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Big Time Toys, LLC v. Buzz Bee Toys, Inc.

United States District Court, Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division

March 18, 2015

BIG TIME TOYS, LLC, et al.
v.
BUZZ BEE TOYS, INC., et al.

MEMORANDUM

CAMPBELL JUDGE

Pending before the Court is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, to Transfer (Docket No. 48). For the reasons stated herein, Defendants’ Motion is DENIED.

FACTS

This action arises from alleged trademark and trade-dress infringement of Plaintiffs’ toys by Defendants Buzz Bee Toys, Inc. (“Buzz Bee”) and Jeffrey Zimmerman. Defendants contend that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them and that this action should be dismissed. Alternatively, Defendants ask the Court to transfer this case to New Jersey, which Defendants allege is a more convenient forum.

MOTIONS TO DISMISS

For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the Court must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Id. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Id. at 1950. A legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation need not be accepted as true on a motion to dismiss, nor are recitations of the elements of a cause of action sufficient. Fritz v. Charter Township of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010).

PERSONAL JURISDICTION

The party seeking to establish the existence of personal jurisdiction bears the burden to establish such jurisdiction. Beydoun v. Wataniya Restaurants Holding, 768 F.3d 499, 504 (6th Cir. 2014). When, as here, the Court rules on a jurisdictional motion to dismiss without conducting an evidentiary hearing, the Court must consider the pleadings and affidavits in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. To defeat such a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction. Id. In that instance, the burden on the plaintiff is “relatively slight, ” and the Court should not weigh the controverting assertions of the party seeking dismissal. Air Products and Controls, Inc. v. Safetech Int’l., Inc., 503 F.3d 544, 549 (6th Cir. 2007); Theunissen v. Matthews, 935 F.2d 1454, 1458 (6th Cir. 1991).

Where a federal court’s subject matter jurisdiction arises under a federal question, personal jurisdiction over a defendant exists if the defendant is amenable to service of process under the forum state’s long-arm statute and if the exercise of personal jurisdiction would not deny the defendant due process. Bird v. Parsons, 289 F.3d 865, 871 (6th Cir. 2002). Tennessee’s long-arm statute has been interpreted to be coterminous with the limits of personal jurisdiction imposed by the Due Process Clause, and the jurisdictional limits of Tennessee law and of federal constitutional law of due process are identical. Intera Corp. v. Henderson, 428 F.3d 605, 616 (6th Cir. 2005).

When determining whether a district court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction would offend due process, the relevant inquiry is whether the facts of the case demonstrate that the non-resident defendant possesses such minimum contacts with the forum state that the exercise of jurisdiction would comport with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Beydoun, 768 F.3d at 505. The Sixth Circuit has articulated a three-part test to guide this determination. 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. Id.[1]

Purposeful availment is present where the defendant’s contacts with the forum state proximately result from actions by the defendant itself that create a substantial connection with the forum state and where the defendant’s conduct and connection are such that it should reasonably anticipate being haled into court in the forum state. Beydoun, 768 F.3d at 505-06. The emphasis in the purposeful availment inquiry is whether the defendant has engaged in some overt actions connecting the defendant with the forum state. Id. at 506.[2]

Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint (Docket No. 25) alleges that Defendant Buzz Bee is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey and no registered agent for service of process in Tennessee. The First Amended Complaint also alleges that Defendant Zimmerman is a resident of New Jersey.

Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint alleges that this Court has personal jurisdiction over Buzz Bee because Buzz Bee, itself and through its closely-related sister company, Buzz Bee HK, has sold and continues to sell the infringing products to Target, with the knowledge that Target has several stores in Tennessee and with the expectation that Target will sell the infringing products in Tennessee. The First Amended Complaint also alleges that Defendant Zimmerman oversees the design, manufacture and sales of all Buzz Bee toys, including the sale of infringing toys through Target retail stores in Tennessee. Plaintiffs allege that both Defendants are subject to the personal jurisdiction of this Court because tortious acts that are the subject of this action were committed in Tennessee. Docket No. 25.

As noted above, Plaintiffs must make only a prima facie showing that personal jurisdiction exists, and the Court should not weigh the controverting assertions of Defendants.[3] Defendants rely on two Declarations of Defendant Zimmerman and argue that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them because neither of them has sufficient contacts with Tennessee to subject them to this jurisdiction. The Court cannot weigh ...


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