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Krua v. Sirleaf

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 1, 2019

REV. MAHN COALEY KRUA, et al., Plaintiffs,
ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF, et al., Defendants.


          Denise J. Casper United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         This case arises out of claims by pro se Plaintiffs Reverend Mahn Coaley Krua and Pastor Torli Harlan Krua (collectively, “the Kruas”) arising principally out of actions in Liberia. The Kruas allege violations of numerous federal statutes. They have made their claims against ten defendants, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Charles G. Taylor, Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, the estate of Samuel K. Doe and George M. Weah (collectively, “the Liberia Defendants”), Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen (collectively, “the Federal Defendants”), [1] Governor of Massachusetts Charlie Baker and Baptist Mid-Missions (“BMM”). BMM has moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6), respectively, or, in the alternative, to require a more definite statement. D. 26. For the reasons set forth below, the Court ALLOWS BMM's motion to dismiss.

         II. Standard of Review

         To satisfy the prima facie standard for establishing personal jurisdiction over the defendants pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), a plaintiff 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.” United States v. Swiss Am. Bank, Ltd., 274 F.3d 610, 618 (1st Cir. 2001) (citation and 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 plaintiffs jurisdictional claim.” Mass. Sch. of Law 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” in determining whether there is a lack of personal jurisdiction over defendants under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). Ticketmaster, 26 F.3d at 203.

         To decide a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must determine if the well-pled facts alleged “plausibly narrate a claim for relief.” Schatz v. Republican State Leadership Comm., 669 F.3d 50, 55 (1st Cir. 2012). “The plaintiff need not demonstrate [they are] likely to prevail” at this stage, only that their claims are facially plausible. Garcia- Catalán v. United States, 734 F.3d 100, 102 (1st Cir. 2013). Plausible means “more than a sheer possibility, ” and permits the Court to incorporate a contextual analysis of the facts. Id at 102-03 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). This determination requires a two-step inquiry. Id. at 103. First, the Court must distinguish the factual allegations from the conclusory legal allegations in the complaint. Id Second, taking plaintiffs allegations as true, the Court should be able to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Iqbal 556 U.S. at 678); Ocasio-Hernández v. Fortuño-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 11 (1st Cir. 2011). In assessing the plaintiffs 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. Services, Inc., 576 F.Supp.2d 204, 211 (D. Mass. 2008)). The Court is not required to accept as true any legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         When a plaintiff is pro se, the Court must apply a liberal reading to the complaint and hold pro se litigants to a less stringent pleading standard. Kruskall v. Sallie Mae Serv., Inc., No. 15-cv-11780-DJC, 2016 WL 1056973, at *1 (D. Mass. Mar. 14, 2016) (citing Green v. Com. of Mass., 108 F.R.D. 217, 218 (D. Mass. 1985)). A pro se plaintiff, however, must still comply with procedural and substantive law and “dismissal remains appropriate . . . when the complaint fails to even suggest an actionable claim.” Overton v. Torruella, 183 F.Supp.2d 295, 303 (D. Mass. 2001).

         III. Factual Allegations

         The following relevant facts are taken from the Kruas' second amended complaint, D. 13-1, [2] and BMM's affidavits in support of its motion to dismiss, D. 27-1 and D. 51-2.[3]

         The Kruas, born in Liberia, are both naturalized American citizens residing in Massachusetts. D. 13-1 at ¶¶ 62, 103. BMM is an Ohio corporation with its principal place of business in Ohio. D. 27-1 at ¶ 3. The Kruas allege certain discriminatory and “dehumanizing” activities by BMM in Liberia. D. 13-1 at ¶¶ 133-189. With respect to conduct occurring within the United States, the Kruas allege that BMM sent two missionaries to Boston to take the Kruas grocery shopping, id. at ¶ 172, that the Kruas sent tickets to a fundraising dinner to BMM and BMM returned the tickets, id. at ¶ 173, and that BMM discriminated against Plaintiff Reverend Krua in denying him employment when he sought work with the organization, id. at ¶ 185.

         BMM is not registered or authorized to do business in Massachusetts and has no property or bank accounts in Massachusetts. D. 27-1 at ¶¶ 5-7. Of the 444 active BMM missionaries, seventy-two are in the United States and two missionary families are in Massachusetts. Id. at ¶ 10. The missionaries do not receive direct income from BMM. Id. There are 4, 340 churches and 7, 428 individuals in the United States that support BMM, with twenty-eight of the churches and thirty-nine of the individuals in Massachusetts. Id. at ¶¶ 11-12. Almost all funds generated in Massachusetts are raised by individual missionaries to support their work; less than 1% of donations from Massachusetts are given to BMM based in Ohio. D. 51-2 at ¶ 11.

         IV. Procedural History

         On March 23, 2018, the Kruas filed their complaint, D. 1. The Kruas then filed an amended complaint on August 6, 2018 adding additional facts and defendants, including BMM. D. 9. The Kruas has filed a second amended complaint by way of attachment to their motion for an extension of time to serve Defendants, D. 13. D. 13-1. BMM has now moved to dismiss. D. 26. This Court heard argument on the motion and took it under advisement, D. 52. The Kruas filed a motion for an additional hearing on March 6, 2019, D. 54, and filed an amended motion for same on April 9, 2019, D. 57.

         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) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Accordingly, this Court may only exercise personal jurisdiction within the limits set by the Massachusetts long-arm statute and the Constitution. Lyle Richards Intl, 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 parameters of due process . . . a determination under the long-arm statute is to precede consideration of the constitutional question.” SCVNGR, Inc. v. Punchh, Inc., 478 Mass. 324, 325 (2017).

         If the statutory burden is met, constitutional due process requires that a non-resident defendant “ha[s] certain minimum contacts with it such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 319 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1940)). This constitutional guarantee of due process “protects an individual's liberty interest in not being subject to the binding judgments of a forum with which he has established no meaningful ‘contacts, ties, or relations.'” Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 471-72 (1985) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co, 326 U.S. at 319). A court may exercise two types of personal jurisdiction: general and specific, Cossaboon v. Maine Med. Ctr., 600 F.3d 25, 30-31 (1st Cir. 2010), which the Court will address in turn following the statutory inquiry.

         A. Persona ...

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