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Mateo v. University System of New Hampshire

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 14, 2019

JOEL MATEO, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY SYSTEM of NEW HAMPSHIRE and FRANCES CANNING, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          F. Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge

         This is an action arising out of plaintiff Joel Mateo's withdrawal from the University of New Hampshire School of Law (“UNH Law”) while under investigation for violating the school's code of conduct. Two years after withdrawing, Mateo was unable to obtain transfer admission to other law schools, apparently in part due to the unresolved conduct issue. He was also denied readmission to UNH Law.

         Matteo is proceeding pro se. The complaint alleges a claim for denial of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, which the Court will interpret as a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. More specifically, it alleges that defendants failed to provide Mateo an opportunity to be heard and deprived him of his liberty interest in pursuing a legal education and career. The complaint also alleges common-law claims for defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). In the alternative, defendants have moved to dismiss the common-law defamation claim for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), and request a transfer of venue to the District of New Hampshire pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

         For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction will be denied; the motion to dismiss the defamation claim will be granted; and the request for a transfer of venue to the District of New Hampshire pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) will also be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed or presented as stated in the complaint.

         The University System of New Hampshire (“UNH”) is a body politic established pursuant to New Hampshire law with an address of 5 Chenell Drive, Suite 301, Concord, New Hampshire. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. A (Provencher Decl.) ¶ 2). UNH Law, also located in Concord, is a component institution of UNH. (Id. ¶ 3). Neither UNH Law nor UNH have campuses in Massachusetts. (Id. ¶ 4). UNH currently employs thirteen individuals in Massachusetts: five researchers and eight adjunct professors who teach online courses. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6).

         Frances Canning is the Assistant Dean of Students at UNH Law. (Compl. ¶ 2). She is, and was at all relevant times, a resident of New Hampshire. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. B (Canning Decl.) ¶ 1). She does not own any property in Massachusetts. (Id. ¶ 2).

         Joel Mateo is currently a resident of Massachusetts. (Compl. at 1). In the fall of 2015, Mateo was a student at UNH Law. On November 5, 2015, he withdrew from UNH Law while under investigation for violating the school's conduct code. (Id. ¶ 1). The nature of the alleged violation is not set forth in the record.

         On May 5, 2017, Mateo sent an e-mail to Canning in order to acquire a letter of good standing for use in transfer applications to other law schools. (Id. ¶ 2). She responded, giving him two options. (Id. ¶ 3). He could seek to have the school resolve the conduct-code issue, after which it would issue a letter based on its findings. (Id.). Alternatively, she could write a letter of current standing, stating that he was ineligible to return to UNH Law until the pending conduct-code charge was resolved, and he could submit that letter, along with his own response, to any prospective law schools. (Id.). He ultimately elected to proceed with the second option. (Id. ¶ 5).

         On May 24, 2017, Canning produced the requested letter of current standing. (Id. ¶ 7). On June 30, 2017, Mateo applied to Suffolk University Law School in Boston. (Id. ¶ 8). On July 13, 2017, Canning submitted the letter of current standing to Suffolk. (Id. ¶ 9). On July 27, 2017, Mateo was denied admission to Suffolk. (Id. ¶ 10).

         On August 7, 2017, Mateo informed Canning that he now wished to pursue the first option-resolution of the pending conduct-code charge. (Id. ¶ 11). Canning responded by informing Mateo that he would have to re-enroll in the UNH Law program in order to trigger that resolution process. (Id. ¶ 12). On January 16, 2018, Mateo confirmed his desire to reenroll. (Id. ¶ 16). However, because it had been more than two years since he had withdrawn from school, the school informed him that he would have to reapply with advance standing in order to re-enroll. (Id. ¶ 17).

         On March 19, 2018, Mateo submitted his application to UNH Law. (Id. ¶ 18). His application for admission was ultimately denied. (Id. ¶ 19). He then applied to New England Law School in Boston. (Id. ¶ 20). UNH Law submitted the same letter of current standing to New England Law upon his request. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22). That application for admission was also denied. (Id. ¶ 23).

         B. Procedural Background

         Mateo filed the complaint in this action on September 14, 2018. The complaint alleges claims for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; defamation; negligent infliction of emotional distress; and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendants have moved to dismiss the claims against them under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction. In the alternative, defendants have moved to dismiss the defamation claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, and have requested a transfer of the action to the District of New Hampshire pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

         II. Personal Jurisdiction

         A. Legal Standard

         The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendants. Daynard v. Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, P.A., 290 F.3d 42, 50 (1st Cir. 2002). In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(2), the court may employ several standards to assess whether plaintiff has carried that burden: the “prima facie” standard; the “preponderance-of-the-evidence” standard; or the “likelihood” standard. See Id. at 50-51, 51 n.5; Foster-Miller, Inc. v. Babcock & Wilcox Canada, 46 F.3d 138, 145-46 (1st Cir. 1995). Where, as here, the court is called to make that assessment without first holding an evidentiary hearing, the prima facie standard is applied. See United States v. Swiss Am. Bank, Ltd., 274 F.3d 610, 618 (1st Cir. 2001). Under that standard, the court takes the plaintiff's “properly documented evidentiary proffers as true and construe[s] them in the light most favorable to [plaintiff's] jurisdictional claim.” A Corp. v. All Am. Plumbing, Inc., 812 F.3d 54, 58 (1st Cir. 2016) (citing Phillips v. Prairie Eye Ctr., 530 F.3d 22, 26 (1st Cir. 2008)). A plaintiff may not “rely on unsupported allegations in [its] pleadings.” A Corp., 812 F.3d at 58 (quoting Platten v. HG Bermuda Exempted Ltd., 437 F.3d 118, 134 (1st Cir. 2006)). “Rather, [the plaintiff] must put forward ‘evidence of specific facts' to demonstrate that jurisdiction exists.” Id. (quoting Foster-Miller, 46 F.3d at 145). Facts offered by the defendant “become part of the mix only to the extent that they are uncontradicted.” Astro-Med, Inc. v. Nihon Kohden Am., Inc., 591 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Adelson v. Hananel, 510 F.3d 43, 48 (1st Cir. 2007)).

         To establish personal jurisdiction, plaintiff must show that the requirements of the Massachusetts long-arm statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 223A, § 3, are satisfied, and that the exercise of jurisdiction is consistent with constitutional due process. Daynard, 290 F.3d at 52; Intech, Inc. v. Triple “C” Marine Salvage, Inc., 444 Mass. 122, 125 (2005). Due process requires that a plaintiff alleging specific personal jurisdiction establish the existence of three conditions:

First, the claim underlying the litigation must directly arise out of, or relate to, the defendant's forum-state activities. Second, the defendant's in-state contacts must represent a purposeful availment of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum state, thereby invoking the benefits and protections of that state's laws and making the defendant's involuntary presence before the state's courts foreseeable. Third, the exercise of jurisdiction must be reasonable.

Copia Commc'ns, LLC v. AMResorts, L.P., 812 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 2016) (quoting Phillips, 530 F.3d at 27 ...


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