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Hopkins v. Yi

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 31, 2019




         Defendant Tony P. Hsu a/k/a Tony Taofu Hsu (“Hsu”) has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction. Dkt. no. 13. This Report and Recommendation issues pursuant to District Judge Hillman's referral of Hsu's motion, which is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication. Dkt. no. 22 (Order of reference); see also dkt. no. 13 (motion to dismiss); dkt. no. 14 (memorandum supporting dismissal); dkt. no. 17 (opposition); dkt. no. 23 (reply in further support of dismissal). Oral argument was heard on April 12, 2019. Dkt. no. 27. In consideration of the above and for the reasons that follow, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that Hsu's motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) be GRANTED.


         At approximately 3:30 p.m. on September 12, 2018, Sean E. Yi (“Yi”), a California resident and employee of Jackymoon Corp. (“Jackymoon”), a corporation organized under the laws of, and having a principal place of business in, California, was driving north on Route 146 through Millbury, Massachusetts in a tractor trailer owned by Jackymoon. Complaint ¶¶ 2-3, 8- 9. Yi was operating the tractor trailer at a speed in excess of the posted limit, and unsuitable for the weather and road conditions. Id. ¶ 10. As a result, Yi lost control of the tractor trailer, which crashed into and crossed the median dividing the north and southbound traffic on Route 146. Id. ¶ 11.

         At the same time, Plaintiff, a Sutton, Massachusetts resident, was driving southbound on Route 146 in a vehicle owned by his father. Id. ¶¶ 1, 7. After the Jackymoon trailer crossed the median, it collided with Plaintiff's car. Id. ¶ 12. An investigation following the collision by the Massachusetts State Police (“MSP”) determined that the tractor trailer was speeding upon entering a construction zone and committed a marked lanes violation. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff alleges that the investigation also unearthed irregularities in the tractor trailer's logs, in violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Id. He claims the logs were falsified. Id.


         On November 21, 2018, Plaintiff filed a negligence complaint against Yi, Jackymoon, and Hsu (together, “Defendants”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.[1] Defendants were served on January 22, 2019. Dkt. nos. 7, 8, 9. Yi and Jackymoon each answered the complaint on February 22, 2019. Dkt. nos. 11, 12. On the same day, Hsu moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Dkt. no. 13.


         A. Motion to Dismiss Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2)

         There are three competing standards of review when analyzing a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. World Depot Corp. v. Onofri, No. 16- 12439-FDS, 2017 WL 6003052, at *7 (D. Mass. Dec. 4, 2017). The most conventional-the prima facie method- allows the court “to consider only whether the plaintiff has proffered evidence that, if credited, is enough to support findings of all facts essential to personal jurisdiction.” Foster-Miller, Inc. v. Babcock & Wilcox Can., 46 F.3d 138, 145 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Boit v. Gar-Tec Prods., Inc., 967 F.2d 671, 675 (1st Cir. 1992)). The “plaintiff must make the showing as to every fact required to satisfy ‘both the forum's long-arm statute and the due process clause of the Constitution.'” Boit, 967 F.2d at 675 (quoting U.S.S. Yachts, Inc. v. Ocean Yachts, Inc., 894 F.2d 9, 11 (1st Cir. 1990)). “[T]he court . . . must accept the plaintiff's (properly documented) evidentiary proffers as true.” Foster-Miller, 46 F.3d at 145. The plaintiff may not rely on unsupported allegations: “[t]he prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction must be based on evidence of specific facts set forth in the record.” Boit, 967 F.2d at 675 (emphasis in original) (citing Kowalski v. Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury & Murphy, Att'ys at Law, 787 F.2d 7, 9 (1st Cir. 1986)). The showing must indicate that the defendant is subject to the jurisdiction of the court under the state long-arm statute and that the exercise of jurisdiction does not offend due process considerations. Rissman Hendricks & Oliverio, LLP v. MIV Therapeutics Inc., 901 F.Supp.2d 255, 260 (D. Mass. 2012).

         The second standard, the preponderance-of-the-evidence method, may be invoked when a court determines that

in the circumstances of a particular case it is unfair to force an out-of-state defendant to incur the expense and burden of a trial on the merits in the local forum without first requiring more of the plaintiff than a prima facie showing of facts essential to in personam jurisdiction. A court may so determine, for example, when the proffered evidence is conflicting and the record is rife with contradictions, . . . or when a plaintiff's affidavits are ‘patently incredible[.]'

Boit, 967 F.2d at 676 (emphasis in original) (citations omitted). Under this method, the Court “is to embark on a fact finding mission in the traditional way, taking evidence and measuring the plaintiff's jurisdictional showing against a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard.” Kalika, LLC v. Boston & Me. Corp., No. 15-14043-GAO, 2019 WL 1276099, at *3 (D. Mass. Mar. 20, 2019) (quoting Foster-Miller, 46 F.3d at 145). The standard requires an evidentiary hearing. Kalika, 2019 WL 1276099, at *3. Finally, the “likelihood” standard, applicable only where an assertion of jurisdiction is bound up with the claim on the merits, allows a court to “merely find whether the plaintiff has shown a likelihood of the existence of each fact necessary to support personal jurisdiction.” Boit, 967 F.2d at 677; see also Foster-Miller, 46 F.3d at 146.

         Hsu's motion to dismiss should be assessed under the prima facie standard of review. Use of the more demanding preponderance-of-the-evidence method is unwarranted. The record is not “rife with contradictions, ” the parties do not dispute material facts, and Plaintiff's evidence is not patently incredible. See Boit, 967 F.2d at 676. Rather, as discussed below, this evidence simply fails to satisfy the prima facie standard. And because Plaintiff's assertion of jurisdiction over Hsu is not bound up with the merits of his claims, the likelihood standard too is inapplicable. See id. at 677.

         B. Personal Jurisdiction

         There are two types of personal jurisdiction: general and specific. Ace Am. Ins. Co. v. Oyster Harbors Marine, Inc., 310 F.Supp.3d 295, 303 (D. Mass. 2018) (citing United Elec., Radio & Mach. Workers of Am. v. 163 Pleasant St. Corp., 960 F.2d 1080, 1088 (1st Cir. 1992)). General jurisdiction exists when the litigation is not directly founded on the defendant's forum- based contact, but the defendant, either as a domiciliary of the forum or due to some significant and continuous activity within the forum state, is considered “at home” in the forum state. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 137 (2014). To establish specific jurisdiction, a plaintiff must show that ‘the cause of action arises directly out of, or relates to, the defendant's forum-based contacts.'” Ace, 301 F.Supp. at 303 (quoting Pritzker v. Yari, 42 F.3d 53, 60 (1st Cir. 1994)). Specific jurisdiction over a non-resident must comport with the requirements of the Massachusetts long-arm statute and the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. See Moura v. New Prime, Inc., 337 F.Supp.3d 87, 92-93 (D. Mass. 2018) (citing World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 290 (1980)). “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.” Moura, 337 F.Supp.3d at 92 (quoting Sawtelle v. Farrell, 70 F.3d 1381, 1387 (1st Cir. 1995)).

         Plaintiff argues Hsu purposefully established minimum contacts with Massachusetts such that he can reasonably anticipate being haled into court here. Hsu, on the other hand, maintains he has no contacts with Massachusetts, that he never purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting activities in Massachusetts by invoking the protections of its laws, and that being subject to suit in Massachusetts is neither foreseeable nor reasonable. He avers that he has worked and resided in California since 1985; has never owned, rented, or leased property in Massachusetts; has never maintained employment in Massachusetts; and has never been registered, licensed, or otherwise authorized to do business in Massachusetts. Dkt. no. 14-2. Hsu further argues that specific jurisdiction over individual corporate officers, like himself, cannot be based merely on jurisdiction over the corporation; and that no independent basis for jurisdiction exists.

         Once a defendant lodges a jurisdictional challenge, the burden to demonstrate the existence of personal jurisdiction rests with the plaintiff. Carp v. XL Ins., 754 F.Supp.2d 230, 232 (D. Mass. 2010) (citing Astro-Med, Inc. v. Nihon Kohden Am., Inc., 591 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2009)) (“On a motion to dismiss for want of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction is 1) statutorily authorized and 2) consistent with the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution.”). This burden first requires satisfaction of the Massachusetts long-arm statute. See Rissman, 901 F.Supp.2d at 260.

         1. Massachusetts Long-Arm Statute

         The Massachusetts long-arm statute identifies eight grounds on which a nonresident defendant may be subjected to personal jurisdiction by a court within the forum. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 223A, § 3; Moura, 337 F.Supp.3d at 93. Relevant here, “[j]urisdiction over the individual officers of a corporation under the Massachusetts long arm statute may not be based on jurisdiction over the corporation.” Levesque v. Schroder Inv. Mgmt. N. Am., Inc., No. 17-12380-NMG, 2019 WL 1383591, at *2 (D. Mass. Mar. 27, 2019) (citing Johnson Creative Arts, Inc. v. Wool Masters, Inc., 573 F.Supp. 1106, 1111 (D. Mass. 1983)). Rather, there must be an independent basis for jurisdiction over the corporate officer. LaVallee v. Parrot-Ice Drink Prods. of Am., Inc., 193 F.Supp.2d 296, 300 (D. Mass. 2002) (citing Johnson, 573 F.Supp. at 1111). No. Massachusetts court has recognized the so-called “fiduciary shield doctrine”[2] as a limitation on the exercise of personal jurisdiction over corporate officers, so the “requirement for an independent jurisdictional basis may be satisfied when a corporate officer transacts in-forum business either in his personal capacity or solely on behalf of the corporation.” Interface Grp.- Mass., LLC v. Rosen, 256 F.Supp.2d 103, 105 (D. Mass. 2003) (emphasis in original) (citing Yankee Grp., Inc. v. Yamashita, 678 F.Supp. 20, 22 (D. Mass. 1988)).

         The state long-arm statute “asserts jurisdiction over the person to the constitutional limit only when some basis for jurisdiction enumerated in the statute has been established.” Good Hope Indus., Inc. v. Ryder Scott Co., 389 N.E.2d 76, 80 (Mass. 1979). To that end, “courts should consider the long-arm statute first, before approaching the constitutional question.” SCVNGR, Inc. v. Punchh, ...

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