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Manlove v. Aktiengesellschaft

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

May 3, 2019

JONATHAN MANLOVE, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
VOLKSWAGEN AKTIENGESELLSCHAFT et al., Defendants.

          Magistrate Judge Christopher H. Steger

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TRAVIS R. MCDONOUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and for insufficient service of process filed by Defendant Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft (“VWAG”) (Doc. 31). For the following reasons, VWAG's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and insufficient service of process will be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         VWAG, a German corporation with its principal place of business in Wolfsburg, Germany, is an automobile manufacturer that operates production plants throughout the world. (Doc. 12, at 6-7.) Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. (“Volkswagen America”) is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in Virginia and a wholly-owned subsidiary of VWAG. (Id. at 7.) Volkswagen America is the “operational headquarters for [VWAG's] presence in North America.” (Id.) Volkswagen Group of America Chattanooga Operations, LLC (“Volkswagen Chattanooga”) is a Tennessee limited liability company with its principal place of business in Virginia and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Volkswagen America. (Id.) Volkswagen Chattanooga “operates the Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly Plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.” (Id.) Although Plaintiff Jonathan Manlove is an employee of Volkswagen Chattanooga, he alleges that:

[VWAG] exerts control over the daily affairs of Volkswagen Chattanooga, including the labor activities and personnel decisions of its subsidiary employees, through: daily production plans directing Chattanooga worker activities and labor productivity set by and sent by German management; requiring weekly reports sent from Chattanooga to Germany so that [VWAG] employees can set worker activity and labor production; regular meetings held by [VWAG] employees in Chattanooga to set directly personnel work activities and production; directing operating hours of the Chattanooga facility, including plant shut-downs; maintaining a common international standards organization implemented in Chattanooga through regular audits conducted by [VWAG] employees; directing the method of promotions for workers in Chattanooga, including through the elimination of the management assessment centers; and maintaining a common internal employee platform through which open positions and job transfers are conducted[.]

(Id. at 4-6.)

         In November 2016, VWAG announced its “Pact for the Future, ” a campaign Manlove alleges was designed to eliminate older workers from VWAG's and its subsidiaries' workforces. (Id. at 9-10.) Specifically, Manlove alleges that the “Pact for the Future” constitutes “a global policy of eliminating older workers and replacing them with younger ones, ” in part, by “purging older workers from its management ranks.” (Id.) Consistent with VWAG's Pact for the Future, Manlove, a fifty-three-year-old, alleges that, in 2017, Volkswagen Chattanooga denied him a promotion and later demoted him because of his age. (Id. at 13-16.) Manlove specifically alleges that his demotion was the result of being “displaced by younger workers as part of [VWAG's] Pact for the Future.” (Id. at 15.)

         Manlove initiated the present action on June 29, 2018 (Doc. 1), and filed an amended complaint on September 18, 2018 (Doc. 12). In his amended complaint, Manlove asserts class-and collective-action claims against VWAG, Volkswagen Chattanooga, and Volkswagen America for violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”), Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 4-21-101 et seq., and seeks injunctive relief on behalf of himself and other “employees who have been affected.” (See generally id.)

         On September 26, 2018, Manlove filed proof of service stating that he effected service of process on VWAG through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Volkswagen America, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 4A(3). (Doc. 19.) On October 31, 2018, VWAG, Volkswagen America, and Volkswagen Chattanooga moved to dismiss Manlove's claims, arguing that the parties' arbitration agreement required arbitration of Manlove's claims. (Docs. 29, 31.) In VWAG's motion to compel arbitration, it alternatively argued that the Court should dismiss Manlove's claims against it because the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it and because Manlove failed to properly effectuate service of process. (See Doc. 31.) On January 11, 2019, the Court entered an order finding that, under the terms of the parties' arbitration agreement, an arbitrator had to decide the threshold issue of arbitrability. (Doc. 57.) The Court stayed this matter pending the arbitrator's decision and declined to rule on VWAG's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and for insufficient service of process. (Id. at 7.) On February 25, 2019, the arbitrator entered an order finding that Manlove's claims were not arbitrable. (Doc. 65.) Based on the arbitrator's finding, VWAG's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and for insufficient service of process is now ripe for the Court's review.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Personal Jurisdiction

         In the context of a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the existence of personal jurisdiction. Air Prods. & Controls, Inc. v. Safetech Int'l, Inc., 503 F.3d 544, 549 (6th Cir. 2007). In determining whether the plaintiff has met his burden, the Court must construe the pleadings in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Carrier Corp. v. Outokumpu Oyj, 673 F.3d 430, 449 (6th Cir. 2012). When the district court resolves the motion without an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff's burden is “relatively slight, ” and a prima facie showing of jurisdiction will suffice. Id.

         “When a federal court's subject-matter jurisdiction is based on a federal question, the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction must be both authorized by the forum State's long-arm statute and in accordance with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” AlixPartners, LLP v. Brewington, 836 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2016). Tennessee's long-arm statute, Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-2-214, expands the jurisdiction of Tennessee courts to the full limit permitted by the Due Process Clause. Gordon v. Greenview Hosp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 635, 645-46 (Tenn. 2009); see also Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Still N The Water Pub., 327 F.3d 472, 477 (6th Cir. 2003). When a state's long-arm statute reaches as far as the limits of the Due Process Clause, the two inquiries ...


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