed an admission package to Plaintiff at his home in Shrewsbury, offering him a place in Seton Hall's incoming class. The package included the offer of a four-year scholarship totaling $90,000. Plaintiff accepted the offer and enrolled for the Fall 2012 semester.

The Amended Complaint asserts the following facts regarding Plaintiff's enrollment at Seton Hall. In February of his freshman year, Plaintiff experienced a depressive episode and was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. To deal with his depression, Plaintiff voluntarily withdrew from the university for the remainder of the school year. He re-enrolled for the Fall 2013 semester. On October 21, 2013, a Seton Hall employee found marijuana and drug paraphernalia in Plaintiff's dorm room. Plaintiff denied that the contraband belonged to him. He was summoned to a meeting with the Dean of Students. According to Plaintiff, the Dean stated that because she believed Plaintiff to be bipolar, he would be stripped of his standing as a student. On October 22, the Dean instructed Plaintiff that he had one day to submit an application for medical withdrawal. Plaintiff refused, and the Dean placed Plaintiff on interim suspension. At the behest of his parents, Plaintiff withdrew from the university one month later.

Seton Hall has moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Plaintiff asserts that this Court may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Seton Hall because the university recruited him in Massachusetts. Seton Hall acknowledges that it recruits college students by visiting high schools and attending college fairs in Massachusetts, and that it advertises in national publications in both print and online form.

Analysis

Specific Jurisdiction Standard

Specific jurisdiction exists " over an out-of-state defendant where the cause of action arises directly out of, or relates to, the defendant's forum-based contacts." Negron-Torres v. Verizon Commc'ns, Inc., 478 F.3d 19, 24 (1st Cir. 2007). To determine whether the Constitution permits the exercise of specific jurisdiction, the First Circuit uses a three-part inquiry.[1] First, the legal claims must relate to or arise out of the defendant's contacts in the forum. See Phillips Exeter Acad. v. Howard Phillips Fund, Inc., 196 F.3d 284, 288 (1st Cir. 1999). Second, the defendant's contacts must constitute " purposeful availment of the benefits and protections" of the forum's laws. Id. Third, the exercise of jurisdiction must be " consistent with principles of justice and fair play." Carreras v. PMG Collins, LLC, 660 F.3d 549, 554 (1st Cir. 2011).

The relatedness prong " is a flexible, relaxed standard." N. Laminate Sales, Inc. v. Davis, 403 F.3d 14, 25 (1st Cir. 2005). However, a " broad but-for" relationship between the in-state activity and the cause of action is generally insufficient. Harlow v. Children's Hosp., 432 F.3d 50, 61 (1st Cir. 2005). Instead, the test falls between proximate and " but for" causation, with foreseeability shaping most relatedness determinations. See Nowak v. Tak How Invs. Ltd., 94 F.3d 708, 715-16 (1st Cir. 1996). The purposeful availment analysis asks whether the defendant's in-state activity was voluntary, and whether that activity made it reasonably foreseeable that the defendant could be haled into court in that state. Id. at 716. The third and final test asks whether the exercise of jurisdiction is reasonable in light of five " gestalt factors:"

(1) the defendant's burden of appearing; (2) the forum state's interest in adjudicating the dispute; (3) the plaintiff's interest in obtaining convenient and effective relief; (4) the judicial system's interest in obtaining the most effective resolution of the controversy; and (5) the ...

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