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Nandjou v. Marriott International Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 29, 2019

CHIMENE MBAGUE NANDJOU, Individually, and as Administratrix of THE ESTATE OF MENELIK TCHOUAMOU and THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM TCHOUAMOU GANJUI, and as Mother and Next Friend of AURELLIA LLANA SALENG and WILMA TCHOUAMOU MGABUE, Plaintiff,
v.
MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC., MARRIOTT WORLDWIDE CORPORATION, and RELUXICORP, INC. d/b/a THE RESIDENCE INN BY MARRIOTT, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FORUM NON CONVENIENS AND FOR LACK OF PERSONAL JURISDICTION

          ALLISON D. BURROUGHS DISTRICT JUDGE441

         Plaintiff Chimene Mbague Nandjou (“Plaintiff”) filed this action against Marriott International, Inc., Marriott Worldwide Corporation (together “Marriott”), and Reluxicorp, Inc. d/b/a The Residence Inn by Marriott (“Reluxicorp”) (collectively “Defendants”), claiming that Defendants' conduct led to the deaths of William Tchouamou Ganjui and Menelik Tchouamou. Plaintiff brings several claims, including wrongful death, vicarious liability, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. See [ECF No. 1-3 (hereinafter “Complaint” or “Compl.”)].

         Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or for forum non conveniens. [ECF No. 11]. For the reasons discussed herein, the motion to dismiss is DENIED.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the Court's personal jurisdiction over the Defendants. Daynard v. Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, P.A., 290 F.3d 42, 50 (1st Cir. 2002). Under the “prima facie” standard, “the inquiry is whether the plaintiff has proffered evidence which, if credited, is sufficient to support findings of all facts essential to personal jurisdiction.” Bluetarp Fin., Inc. v. Matrix Constr. Co., Inc., 709 F.3d 72, 79 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Phillips v. Prairie Eye Ctr., 530 F.3d 22, 26 (1st Cir. 2008)). “The plaintiff's properly documented evidentiary proffers are accepted as true for purposes of making the prima facie showing, and we construe these proffers in a light most favorable to plaintiff's jurisdictional claim.” Id.

         The Court considers “the facts from the pleadings and whatever supplemental filings (such as affidavits) are contained in the record, giving credence to the plaintiff's version of genuinely contested facts.” Baskin-Robbins Franchising LLC v. Alpenrose Dairy, Inc., 825 F.3d 28, 34 (1st Cir. 2016). Plaintiff may not, however, establish the Court's personal jurisdiction over the Defendants with “unsupported allegations in [the] pleadings, ” and is instead “obliged to adduce evidence of specific facts.” Platten v. HG Berm. Exempted Ltd., 437 F.3d 118, 134 (1st Cir. 2006) (first quoting Boit v. Gar-Tec Prods., Inc., 967 F.2d 671, 675 (1st Cir. 1992), then quoting Foster-Miller, Inc. v. Babcock & Wilcox Can., 46 F.3d 138, 145 (1st Cir. 1995)). The Court will also “add to the mix facts put forward by the defendants, to the extent that they are uncontradicted.” Daynard, 290 F.3d at 51.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is the wife of decedent William Tchouamou Ganjui (“Mr. Ganjui”) and mother of decedent Menelik Tchouamou. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 5. Plaintiff and her husband had two other children, Aurellia Llana Saleng and Wilma Tchouamou Mgabue. Id. ¶ 6. Plaintiff's family resided exclusively in Massachusetts from 2007 to 2017, and Plaintiff now maintains residences in both Massachusetts and Georgia. [ECF No. 14-1 at 7].

         Marriott International Inc. is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Maryland. Compl. ¶ 7; [ECF No. 11 at 11]. Marriott Worldwide, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Marriott International Inc., is a Maryland corporation with its principal place of business in Maryland. [ECF No. 11 at 11]. Marriott markets its hotels in Massachusetts through, inter alia, print advertising, direct mailings, television, radio, internet, and special rate reduction programs. Compl. ¶ 14.

         Reluxicorp is a corporation organized under the Canada Business Corporations Act with its principal place of business in Montreal, Quebec. Id. ¶ 9. In 2003, Reluxicorp and Marriott entered into a franchise agreement (the “Franchise Agreement”) which obligated Marriott to market and promote Reluxicorp's Montreal hotel via print, direct mailings, television, radio, interactive websites, and other means as “The Residence Inn by Marriott.” Id. ¶ 17. Marriott marketed Reluxicorp's Montreal hotel in Massachusetts and also through its website, which allows individuals, including Massachusetts residents, to view, receive information about, book, and pay for rooms at the hotel online. Id. ¶ 18. Reluxicorp paid Marriott annual fees and costs under the Franchise Agreement for the branding and marketing provided by Marriott. Id. ¶¶ 23- 26. The Franchise Agreement also required Reluxicorp to abide by all federal, state, and local laws, rules, and regulations, and subjected Reluxicorp's hotel to inspections by Marriott. Id. ¶¶ 69-76.

         Plaintiff and Mr. Ganjui viewed advertisements in Massachusetts for Reluxicorp's Marriott hotel through print, email, and direct mail advertisements. Id. ¶¶ 27-30. In March or April of 2016, Mr. Ganjui and Plaintiff discussed booking a room for Mr. Ganjui and their children at Reluxicorp's hotel based, in part, upon Marriott marketing materials that were sent to their home in Massachusetts and featured a pool that “was a big draw.” Id. ¶ 33; [ECF No. 14-1 at 2]. Mr. Ganjui also obtained a “Friends and Family” discount rate authorization form from the Boston Marriott Copley Place in Boston, Massachusetts, with the intent of using it at Reluxicorp's hotel. Compl. ¶ 35; [ECF No. 14-1 ¶¶ 11-16]. Mr. Ganjui then reserved a room at Reluxicorp's hotel for his children and himself using Marriott's website. Compl. ¶ 36.

         On or about April 20, 2016, Mr. Ganjui, along with his three children, traveled to Reluxicorp's hotel in Montreal. Id. ¶ 37. Plaintiff was studying for an exam, and one purpose of the trip to Montreal was to provide her an opportunity to study. [ECF No. 14-1 ¶¶ 19-20]. After checking in and successfully using the “Friends and Family” discount form, Mr. Ganjui brought his children to the hotel's pool. Compl. ¶¶ 38, 40. When Mr. Ganjui and his children arrived at the pool, there were no other guests present, no hotel staff working at the pool responsible for safety, and no cameras used to monitor the pool remotely. Id. ¶¶ 42-50. While in the pool, Mr. Ganjui and his son Menelik Tchouamou began to drown. Id. ¶¶ 50-52. Mr. Ganjui's two other children were able to remove Menelik Tchouamou from the pool, but he was unconscious. Id. ¶ 54. Both Mr. Ganjui and Menelik Tchouamou were later pronounced dead. Id. ¶ 61.

         III. PERSONAL JURISDICTION

         To exercise personal jurisdiction over Defendants, the Court must “find sufficient contacts between the defendant and the forum to satisfy both that state's long-arm statute and the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process clause.” Sawtelle v. Farrell, 70 F.3d 1381, 1387 (1st Cir. 1995).

         The Massachusetts long-arm statute, provides, in relevant part: “A court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a person, who acts directly or by an agent, as to a cause of action in law or equity arising from the person's (a) transacting any business in this commonwealth . . . .” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 223A, § 3. “The ‘arising from' clause in [the long-arm statute] is . . . generously construed in favor of asserting personal jurisdiction, by applying a ‘but for' causation test.” Workgroup Tech. Corp. v. MGM Grand Hotel, LLC, 246 F.Supp.2d 102, 112 (D. Mass. 2003). “[A] claim arises from a defendant's transaction of business in the forum State if the claim was made possible by, or lies in the wake of, the transaction of business in the forum State.” Access Now, Inc. v. Otter Prods., LLC, 280 F.Supp.3d 287, 291 (D. Mass. 2017) (quoting Tatro v. Manor Care, Inc., 625 N.E.2d 549, 553 (Mass. 1994)). The arising from inquiry asks “[d]id the defendant's contacts with the Commonwealth constitute the first step in a train of events that result[ed] in the . . . injury.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Lyle Richards Int'l, Ltd. v. Ashworth, Inc., 132 F.3d 111, 114 (1st Cir. 1997)). “[T]he defendant's involvement need not be major, as ‘just a few acts on [his] part can often suffice to satisfy [subsection (a)]'s threshold for transacting business.'” Scuderi Grp., LLC v. LGD Tech., LLC, 575 F.Supp.2d 312, 319 (D. Mass. 2008) (quoting Workgroup Tech. Corp., 246 F.Supp.2d at 110).

         Personal jurisdiction consistent with the Due Process Clause can be either general or specific. Harlow v. Children's Hosp., 432 F.3d 50, 57 (1st Cir. 2005). To establish general jurisdiction over a corporation, the corporation's “affiliations with the State [must be] so continuous and systematic as to render [it] essentially at home in the forum State.” Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 138 (2014) (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011)). Under this standard, “the place of incorporation and principal place of business are paradigm bases for general jurisdiction.” Id. at 137 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The First Circuit applies a three-prong test in determining whether the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant is constitutional:

(1) whether the claim “directly arise[s] out of, or relate[s] to, the defendant's forum state activities;” (2) whether the defendant's in-state contacts “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;” and (3) whether the exercise of jurisdiction is reasonable.

C.W. Downer & Co. v. Bioriginal Food & Sci. Corp., 771 F.3d 59, 65 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Daynard, 290 F.3d at 60). The plaintiff must succeed on all three prongs in order to establish jurisdiction. Id.

         A. Attributability of Marriott's Contacts to Reluxicorp

         As an initial matter, the Court must determine whether Marriott's actions may be attributed to Reluxicorp for the purpose of the jurisdictional analysis. “For purposes of personal jurisdiction, the actions of an agent may be attributed to the principal.” Ameral v. Intrepid Travel Party, Ltd., 128 F.Supp.3d 382, 388 (D. Mass. 2015) (quoting Daynard, 290 F.3d at 55). While Marriott and Reluxicorp are separate business entities, Plaintiff argues that Marriott's contacts with Massachusetts are attributable to Reluxicorp based on an agency relationship between the companies. [ECF No. 14 at 8]. Only Marriott is alleged to have itself contacted Massachusetts, and the Court will therefore consider whether Marriott acted as Reluxicorp's agent.

         For the actions of one defendant to be attributed to another, the Court must determine “whether the relationship between [the defendants], however it is labeled, is sufficient to attribute [one defendant's] in-state contacts with the [the other defendant] to exercise jurisdiction that comports with due process.” Weinberg v. Grand Circle Travel, LCC,891 F.Supp.2d 228, 240 (D. Mass. 2012) (citing Jet Wine & Spirits, Inc. v. Bacardi & Co.,298 F.3d 1, 7-8 (1st Cir. 2002)). This analysis turns on: (1) whether Marriott was Reluxicorp's agent, [1] and (2) whether ...


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