United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR., CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Lowe and Christopher Rowland installed information network
systems in hotels around the country. On March 8, 2013,
Rowland established NetGen, Inc., a Georgia corporation, and
both he and Lowe continued to work together as business
partners. After Rowland died in December 2018, Lowe, with the
acquiescence of Rowland's widow Christin, formed NetGen
Corp. and continued the business. When Christin interfered
with Lowe's customers, however, he formed Active Packet,
LLC in February 2019. Christin continued to interfere with
Active Packet's customers, prompting Plaintiffs to file
suit in the Circuit Court for Cumberland County, Tennessee
alleging tortious interference with a business relationship
and defamation. Plaintiffs also sought a declaratory judgment
determining the parties' ownership rights to NetGen
removal of the action to this Court, Defendants filed a
Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction and Improper Venue
(Doc. No. 8). The request for dismissal for lack of
jurisdiction is hardly surprising given the allegations in
the Complaint that Lowe is a citizen of Tennessee and Active
Packet is a Tennessee limited liability company, but NetGen,
Inc is a Georgia corporation with a “nerve
center” in Naples, Florida; the Estate of Christopher
Rowland was opened in Collier County, Florida where he
resided at the time of his death; and Christin Rowland is a
Florida citizen residing in Naples. (Doc. No. 1-1, Complaint
¶¶ 2-6). The claim of improper venue, however, is
surprising and without merit because (1) this action was
removed from state court; (2) “venue in removed actions
is governed solely by § 1441(a)” Kerobo v. Sw.
Clean Fuels, Corp., 285 F.3d 531, 534 (6th Cir. 2002)
(citing Polizzi v. Cowles Magazines, Inc., 345 U.S.
663, 665 (1953)), and (3) the Northeastern Division
encompasses Cumberland County from whence this case came.
to the jurisdictional issue, Plaintiffs do not contend that
there is general jurisdiction, i.e., that
Defendants' contacts with Tennessee were “so
‘continuous and systematic' as to render them
essentially at home [here].” Goodyear Dunlop Tires
Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 546 U.S. 915, 919 (2011).
Instead, they assert specific jurisdiction, arguing that
Defendants purposefully availed themselves of Tennessee law
by causing a consequence here. In this regard, Plaintiffs
allege that “the events giving rise to the claims,
while committed outside of Tennessee have caused tortious
injury in Tennessee.” (Doc. No. 1-1, Complaint ¶
8). More specifically, Plaintiffs claim that Defendants, and
in particular Christin, told Active Packet customers that
Lowe was a fraudster and criminal, and directed Active
Product customers to pay Defendants even though Active Packet
and Lowe are the ones who provided the network installation
services after Christopher's death. Plaintiffs cite Tenn.
Code Ann. ¶¶ 20-2-214 and 2-2-223 as providing
jurisdiction over individuals who cause tortious injury in
doubt, Tennessee's “long-arm statute expands the
jurisdiction of Tennessee courts to the full limit allowed by
due process.” Masada Inv. Corp. v. Allen, 697
S.W.2d 332, 334 (Tenn. 1985) Shelby Mutual Ins. Co. v.
Moore, 645 S.W.2d 242, 245 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1981). Its
reach, in other words, is “coterminous with the due
process clause, ” meaning that “‘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) (quoting Payne v. Motorists' Mut. Ins.
Cos., 4 F.3d 452, 455 (6th Cir. 1993)). Nevertheless,
“the sine qua non for [personal] jurisdiction
is “purposeful availment, ” Air Prods. &
Controls, Inc. v. Safetech In'l, Inc., 503 F.3d 544,
550 (6th Cir. 2007), and is “something akin to a
deliberate undertaking to do or cause an act or thing to be
done in [the forum state].” Bridgeport Music, Inc.
v. Still N The Water Pub., 327 F.3d 472, 478 (6th Cir.
do not allege that Defendants committed any act in Tennessee.
To the contrary, they specifically allege that the acts
giving rise to their claims were committed outside Tennessee.
As explained by the Supreme Court, however, the fact a
plaintiff may have felt an effect of another's acts in
his or her home state is not enough, in and of itself, to
establish personal jurisdiction:
[M]ere injury to a forum resident is not a sufficient
connection to the forum. Regardless of where a plaintiff
lives or works, an injury is jurisdictionally relevant only
insofar as it shows that the defendant has formed a contact
with the forum State. The proper question is not where the
plaintiff experienced a particular injury or effect but
whether the defendant's conduct connects him to the forum
in a meaningful way.
Walden v. Fiore, 571 U.S. 277, 290 (2014); see
also, Carmona v. Leo Ship Mgmt., Inc., 924 F.3d
190, 194 (5th Cir. 2019) (“Purposeful availment is a
constitutional prerequisite for jurisdiction, regardless of
where the tortious conduct occurred.”); Bulso v.
O'Shea, 730 Fed.Appx. 347, 351 (6th Cir. 2018)
(finding that, even though injury might have occurred in
Tennessee, “operative facts concerning the
malicious-prosecution claim all took place outside Tennessee,
” and thus there was no personal jurisdiction).
than claiming injury to a Tennessee citizen/resident,
Plaintiffs make no effort to establish that Defendants had
“meaningful” contacts with Tennessee.
Accordingly, this Court lacks personal jurisdiction.
the absence of personal jurisdiction, however, the Court, in
its discretion, may transfer the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1406(a). See, Jackson v. L & F Martin
Landscape, 421 Fed.Appx. 482, 483 (6th Cir. 2009)
(noting that section 1406 “applies to actions that are
brought in an impermissible forum; the district court need
not have personal jurisdiction over defendants before
transferring pursuant to this section”); Flynn v.
Greg Anthony Constr. Co., 95 Fed.Appx. 726, 739 (6th
Cir. 2003) (“The Supreme Court's decision in
Goldlawr, Inc. v. Heiman, 369 U.S. 463, 82 S.Ct.
913, 8 L .Ed.2d 39 (1962), expressly included the lack of
personal jurisdiction as one of the procedural hurdles that
can be remedied by a § 1406 transfer.”). Under
Section 1406(a), a court may, if it is in the interest of
justice, transfer a case to the district or division in which
it could have been brought.
the parties agree that venue is proper in the Middle District
of Florida, and “Defendants do not oppose
Plaintiffs' request to transfer this case to the Middle
District of Florida, rather than dismiss the
Complaint.” (Doc. No. 15). Given those concessions, and
given that transfer “serves the ultimate goal of
allowing cases to be decided on their substantive merits, as
opposed to being decided on procedural grounds, ”
Flynn, 95 Fed.Appx. at 741, this case will be
transferred instead of dismissed.
the Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction and Improper
Venue (Doc. No. 8) is GRANTED to the extent
it asserts a lack of personal jurisdiction over Defendants.
The Clerk of the Court shall TRANSFER this
case to the United States District Court for the Middle
District of Florida and close the file in this Court.