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LeBlanc v. Disa Global Solutions, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

January 3, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to FRCP 12(b)(2) and/or Alternatively to 12(b)(6)[1] filed by Defendant, University MRO, LLC (“University”). Plaintiff, James LeBlanc, (“Plaintiff”) has filed an Opposition[2] to this motion. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a First Amended, Supplemental, and Restated Complaint (“Amended Complaint”)[3] which prompted University to file a Supplemental Memorandum[4]in support of its motion, to which Plaintiff filed a Joint Supplemental Memorandum in Opposition.[5] For the reasons which follow, the Court finds that it lacks personal jurisdiction over University, and the Rule 12(b)(2) motion will be granted.


         This matter involves claims for damages allegedly sustained by Plaintiff resulting from a failed drug test conducted on behalf of his employer, Atlas Copco Rental, LLC (“Atlas”), on February 26, 2016. Plaintiff originally filed this action in state court against DISA Global Solutions, Inc. (“DISA”), Our Lady of the Lake Ascension, LLC, d/b/a St. Elizabeth Physicians (“STEP”), [6] and University, the movant herein. Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants were negligent in conducting his drug test.[7] Specifically, Plaintiff alleges he submitted to a random drug test at STEP on February 26, 2016, where STEP employees collected a hair sample for testing, [8] but failed to inquire about or document any medications Plaintiff was taking at the time of the test.[9] STEP sent Plaintiff's hair sample to Psychemedics Laboratory for analysis of the hair sample which resulted in positive finding of cocaine metabolites.[10] Psychemedics submitted this result to University for evaluation, and Dr. Terri Hellings, M.D., a Medical Review Officer (“MRO”) employed by University, interviewed Plaintiff by telephone regarding the test results.[11]Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Hellings did not accept his explanation of legally prescribed medications and reported its findings to DISA and Atlas which resulted in Plaintiff being listed as “inactive” and prevented him from working in his field for Atlas.[12]

         University contends Plaintiff admits that University acted in accordance with its policy and procedures[13] but disagrees with University's conclusion regarding the effect his prescribed medications had on the drug test. Further, University contends that Plaintiff does not allege that the test results were inaccurate; rather, Plaintiff alleges only that University was negligent in not accepting Plaintiff's explanation for the cocaine-positive test results based on prescription medications prescribed nearly four months prior to the date of the test. University moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or, alternatively, for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).

         II. LAW

         A. General Personal Jurisdiction

         When a nonresident defendant presents a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the court's jurisdiction over the nonresident.[14] When a district court rules on a motion to dismiss without an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff need only present a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction.[15] At this stage, uncontroverted allegations in the complaint must be taken as true, and conflicts between the parties' affidavits must be resolved in the plaintiff's favor.[16]

         To aid resolution of the jurisdictional issue, a court “may receive interrogatories, depositions or any combination of the recognized methods of discovery ... But even if the court receives discovery materials, unless there is a full and fair hearing, it should not act as a fact finder and must construe all disputed facts in the plaintiff's favor and consider them along with the undisputed facts.”[17] “Once a plaintiff has established minimum contacts, the burden shifts to the defendant to show that the assertion of jurisdiction would be unfair.”[18]

         “A federal district court has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant to the same extent as a state court in the state in which the district court is located.”[19] Thus, personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant attaches only when a defendant is amenable to service of process under the forum state's long-arm statute and the exercise of jurisdiction comports with the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment. In this case, these two queries merge into one because Louisiana's long-arm statute extends jurisdiction coextensively with the limits of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.[20]

         Where a defendant has “continuous and systematic general business contacts” with the forum state, the court may exercise “general jurisdiction” over any action brought against the defendant.[21] Where contacts are less pervasive, a court may still exercise “specific” jurisdiction “in a suit arising out of or related to the defendant's contacts with the forum.”[22]

         B. Specific Jurisdiction

         The constitutional requirements for specific jurisdiction may be satisfied by showing that the defendant has sufficient “minimum contacts” with the forum state such that imposing a judgment would not “offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.”[23] The Fifth Circuit follows a three-step analysis for this determination. First, a court must determine “whether the defendant has minimum contacts with the forum state, i.e., whether it purposely directed its activities toward the forum state or purposefully availed itself of the privileges of conducting activities there.”[24]

         This “minimum contacts”/”purposeful availment” inquiry is fact intensive. No one element is decisive, and the number of contacts with the forum state is not, by itself, determinative.[25] A single, substantial act directed toward the forum can support specific jurisdiction, [26] but even multiple contacts, if “[r]andom, fortuitous, or attenuated ... are not sufficient to establish jurisdiction.”[27] What is significant is whether the contacts suggest that the nonresident defendant purposefully availed himself of the privileges or benefits of the laws of the forum state.[28]

         Second, a court considers “whether the plaintiff's cause of action arises out of or results from the defendant's forum-related contacts.”[29] At this step, the proper focus in the analysis is on the “relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation.”[30]This is a claim-specific inquiry, as “the Due Process Clause prohibits the exercise of jurisdiction over any claim that does not arise out of or result from the defendant's forum contacts.”[31]

         Finally, “[i]f the plaintiff successfully satisfies the first two prongs, the burden shifts to the defendant to defeat jurisdiction by showing that its exercise of jurisdiction would be unfair or unreasonable.”[32] In this inquiry, a court analyzes five factors: “(1) the burden on the nonresident defendant, (2) the forum state's interests, (3) the plaintiff's interest in securing relief, (4) the interest of the interstate judicial system in the efficient administration of justice, and (5) the shared interest of the several states in furthering fundamental social policies.”[33] “It is rare to say the assertion [of jurisdiction] is unfair after minimum contacts have been shown.”[34]

         C. Minimum Contacts

         Personal jurisdiction may not be avoided merely because a defendant did not physically enter the forum state. Although territorial presence frequently will enhance a potential defendant's affiliation with a state and reinforce the reasonable foreseeability of suit there, it is an inescapable fact of modern commercial life that a substantial amount of business is transacted solely by mail and wire communication across state lines, thus obviating the need for physical presence within a state in which business is conducted. As long as a commercial actor's efforts are “purposefully directed” toward residents of the state in question, courts have consistently rejected the notion that an absence of physical contacts can defeat personal jurisdiction there.[35]

         Even so, “merely contracting with a resident of the forum state does not establish minimum contacts.”[36] “A contract is ordinarily but an intermediate step serving to tie up prior business negotiations with future consequences which themselves are the real object of the business transaction. It is these factors-prior negotiations and contemplated future consequences, along with the terms of the contract and the parties' actual course of dealing-that must be evaluated in determining whether the defendant purposefully established minimum contacts within the forum.”[37]

         Although a single act, such as a telephone call or mailing a letter, can be sufficient to establish minimum contacts, precedent is clear that communications alone are insufficient when “the communications with the forum did not actually give rise to [the] cause of action.”[38] Rather, when communications relating to conducting business are the only contacts, courts generally require some type of “continuing obligations” between the defendant and residents of the forum, such as is found in an ongoing business relationship, to find that the defendant availed himself of the privilege of conducting business in the forum. Only then, “because his activities are shielded by ‘the benefits and protections' of the forum's laws, it is presumptively not unreasonable to require him to submit to the burdens of litigation in that forum as well.”[39]

         On the other hand, for claims of intentional tort, “[a] single act by a defendant can be enough to confer personal jurisdiction if that act gives rise to the claim being asserted.”[40] “When the actual content of communications with a forum gives rise to intentional tort causes of action, this alone constitutes purposeful availment.”[41]

         III. ANALYSIS

         Applying the law to the facts of this case, the Court finds that it lacks general jurisdiction over University. University is incorporated in the State of Delaware and has its only place of business in the State of Pennsylvania.[42] Director of University Services Evelyn Ward (“Ward”) declared under penalty of perjury that University has no offices, owns no property, and employs no individuals in the State of Louisiana.[43] Further, Ward states that University is not registered to conduct business in Louisiana, does not maintain a phone listing, telephone, or mailing address in Louisiana, [44] and does not advertise or solicit business in Louisiana.[45] Moreover, Plaintiff failed to plead any facts to establish that University has sufficient “continuous and systematic” contact with Louisiana such that University could be considered “at home” in Louisiana. A single phone call by a University employee in Pennsylvania to a resident of Louisiana does not establish general jurisdiction over University.

         The facts alleged by Plaintiff, which must be accepted by the Court as true for purposes of this motion, also fail to satisfy the specific jurisdiction test. The Court finds that University lacks a sufficient relationship to this forum and this litigation. The record demonstrates that the Helicopteros test is not satisfied as University's only connection to the instant case is employing Dr. Hellings, who conducted the phone interview of Plaintiff regarding his drug testing results. Further, Plaintiff's presence in Louisiana is insufficient to support the exercise of jurisdiction over University as the Fifth Circuit has held that a plaintiff's own contacts with the forum cannot be used to demonstrate contacts by a defendant.[46] Plaintiff does not allege that University actually participated in the drug testing; rather, Plaintiff alleges only that an employee of University placed a call from Pennsylvania to Plaintiff (who is assumed to be in Louisiana at the time although this fact is not alleged) to interview Plaintiff regarding the test results.[47] Additionally, Plaintiff has alleged only negligence - not an intentional tort - against University.

         The facts of this case are especially similar to those in Loicano v. DISA Global Solutions, [48] decided by the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Loicano, a Louisiana resident, sued DISA, Psychedemics Laboratory, and Nsuela R. Mukana, M.D. (“Dr. Mukana”), claiming that the result of an unreasonable and unreliable drug screening performed by the defendants resulted in the termination of his employment.[49] Dr. Mukana, a licensed medical doctor in the State of Texas and an independent contractor for DISA, called Loicano twice to discuss the test results. Loicano alleged that Dr. Mukana acted negligently in failing to review or obtain his medical history which contributed to the termination of his employment.[50] Dr. Mukana moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, offering nearly identical grounds as those offered in the present case by University.[51]

         The court found that it lacked both general and specific jurisdiction over Dr. Mukana. The court noted that Dr. Mukana's contacts with Louisiana consisted of two phone calls to Loicano's Louisiana phone number and held: “This limited contact is insufficient to establish that Defendant maintained ‘continuous and systematic' contact with Louisiana.”[52] Addressing specific jurisdiction, the court noted several applicable cases where courts found specific jurisdiction on the basis of one or a few communications with the forum[53] but distinguished Loicano, noting that those cases involved allegations of intentional torts:

This Court distinguishes the present case from those conferring personal jurisdiction because Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant's acts and communications give rise to an intentional tort, but rather Plaintiff alleges negligence. In Wien Air Alaska v. Brandt, the court made clear that a finding, on the basis of a communication, that a nonresident defendant purposefully availed herself of the benefits and protections of the forum state, turns upon whether the communication gives rise to an intentional tort cause of action. 195 F.3d at 213 (emphasis added). This was underscored by the Fifth Circuit in Lewis v. Fresne, where the court acknowledged cases where mere communications were not enough to ...

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