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Bonkowski v. HP Hood LLC

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 31, 2016

TOMASZ BONKOWSKI and TERESA BONKOWSKI, Plaintiffs,
v.
HP HOOD LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF, United States District Judge.

         Tomasz and Teresa Bonkowski (“Bonkowski”), New York residents, bring this tort action in diversity against HP Hood LLC, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Massachusetts. (Comp. (Doc. No. 1); Bonkowski Mem. in Opp'n (“Bonkowski Opp'n”) (Doc. No. 11-5) at 1 (ECF pagination).) Hood now moves to dismiss this action, alleging that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Hood, and seeks transfer to the District of Massachusetts. (Hood Mot. (Doc. No. 12).) For the reasons that follow, the Court agrees with Hood on both grounds.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts, taken from the parties moving papers, are not in dispute. Hood produces and distributes milk and other dairy and non-dairy products throughout the United States, including in the State of New York. (Nightingale Aff. (Doc. 12-4 at 1.) To that end, Hood operates plants throughout the country, including in the State of New York, and also maintains an administrative office in the city of Binghamton, New York. (Id.) Hood is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Massachusetts. (Id.) Hood is authorized to do business in New York, having registered with the New York Secretary of State and appointing an entity for service of process and filing within the state. (Bonkowski Aff. (Doc No. 11-4) at 1 and Ex. B.)

         On May 29, 2015, Tomasz Bonkowski, a truck driver with Foodliner, Inc., was delivering goods to Hood from New York and was injured after tripping over a raised metal plate at Hood's Agawam, Massachusetts facility. (Bonkowski Opp'n at 1.) He sustained injuries to his right shoulder, and left hand and arm, and is receiving his medical treatment in Brooklyn, which has, to date, included at least one surgical procedure. (Id. at 2, 7.)

         Bonkowski maintains that this Court may assert personal jurisdiction over Hood because of Hood's contacts with New York and because Hood has consented to such jurisdiction by virtue of registering to do business in New York and by litigating in New York courts. (See generally Bonkowski Opp'n.) Hood maintains that following the Supreme Court's decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 748-49 (2014), none of the grounds alleged by Bonkowski meets the requisites of the Due Process clause. (See generally, Hood Mot.) As discussed more fully below, the Court agrees with Hood. In addition, Hood seeks transfer of this action to the District of Massachusetts pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) based on improper venue. The Court grants that motion as well.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Personal Jurisdiction

         Personal jurisdiction in a diversity case is determined by the law of the state in which the district court sits. Volkswagenwerk Aktiengesellschaft v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 751 F.2d 117, 120 (2d Cir. 1984). Plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that the Court may exercise personal jurisdiction over defendants. See DiStefano v. Carozzi N. Am., Inc., 286 F.3d 81, 84 (2d Cir. 2001). “In deciding a pretrial motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction a district court has considerable procedural leeway. It may determine the motion on the basis of affidavits alone; or it may permit discovery in aid of the motion; or it may conduct an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the motion.” Blau v. Allianz Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 124 F.Supp.3d 161, 170 (E.D.N.Y. 2015) (quoting Dorchester Fin. Sec., Inc. v. Banco BRJ, S.A., 722 F.3d 81, 84 (2d Cir. 2013)). Where, as here, the issue of personal jurisdiction “is decided initially on the pleadings and without discovery, the plaintiff need show only a prima facie case” of jurisdiction on a motion under Rule 12(b)(2). Volkswagenwerk Aktiengesellschaft, 751 F.2d at 120; accord Tamam v. Fransabank Sal, 677 F.Supp.2d 720, 725 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). In considering a Rule 12(b)(2) motion, the pleadings and affidavits are to be construed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the non-moving party, and all doubts are to be resolved in plaintiff's favor. See DiStefano, 286 F.3d at 84.

         Courts may exercise either general or specific personal jurisdiction. Daimler AG, 134 S.Ct. at 751; Brown v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 814 F.3d 619, 624-25 (2d Cir. 2016). General jurisdiction allows a court to adjudicate “any and all” claims against a defendant, regardless of whether the claims are connected to the forum state. Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915 (2011); Brown, 814 F.3d at 624. Specific jurisdiction renders a defendant amenable to suit only with respect to claims “arising out of or relating to the defendant's contacts with the forum.” Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 n.8 (1984); Goodyear, 131 S.Ct. at 2851; Brown, 814 F.3d at 624-25. “Whether specific or general, however, the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant is informed and limited by the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of due process, which requires that any jurisdictional exercise be consistent with ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Brown, 814 F.3d at 625 (quoting International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945)).

         Here, Bonkowski relies solely on New York Civil Practice Law and Rules section 301, New York's general jurisdiction statute. It provides that a New York court “may exercise jurisdiction over persons, property, or status as might have been exercised heretofore.” New York courts have interpreted Section 301 to exercise jurisdiction over an out-of-state corporation that “has engaged in such a continuous and systematic course of ‘doing business' in New York that a finding of its presence in New York is warranted.” Sonera Holding B.V. v. Cukurova Holding A.S., 750 F.3d 221, 224 (2d Cir. 2014) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Landoil Res. Corp. v. Alexander & Alexander Servs., 77 N.Y.2d 28, 33 (1990)). A corporation is “doing business” in New York if it “does business in New York not occasionally or casually, but with a fair measure of permanence and continuity.” Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 226 F.3d 88, 95 (2d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         However, after Daimler, the relevant inquiry is not whether a corporation's activities within a forum are “in some sense continuous and systematic, ” but rather “whether that corporation's affiliations with the State are so continuous and systematic as to render [it] essentially at home in the forum State.” 134 S.Ct. 746, 749 (quoting Goodyear, 131 S.Ct. at 2851); see also, Brown, 814 F.3d at 626-27; Chatwal Hotels & Resorts LLC v. Dollywood Co., 90 F.Supp.3d 97, 103-04 (S.D.N.Y. 2015). And after Daimler, “[e]xcept in a truly exceptional case, a corporate defendant may be treated as essentially at home only where it is incorporated or maintains its principal place of business - the ‘paradigm' cases.” Brown, 814 F.3d at 627 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted); Gucci America, Inc. v. Weixing Li, 768 F.3d 122, 135 (2d. Cir 2014).

         In this case, Hood's contacts with New York state do not comport with Daimler's due process standards and thus are not sufficient to give rise to personal jurisdiction over Hood in this Court. New York is neither Hood's place of incorporation, nor its principal place of business, and this case falls outside the “paradigm” established by Daimler. As such, Bonkowski “bears a heavy burden when []he asserts that [Hood's] presence in [New York] presents such an ‘exceptional case.'” Brown, 814 F.3d 627. Bonkowski has failed to carry his burden.

         Bonkowski has not sought discovery here and relies solely on the factual averments contained in Hood's motion regarding the extent of Hood's operations. (See generally, Bonkowski Opp'n.) He points to the fact that Hood is a national company with manufacturing operations across the United States, some of which are located in New York. Otherwise, Hood's presence in New York is limited to an administrative office located in Binghamton, New York. As Daimler counsels, in assessing the extent of a corporation's contacts in a state for general jurisdiction purposes, we must assess the company's local activity not in isolation but in the context of the company's overall activity.” Brown, 814 F.3d at 629 (emphasis in original). Bonkowski does not even attempt to analyze Hood's amount of business in New York as compared with its overall national presence. See Ritchie Capital Mgmt., LLC v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 176994 at *12 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 21, 2015). Indeed, while Hood's contacts are not insubstantial, they appear to be a small portion of its entire operations. A corporation “that operates in many places can scarcely be deemed at home in all of them.” Daimler, 134 S.Ct. at 761, n.20; see also, Gucci America, Inc. 768 F.3d at 135 (holding branch offices of bank incorporated and headquartered elsewhere insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction after Daimler); Ritchie Capital Mgmt., at *18-19 (finding that only 2.53% of the ...


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