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Lewis v. Walt Disney Parks & Resorts U.S., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 5, 2019

SUZANNE LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
WALT DISNEY PARKS & RESORTS U.S., INC. et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Denise J. Casper, United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         This case arises out of a fall Plaintiff Suzanne Lewis (“Lewis”) suffered on April 19, 2017 at the Lake Buena Vista Resort in Orlando, Florida. Lewis has filed this lawsuit against Walt Disney Parks & Resorts U.S., Inc. (“Disney”) and American Automobile Insurance Company (“AAIC”) alleging negligent maintenance of premises (Count I) and negligence (Count II) against Disney and breach of contract and unfair and deceptive trade and settlement practices under Mass. Gen. L. c. 93A against AAIC. D. 1. Disney has moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue or, in the alternative, to transfer the case to the Middle District of Florida. D. 15. AAIC has moved to sever itself from the claims against Disney and to stay all proceedings against AAIC pending resolution of the claims against Disney. D. 11. For the reasons set forth below, the Court ALLOWS Disney's motion to dismiss, D. 15, but DENIES AAIC's motion, D. 11, both without prejudice.

         II. Standard of Review

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction without holding an evidentiary hearing, a district court must apply the prima facie standard of review. United States v. Swiss Am. Bank, Ltd., 274 F.3d 610, 618 (1st Cir. 2001). Under the prima facie standard, to meet her burden of establishing that the Court has personal jurisdiction over the defendants pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), Lewis must “demonstrate the existence of every fact required to satisfy both the forum's long arm statute and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.” Swiss Am. Bank, 274 F.3d at 618 (citation and quotations omitted). This showing “must be based upon evidence of specific facts set forth in the record” and “the plaintiff must go beyond the pleadings and make affirmative proof.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). The Court considers the facts alleged in the pleadings as well as the parties' supplemental filings. Sawtelle v. Farrell, 70 F.3d 1381, 1385 (1st Cir. 1995); Ticketmaster-N.Y., Inc. v. Alioto, 26 F.3d 201, 203 (1st Cir. 1994). The Court will “take specific facts affirmatively alleged by the plaintiff as true (whether or not disputed) and construe them in the light most congenial to the plaintiff's jurisdictional claim.” Mass. Sch. of Law at Andover v. Am. Bar Ass'n, 142 F.3d 26, 34 (1st Cir. 1998). The Court will then “add to the mix facts put forward by the defendants, to the extent that they are uncontradicted.” Id. Notwithstanding the liberality of this approach, the court will not “credit conclusory allegations or draw farfetched inferences.” Ticketmaster, 26 F.3d at 203.

         As to a motion to dismiss for improper venue, the Court is “not required to determine the best venue, merely a proper venue.” Astro-Med, Inc. v. Nihon Kohden Am., Inc., 591 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2009). The plaintiff bears the burden to establish that the venue she has selected is proper. See, e.g., Sindi v. El-Moslimany, No. 13-cv-10798-IT, 2014 WL 6893537, at *11 (D. Mass. Dec. 5, 2014) (quoting Transamerica Corp. v. Trans-Am Leasing Corp., 670 F.Supp. 1089, 1090 (D. Mass. 1987)); Cordis Corp. v. Cardiac Pacemakers, 599 F.2d 1085, 1086 (1st Cir. 1979). In assessing the plaintiff's showing, the Court may accept all well-pleaded allegations as true, unless they are contradicted by the defendant's affidavits. See Universal Trading & Inv. Co. v. Bureau for Representing Ukrainian Interests in Int'l & Foreign Courts, 898 F.Supp.2d 301, 317 (D. Mass. 2012) (quoting Turnley v. Banc of Am. Inv. Servs., Inc., 576 F.Supp.2d 204, 211 (D. Mass. 2008)).

         III. Factual Allegations

         The following facts are taken from Lewis's complaint, D. 1, Disney's uncontroverted, sworn affidavit in support of its motion to dismiss, D. 17, and AAIC's first response to Disney's motion to dismiss, D. 21. Plaintiff Lewis is a resident of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. D. 1 at ¶ 1. Defendant Disney is a Florida corporation with its principal place of business in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. D. 17 at ¶ 3. Defendant AAIC is a Missouri corporation with its principal place of business in Missouri. D. 21 at 2. Defendant Disney has, at all times relevant to this action, owned and operated the Lake Buena Vista Resort in Orlando, Florida. D. 1 at ¶ 2. Disney is not registered to do business in Massachusetts as a foreign corporation, has no offices here, employs no individuals here, does not own or lease any property here and has no assets or bank accounts in the Commonwealth. D. 17 at ¶¶ 5-12.

         On April 19, 2017, Lewis was operating her motorized scooter at the Lake Buena Vista Resort when she drove over a small staircase, which caused her to fall from the scooter, sustaining serious injuries to her knee, leg and ankle. D. 1 at ¶ 4. Lewis has incurred medical costs as a result of her injuries as well as “severe pain of body and mind” and an extended period of disability. D. 1 at ¶ 6.

         AAIC is Disney's insurer for Lewis's claims related to her scooter accident. D. 1 at ¶ 9. On May 21, 2018, Lewis sent a demand letter to AAIC in accordance with Mass. Gen. L. c. 93A. D. 1-1.

         IV. Procedural History

         On September 14, 2018, Lewis filed her complaint in this case. D. 1. AAIC moved to sever itself from the proceedings against Disney and to stay proceedings against AAIC. D. 11. Disney then moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, to transfer the case to the Middle District of Florida. D. 15. This Court heard argument on the motions and took the motions under advisement. D. 26.

         V. Discussion

         “In determining whether a non-resident defendant is subject to its jurisdiction, a federal court exercising diversity jurisdiction is the functional equivalent of a state court sitting in the forum state.” Daynard v. Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, P.A., 290 F.3d 42, 51 (1st Cir. 2002) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, this Court may only exercise personal jurisdiction within the limits set by Massachusetts' long-arm statute and the Constitution. Lyle Richards Int'l, Ltd. v. Ashworth, Inc., 132 F.3d 111, 112 (1st Cir. 1997). Here, “[b]ecause the [Massachusetts] long-arm statute imposes specific constraints on the exercise of personal jurisdiction that are not coextensive with the ...


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