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Riebsame v. Schemel

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

September 24, 2019

JOHN RIEBSAME
v.
BRAD SCHEMEL

          Assigned on Briefs August 1, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hamilton County No. 18C709 Ward Jeffrey Hollingsworth, Judge

         A truck driver sued his former employer for damages allegedly resulting from a phone call made by the former employer to the driver's new employer. The trial court dismissed the driver's complaint based upon lack of personal jurisdiction, and we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          John J. Riebsame, Trevose, Pennsylvania, pro se.

          Jeffrey G. Granillo and Nathan L. Kinard, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellee, Bradley Schemel.

          Andy D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which John W. McClarty and Carma Dennis McGee, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          ANDY D. BENNETT, JUDGE

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The facts before the court on appeal depend upon the procedural posture of the case. John Riebsame, a former employee of Holland Enterprises ("Holland"), filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Hamilton County, Tennessee on June 18, 2018, against Bradley Schemel, the vice president of Holland, [1] a trucking company headquartered in Mapleton, North Dakota. On July 20, 2018, Mr. Schemel filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(2) and (4) for lack of personal jurisdiction and insufficient service of process. With his motion, Mr. Schemel submitted his own affidavit, the contents of which will be detailed as relevant below. Mr. Riebsame filed a response. On September 7, 2018, the trial court entered an order granting Mr. Schemel's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and dismissing Mr. Riebsame's complaint. Mr. Riebsame appeals.

         As our Supreme Court stated in First Community Bank, N.A. v. First Tennessee Bank, N.A., 489 S.W.3d 369 (Tenn. 2015), "When considering a defendant's 12.02(2) motion, a trial court 'must take all factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint and supporting papers as true' and must 'resolve all factual disputes in the plaintiff's favor.'" First Cmty. Bank, 489 S.W.3d at 382 (quoting State v. NV Sumatra Tobacco Trading Co., 403 S.W.3d 726, 739 (Tenn. 2013)). A court's determination regarding the exercise of personal jurisdiction is a question of law, which we review de novo. Id.

         Thus, we will set forth the pertinent allegations of Mr. Riebsame's complaint and view them in the light most favorable to him. Mr. Riebsame was fired by Holland on April 20, 2018. He needed to travel to Markam, Illinois to attend orientation for a new job with U.S. Xpress, out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Holland agreed to provide a rental car for Mr. Riebsame through its account with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and Mr. Riebsame paid Holland for a four-day car rental. Because of health problems and stress, however, Mr. Riebsame needed to use the car for more than four days, and he called Holland to arrange payment for the extra days. He alleges that the following events then occurred:

When I called the Defendants office on or around 3 May to get a working phone number for the local Enterprise car rental near Fargo to pay for the extra time I had the car, the Defendants office called right back and the Defendant got on the phone and told me he called my future employer U.S. Express of Chattanooga Tennessee and told them I stole his rental car. . . . He said he wanted me to return the car immediately which I did. The Defendant also said he reported the car stolen. I confirmed with my recruiter . . . at U.S. Express that the Defendant called them and said I stole his rental car. The U.S. Express recruiter also told me because of the Defendants call, I was permanently unhireable.

         According to Mr. Riebsame, he attempted to pay for the additional days "but Enterprise car rental required payment to be made to the location where the car was rented and they[2] didn't return my calls or answer their phone."[3] Mr. Riebsame alleges that, as a result of Mr. Schemel's actions, he lost $2000 in security deposits and his final paycheck from Holland, was "permanently prevented from renting a car from Enterprise car rental, " and sustained physical, emotional, and financial damages. The exact nature of the causes of action brought by Mr. Riebsame is not clear. His complaint does, however, include a request for damages for libel, slander, and defamation of character.

         Mr. Schemel filed a motion to dismiss Mr. Riebsame's complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction and insufficient service of process on July 20, 2018. In support of his motion, Mr. Schemel submitted his own affidavit, which includes the following pertinent statements:[4]

9. I do not reside at the Holland Enterprises' place of business. My home address is elsewhere in North Dakota.
10. Through my experience in the trucking industry, I am generally familiar with the operations of U.S. Xpress, a trucking company in competition with Holland Enterprises.
11. U.S. Xpress, while based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has operations in numerous states, including Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, South Carolina, and Florida.
12. I have never placed a call to a U.S. Xpress employee located in Tennessee.
13. I have never spoken on the phone with a U.S. Xpress employee located in Tennessee.
14. I have never contacted, attempted to contact, or been in contact with U.S. Xpress regarding the Plaintiff.
15. To my knowledge, I have never contacted a Tennessee location of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, or even spoken on the phone with an Enterprise Rent-A-Car employee located in Tennessee.
16. I have not been in Tennessee in over 20 years.
17. I do not personally transact any business in Tennessee.

         Mr. Riebsame filed a notarized document entitled "Amended First Counter Affidavit" on August 10, 2018, in which he states:

Line 4 in the Complaint clearly states the Defendant Brad Schemel told me personally on the Phone he called Enterprise and reported the car stolen (see attached email from Defendant to me), and U.S. Express of Chattanooga, Tennessee and told them the same. Line 4 also lists the name and phone number ...

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