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Roundtree-Chism v. Dunn

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

May 26, 2017




         Pending before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by Defendant Stuart H. Dunn (“Dunn”) [Doc. 10] and Defendant Jean Baron (“Baron”) [Doc. 20] and various motions filed by Plaintiff Silverrene Roundtree-Chism (“Plaintiff”) [E.g., Docs. 15, 17, 18, 25, 36, 39, 40, 43, 45, 46, 50 and 52]. Upon consideration of the pleadings, motions to dismiss, and Plaintiff's responses to the motions, the Court issued a Show Cause Order to allow Plaintiff an opportunity to correct certain deficiencies and to address the issue of personal jurisdiction as to all defendants and insufficient service of process on two of the four defendants [Doc. 44]. The motions to dismiss are now ripe.

         After careful review and considering the pleadings and affidavits in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court finds Plaintiff's responses to the motions and to the Show Cause Order do not make out a prima facie case that the Court has personal jurisdiction over any Defendant. For the reasons set forth in detail below, the Court concludes that it lacks personal jurisdiction over all defendants and that Plaintiff failed to effect service of process with regard to two of the four defendants. Accordingly, the Court will GRANT the motions to dismiss [Docs. 10 & 20] and will DENY Plaintiff's motions to deny certain motions to dismiss [Docs. 15, 25]. As a result, Plaintiff's several other motions [Docs. 17, 18, 36, 39, 40, 43, 50, and 52] will be TERMINATED AS MOOT.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed a complaint in September 2016 against Dunn, Warren W. Koontz (“Koontz”), Baron, and Dr. Oakfield[1] (collectively “Defendants”)[2] [Doc. 2]. Therein Plaintiff implies that she worked as a physician some two decades in the past and alleges certain misconduct with regard to a medical board hearing that took place approximately twenty (20) years ago [id. at Page ID # 11-12]. Plaintiff now brings this action, stating that she recently learned information about that hearing and that she suffered damages as a result of the alleged misconduct that occurred in relation to the same [id. at Page ID #12]. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges in her complaint that certain evidence was fabricated, that she was denied an opportunity to face her accusers in person or at all, that she failed to receive adequate counsel, and that medical records and a prescription were forged using Plaintiff's name [id.].

         Dunn and Baron each filed a motion to dismiss [Docs. 10, 20]. Dunn moved to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint [Doc. 10] for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2), failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6), insufficient process under Rule 12(b)(4) and Rule 4(a), and expiration of the applicable statute of limitations. Separately, Baron moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 and to dismiss Plaintiff's case on those same grounds, as well as insufficient service of process under Rule 12(b)(5) [Doc. 20].

         In an abundance of caution given Plaintiff's pro se status, the Court entered a Show Cause Order on April 13, 2017 [Doc. 44], requiring Plaintiff to “show cause in writing supported by proper affidavit or declaration within thirty (30) days of the entry of this order why this case should not be dismissed (1) for lack of personal jurisdiction with regard to all Defendants; and (2) for failure to effect proper service of process with regard to Koontz and Oakfield.” [Doc. 44 at Page ID # 232-33] (capitalization and bold font in original omitted). The same Order specifically notified Plaintiff that “any failure to adequately respond to this Order will result in the dismissal of her complaint.” [Doc. 44 at Page ID # 233]. Despite the Court's Order, Plaintiff did not file a supporting affidavit or declaration. Further, Plaintiff failed to file a writing that adequately addressed the issues of personal jurisdiction or insufficient service of process.[3]


         A Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss requires a court to “determine whether the plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to support the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendants.” Destination Designs, LLC v. Glick, No. 3:08-CV-197, 2008 WL 4559815, at *2 (E.D. Tenn. Oct. 9, 2008). In doing so, the court has “has three procedural alternatives: (1) the court may determine the motion on the basis of written submissions and affidavits alone; (2) it may permit discovery in aid of the motion; or (3) it may conduct an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the motion.” Id. (citing Serras v. First Tenn. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 875 F.3d 1212, 1214 (6th Cir. 1989)). Should the court rule on the motion without conducting an evidentiary hearing, “the plaintiff need only make a ‘prima facie' case that the court has personal jurisdiction, ” Conn v. Zakharov, 667 F.3d 705, 711 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Kroger Co. v. Malease Foods Corp., 437 F.3d 506, 510 (6th Cir. 2006)), and “the court must consider the pleadings and affidavits in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, ” CompuServe, Inc. v. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257, 1262 (6th Cir. 1996); see also Jude v. First Nat'l Bank of Williamson, 259 F.Supp.2d 586, 589 (E.D. Ky. 2003). “[I]n the face of a properly supported motion for dismissal, the plaintiff may not stand on his pleading but must, by affidavit or otherwise, set forth specific facts showing that the court has jurisdiction.” Carrier Corp. v. Outokumpu Oyj, 673 F.3d 430, 449 (quoting Theunissen v. Matthews, 935 F.2d 1454, 1458 (6th Cir. 1991)) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Lexon Ins. Co. v. Devinshire Land Dev., LLC, 573 F. App'x 427, 429 (6th Cir. 2014) (holding that a plaintiff can meet his prima facie showing that jurisdiction exists “by establishing with reasonable particularity sufficient contacts between [the defendant] and the forum state to support jurisdiction”) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         “A federal court has personal jurisdiction over a defendant 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.” Feild v. Graffagnino, 514 F.Supp.2d 1036, 1040 (W.D. Tenn. 2007) (citing Mich. Coal. of Radioactive Material Users, Inc. v. Griepentrog, 954 F.2d 1174, 1176 (6th Cir. 1992)). Tennessee's long-arm statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-2-214, “extends the personal jurisdiction of Tennessee courts to the full limit allowed by due process under the United States Constitution.” Id. (citing Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Still N The Water Publ'g, 327 F.3d 472, 477 (6th Cir. 2003)).

         Personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant may be either general or specific. Destination Designs, 2008 WL 4559815, at *3 (citing Conti v. Pneumatic Prods. Corp., 977 F.2d 978, 981 (6th Cir. 1992)). General jurisdiction requires “the [d]efendant's contacts with the forum state” are “continuous and systematic . . . sufficient to justify the state's exercise of judicial power with respect to any and all claims.” Field, 514 F.Supp.2d at 1041 (quoting Kerry Steel, Inc. v. Paragon Indus., Inc., 106 F.3d 147, 149 (6th Cir. 1997)). “Due process requires that an out-of-state defendant can be subject to personal jurisdiction only if he has such minimum contacts with the forum state that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Chenault v. Walker, 36 S.W.3d 45, 53 (Tenn. 2001) (citations omitted).

         In the absence of general jurisdiction, specific personal jurisdiction may be found when a defendant purposely directs his activities toward citizens of the forum state and litigation results from injuries arising out of or relating to those activities. Field, 514 F.Supp.2d at 1041; Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985). In such cases, “the defendant's conduct and connection with the forum state are such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.” World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980). The Sixth Circuit utilizes a three-part test to determine whether personal jurisdiction would violate the requirements of the due process clause. S. Mach. Co. v. Mohasco Indus. Inc., 401 F.2d 374, 381 (6th Cir. 1968).

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.


         As noted above, Plaintiff failed to submit an affidavit or declaration, though she was obligated to do so in the Show Cause Order [Doc. 44 at Page ID # 232]. The only connection to Tennessee expressed in her complaint is her own residence [Doc. 2 at Page ID # 11]. Plaintiff's allegations contained therein describe discrimination that she says occurred at the Maryland Medical Board, and she seeks a judgment related, in part, to the Medical Board of Virginia [id. at Page ID # 11-12]. Though Plaintiff alleges in a response to Dunn's motion to dismiss that “it is extremely hard to obtain commissions [for her sculpture work] because of the blackballing from the Medical Board of Virginia” [Doc. 15 at Page ID #72] and that “blackballing over the United States” continues [Doc. 2 at Page ID # 12], she failed to establish specific facts demonstrating the connection between the alleged blackballing and the forum state.

         A. Personal Jurisdiction over Defendant Stuart Dunn

         Dunn moves to dismiss the case against him, in part for lack of personal jurisdiction. He maintains he lacks “sufficient minimum contacts with Tennessee” and that “[he] has never purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting business in Tennessee.” [Doc. 10 at Page ID # 33]. In a declaration filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746, Dunn states he is an attorney licensed to practice in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but is not and has never been a licensed attorney in Tennessee and has never practiced law in Tennessee [Doc. 10-1 at Page ID # 49]. Further his “representation of [Plaintiff] occurred only in the state of Virginia” and he “did not travel to the state of Tennessee for any reason related to the representation of [Plaintiff]” [id. at Page ID # 50] (emphasis in original). He represented Plaintiff most recently some 15 years ago in 2002, when the letters he mailed to Plaintiff, then at an address in Maryland, were returned undelivered. [Doc. 10-1 at Page ID # 50]. Dunn stated he did not communicate with Plaintiff again until 2016, at which point he discovered her phone number on the Internet [id.]. He spoke with her and “with her agreement . . . mailed her client file and the remaining money from her client trust account, minus the amount paid for the mailing fees.” [Id.]

         Dunn argues that his act of mailing Plaintiff's file to her in Tennessee “fourteen years after their attorney-client relationship ended, does not constitute sufficient minimum contacts with Tennessee for the establishment of personal jurisdiction within the confines of Due Process[.]” [Doc. 10 at Page ID # 33]. He argues he lacks “sufficient continuous and systematic contacts with Tennessee to justify [the] assertion of general jurisdiction.” [id. at Page ID # 39] (emphasis in original omitted). He further argues specific personal jurisdiction is improper because of his lack of contact with the state of Tennessee and because his “representation of Plaintiff took place entirely in Virginia, where [he] ran his law office, his contracts with Tennessee in regard to Plaintiff are random, fortuitous, or attenuated.” [id. at Page ID # 42].

         Plaintiff responded to Dunn's motion to dismiss [Doc. 15], but fell short of establishing that Dunn has sufficient contacts with Tennessee. Instead, she described, largely, “[t]he years I lived in Virginia” [Doc. 15 at Page ID # 70] (emphasis added). She alleges “a conspiracy existed against [her] and other physicians of color in the State of Virginia” and offers that she is “ready to discuss and talk at length about events that occurred to me in Virginia.” [Id. at Page ID # 71] (emphasis added). She also states that “[t]he case not only relates to the plaintiff, but, also to other African-American physicians in the state of Virginia while she was practicing medicine in that region. It is widely known that the Medical Board of Virginia violates human rights of African-American physicians.” [Id. at Page ID # 69] (emphasis added). Pro se complaints are liberally construed and held to less stringent standards than the formal pleadings prepared by attorneys. Bridge v. Ocwen Fed. Bank, 681 F.3d 355, 358 (6th Cir. 2012). However, Plaintiff does not make any factual allegations in her complaint [Doc. 2] or in her motion to deny Dunn's motion to dismiss [Doc. 15] that would establish Defendant Dunn had sufficient contacts with the forum state.

         When instructed to show cause regarding personal jurisdiction, Plaintiff asserted certain facts related to Dunn and his relationship to Tennessee. In full, Plaintiff provided as follows:

Lawyer Stuart H. Dunn
Resides in the State of Virginia, he made contact with [Plaintiff] of Chattanooga, TN by telephone on more than one occasion. The initial contact was on July 25, 2016 from area ...

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