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Roch v. Mollica

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Worcester

January 4, 2019

CAROLINE ROCH
v.
DAVID J. MOLLICA & another. [1]

          Heard: October 2, 2018.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on April 11, 2017. A motion to dismiss was heard by James G. Reardon, Jr., J., and a motion for reconsideration was considered by him.

         The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

          Traver Clinton Smith, Jr., for the plaintiff.

          Paul E. Mitchell for the defendants.

          Jennifer A. Creedon & Meghan L. Morgan, for Massachusetts Defense Lawyers Association, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present (Sitting at Worcester): Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

          LOWY, J.

         The plaintiff, Caroline Roch, a New Jersey resident, sued defendants David and Donna Mollica, New Hampshire residents, in Superior Court for negligence. The claim arose out of an incident in Florida. A deputy sheriff served both defendants with in-hand process in Worcester. The defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (2), 365 Mass. 754 (1974). A Superior Court judge allowed the motion to dismiss; the plaintiff appealed. The judge also denied the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. We transferred the appeal from the Appeals Court on our own motion.[2]

         We conclude that, as a matter of both State common law and due process, Massachusetts courts have personal jurisdiction over nonresident individuals who are served with process while intentionally, knowingly, and voluntarily in Massachusetts.[3] Because the defendants here were served under these circumstances, we reverse the judge's order allowing the defendants' motion to dismiss and remand to the Superior Court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.[4]

         Background.

         "When a defendant moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of adducing facts on which jurisdiction may be found. ... In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, we accept as true the essential uncontroverted facts that were before the judge" (citation, alteration, and quotations omitted). SCVNGR, Inc. v. Punchh, Inc., 478 Mass. 324, 325 n.3 (2017), quoting Miller v. Miller, 448 Mass. 320, 321 (2007) .

         The uncontested facts are as follows.[5] The plaintiff was a freshman member of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute softball team. The defendants are the parents of the team's head coach. During a spring training trip to Florida, the team and coaches visited with the defendants at a house the defendants had rented. The house had a swimming pool. As part of an initiation ritual, without warning, upperclassmen members of the team pushed the freshman members into the pool. The plaintiff hit and injured her shoulder on the edge of the pool. According to the complaint, the defendants "negligently allowed a dangerous act of initiation or hazing to be imposed upon" the plaintiff and "negligently failed to obtain or seek immediate medical attention and/or medical advice for" her. The defendants were served with process while attending a softball game at Worcester State College in Worcester.

         The judge held a nonevidentiary hearing on the defendants' motion to dismiss. At the hearing, plaintiff's counsel contended that the Superior Court had personal jurisdiction over the defendants because the defendants were served in Massachusetts. The judge responded that service of process is conceptually distinct from personal jurisdiction, and suggested that personal jurisdiction was improper here because the plaintiff's case had no connection to Massachusetts. The judge allowed the defendants' ...


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