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Morton v. Advance PCS

August 2, 2006

RHONDA MORTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ADVANCE PCS, INC., AND RANDY HATFIELD, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

By order dated November 10, 2005 [doc. 20], the court granted in part plaintiff's motion to amend her complaint. Now before the court is defendants' motion for reconsideration [doc. 21] of that order. Plaintiff has responded to the motion, and defendant has submitted a reply. Having considered the arguments raised in the motion for reconsideration, the motion will be denied.

Also before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment [doc. 24]. Plaintiff has responded to the motion, and defendant has submitted a reply. For the reasons that follow, defendants' summary judgment motion will be denied with leave to renew.

I. Background

Plaintiff's initial complaint alleges that defendant Advance PCS, Inc. (her former employer) and defendant Randy Hatfield (a local human resources officer) terminated her employment in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). See generally Killian v. Yorozu Auto. Tenn., Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2006 WL 2009034 (6th Cir. July 20, 2006). The initial complaint also asserts state law tort claims of emotional distress secondary to the termination. The court's November 10, 2005 order allowed plaintiff to amend her complaint to add: (1) an FMLA claim against new defendant Cathy Gaudio, who is Advance PCS, Inc.'s corporate human resources officer; and (2) and a claim of civil conspiracy against defendant Hatfield. Plaintiff's amended complaint has not yet been docketed, pending the court's resolution of the motion for reconsideration.

II. Analysis

Primarily, defendants argue that plaintiff's amendment would be futile as to Ms. Gaudio because this court does not have personal jurisdiction over her. Ms. Gaudio is a resident of the state of Arizona. At the time of plaintiff's termination, Ms. Gaudio was a resident of the state of Texas.

Certainly, personal jurisdiction over a corporate officer cannot be based merely upon a court's jurisdiction over the corporation itself. See Weller v. Cromwell Oil Co., 504 F.2d 927, 929 (6th Cir. 1974). Instead, "where an out-of-state agent is actively and personally involved in the conduct giving rise to the claim, the exercise of personal jurisdiction should depend on traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice; i.e., whether she purposely availed herself of the forum and the reasonably foreseeable consequences of that availment." Balance Dynamics Corp. v. Schmitt Indus., 204 F.3d 683, 698 (6th Cir. 2000).

A federal court "may assume jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant only to the extent permitted by the state's long-arm statute and by the Due Process Clause." Neal v. Janssen, 270 F.3d 328, 331 (6th Cir. 2001). Because the Tennessee long-arm statute extends to the constitutional limits of due process, Payne v. Motorists' Mutual Insurance Cos., 4 F.3d 452, 455 (6th Cir. 1993), these two inquiries are merged into the single determination of whether the assertion of personal jurisdiction in this forum violates due process. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Tryg Int'l Ins. Co., Ltd., 91 F.3d 790, 793 (6th Cir. 1996) (citing Third Nat'l Bank in Nashville v. WEDGE Group Inc., 882 F.2d 1087, 1089 (6th Cir. 1989)).

Personal jurisdiction is characterized as either "general" or "specific." Nationwide, 91 F.3d at 793-94. Plaintiff does not argue that the broader general jurisdiction applies to Ms. Gaudio, so the court's inquiry must focus on whether specific jurisdiction exists.

Specific jurisdiction lies where the cause of action "arise[s] out of or relate[s] to" a defendant's contacts with the forum state. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 (1984). As noted by the Balance Dynamics court, the critical issue in this context is whether the nonresident defendant has sufficient contacts with the forum so that the exercise of jurisdiction is consistent with "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (citation omitted). The defendant must have engaged in conduct such that she could "reasonably anticipate being haled into court" in this state. World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980). "[E]ven a single act by defendant directed toward Tennessee that gives rise to a cause of action can support a finding of minimum contacts sufficient to exercise personal jurisdiction without offending due process." Neal, 270 F.3d at 331(citation omitted).

The Sixth Circuit has articulated a three-part test to determine whether the assertion of specific jurisdiction is appropriate.

First, the defendant must purposefully avail himself of the privilege of acting in the forum state or causing a consequence in the forum state. Second, the cause of action must arise from the defendant's activities there. Finally, the acts of the defendant or consequences caused by the defendant must have a substantial enough connection with the forum state to make the exercise of jurisdiction over the defendant reasonable.

S. Mach. Co. v. Mohasco Indus., Inc., 401 F.2d 374, 381 (6th Cir. 1968). When the first two elements of this test have been met, a presumption arises that the third is also present, and "only the unusual case will not meet this third criterion." First Nat'l Bank of ...


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