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Benson v. Rosenthal

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 9, 2015

THOMAS BENSON, JR.
v.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL

Decided July 8, 2015.

Page 703

For Thomas Milton Benson, Jr., in his capacity as Grantor of the 2009 & 2012 Irrevocable Trusts of Renee Benson, Rita Benson LeBlanc & Ryan LeBlanc, & of the Tom Benson 2012 & 2014 Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts, Plaintiff: Phillip A. Wittmann, LEAD ATTORNEY, Andrew D. Mendez, James C. Gulotta, Jr., Matthew S. Almon, Stone, Pigman, Walther, Wittmann, LLC (New Orleans), New Orleans, LA.

For Robert A. Rosenthal, in his capacity as Trustee of the 2009 & 2012 Irrevocable Trusts of Renee Benson, Rita Benson LeBlanc & Ryan LeBlanc, & of the Tom Benson 2012 & 2014 Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts, Defendant: Kyle D. Schonekas, LEAD ATTORNEY, Andrea V. Timpa, Patrick S. McGoey, Schonekas, Evans, McGoey & McEachin, LLC, New Orleans, LA.

Page 704

ORDER AND REASONS

JANE TRICHE MILAZZO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction (R. Doc. 14). For the following reasons, the Motion is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

This is an action for declaratory judgment in which Plaintiff, appearing as grantor of several trusts, asks this Court to issue a judgment declaring that his attempt to exchange certain assets held by those trusts for other assets of equivalent value was effective. Plaintiff is Thomas Benson, the successful and wealthy owner of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans franchises. Over the course of several years, Plaintiff established various trusts for the benefit of his daughter Renee Benson and his two grandchildren, Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc. Plaintiff created three trusts in 2009 (the " 2009 Trusts),[1] three trusts in 2012 (the " 2012 Trusts" ),[2] a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust in 2012 (" 2012 GRAT Trust" ),[3] and a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust in 2014 (" 2014 GRAT Trust" ).[4] Notwithstanding the dispute at issue here, these trusts hold ownership interests in various entities that in turn own a substantial amount of Louisiana property, including the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans franchises, the New Orleans Fox television affiliate, automobile dealerships, and the Benson Tower and Champions Square development.[5] Plaintiff established these trusts while he was a domiciliary of Texas and asked Defendant Robert Rosenthal, a Texas lawyer, to serve as trustee.[6]

In January of 2015, Plaintiff sent correspondence to Defendant, requesting that he exchange the aforementioned trust assets for promissory notes of equivalent value. Defendant refused to make the exchange, stating that a unsecured promissory note is " not an appropriate trust investment" and that Defendant must " make his own independent verification that the assets to be exchanged are of equivalent

Page 705

value [with the trust assets]." [7] Plaintiff has asked this Court to declare that the exchange was effective pursuant to the terms of the trusts, that Plaintiff is the lawful owner of the exchanged assets, and that Defendant must sign various instruments to effectuate the transfer.

Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2).

LEGAL STANDARD

" Where a defendant challenges personal jurisdiction, the party seeking to invoke the power of the court bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction exists." [8] When a court rules on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction without holding an evidentiary hearing . . . the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction.[9] " The allegations of the complaint, except insofar as controverted by opposing affidavits, must be taken as true, and all conflicts in the facts must be resolved in favor of the plaintiff[] for purposes of determining whether a prima facie case for personal jurisdiction has been established." [10] " In determining whether personal jurisdiction exists, the trial court is not restricted to a review of the plaintiff's pleadings." [11] The Court may consider matters outside the complaint, including affidavits, interrogatories, depositions, or any combination of the recognized methods of discovery.[12]

Jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant is proper when (1) the defendant is amenable to service of process under the long-arm statute of the forum state, and (2) the exercise of personal jurisdiction is consistent with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[13] In the instant case, " these two inquiries merge into one because Louisiana's long-arm statute permits service of process coterminous with the scope of the due process clause." [14]

" The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects a corporation, as it does an individual, against being made subject to the binding judgments of a forum with which it has established no meaningful 'contacts, ties, or relations.'" [15] A court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant when (1) the defendant has purposefully availed itself of the benefits and protections of the forum state by establishing " minimum contacts" with the forum state; and (2) exercising personal jurisdiction over the defendant does not offend " traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." [16]

Page 706

" Minimum contacts" can be established through specific jurisdiction or general jurisdiction.[17] Specific personal jurisdiction exists when a defendant has purposely directed its activities, or availed itself of the privileges of conducting its activities, toward the forum state and the controversy arises out of or is related to those activities.[18] General personal jurisdiction exists when the defendant has engaged in continuous and systematic activities in the forum state, regardless of whether such activity is related to the plaintiff's cause of action.[19]

" If a nonresident defendant has sufficient related or unrelated minimum contacts with the forum, we must then consider whether the 'fairness' prong of the jurisdictional inquiry is satisfied." [20] The fairness inquiry is determined by analyzing several factors: (1) the burden upon the nonresident defendant of litigating in the forum state; (2) the interests of the forum state; (3) the plaintiff's interest in securing relief; (4) the judicial system's interest in obtaining an efficient resolution ...


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