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Drake v. Mercedes Benz USA

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

January 4, 2018

ERIC DRAKE
v.
MERCEDES BENZ USA, ET AL

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          CAROL B. WHITEHURST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before this Court is a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), 12(b)(3) and 12(b)(6), filed by Defendant Mercedes- Benz USA (“MBUSA”)[1]. [Rec. Doc. 42] Defendants argue that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them and that, as the purported events made subject of this ligation occurred exclusively at the Autohaus facility in Plano, Texas, there is no factual connection tying this case to the Western District of Louisiana and that venue is improper. Further, the defendants argue that there is no claim upon which relief can be granted against them in that (i) the identical claims were previously dismissed, with prejudice, under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 41(b) by the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii, which final judgment is res judicata of the claims asserted here; (ii) this suit represents repetitive frivolous litigation by an in forma pauperis litigant and should be dismissed as “frivolous” or “malicious” under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); (iii) Texas state law claims asserted against the defendants (negligence, gross negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and violations of Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act) are subject to a two year statute of limitations and are thus time-barred on the face of the complaint; (iv) the “fraud” claim asserted fails to allege elements necessary to state a claim for relief; and (v) the federal “antitrust” claim is asserted under a federal statute, the Federal Trade Commission Act, that provides no private right of action.

         The defendants now moves this Court for entry of an order dismissing the complaint, with prejudice, for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), for improper venue pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(3), and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). No. opposition to the motion has been filed.[2] For the reasons stated below, this Court finds that it lacks personal jurisdiction over MBUSA and Autohaus. It is, therefore, recommended that all claims against MBUSA and Autohaus be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         I. Factual Background

         The facts, as set forth by the defendant in the instant Motion to Dismiss are as follows: In this action, Plaintiff Eric Drake asserts an array of allegations against defendants MBUSA and Autohaus purportedly arising out of his May 27, 2014, purchase from Autohaus of a “spoiler” kit for his 2003 Mercedes-Benz model AMG C32. As to defendant MBUSA, Drake claims “the spoiler was defective because the product label had a pass [sic] due expiration date, ” that “MBUSA sold the spoiler to the Plaintiff through [Autohaus]” and that the goods were defective when sold to the Plaintiff.[3] The complaint further alleges defendant Autohaus, through the actions of its parts manager, violated Drake's civil rights.

         MBUSA asserts that the evidence submitted by defendant Autohaus in support of its motion to dismiss shows the events made subject of this litigation occurred exclusively at the Autohaus facility in Plano, Texas.[4]

         II. Law and Argument

         A. This Court lacks personal jurisdiction over MBUSA and Autohaus and the Complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2).

         Personal jurisdiction “is an essential element of the jurisdiction of a district court, without which it is powerless to proceed to an adjudication.” 721 Bourbon, Inc. v. House of Auth, LLC, 140 F.Supp.3d 586, 591 (E.D. La. 2015) (citing Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 583 (1999)). “When a nonresident defendant moves the court to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden to show that personal jurisdiction exists.” Id. A court has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant if (1) the forum state's long-arm statute confers personal jurisdiction over that defendant, and (2) the forum state's exercise of jurisdiction complies with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 591-92 (citing Latshaw v. Johnston, 167 F.3d 208, 211 (5th Cir. 1999).

         Because Louisiana's long-arm statute extends jurisdiction to the full limits of due process, the Court's focus is solely on whether the exercise of its jurisdiction in this case satisfies federal due process requirements. 721 Bourbon, 140 F.3d at 592 (citing Dickson Marine Inc. v. Panalpina, Inc., 179 F.3d 331, 336 (5th Cir.1999)). Due process demands that a court may only exercise jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant if the defendant has “certain minimum contacts [with the forum state] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Walden v. Fiore, 326 U.S. 310, 316. (2014) (quoting International Shoe Co. v. Washington, (1945)). This standard may be met in two ways. First, a court may have specific jurisdiction, or case-linked jurisdiction, which arises based on the “relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation.” Walder, 134 S.Ct. At 1121. Second, a court may have general jurisdiction over a defendant if the defendant's affiliations with the state are so continuous and systematic as to render it essentially at home in the forum state. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 761 (2014). See also, Monkton Ins. Services, Ltd. v. Ritter, 768 F.3d 429 (5th Cir. 2014).

         (1) The Court lacks specific jurisdiction over MBUSA and Autohaus.

         “For a State to exercise jurisdiction consistent with due process, the defendant's suit related conduct must create a substantial connection with the forum State.” Id. “[M]ere injury to a forum resident is not a sufficient connection to the forum.” Id. at 1125 (quoting Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984)). “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.” Id. To satisfy Due Process, “[t]he relationship must arise out of contacts that the ‘defendant himself' creates with the forum State.” Id. at 1122 (citing Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985)).

         The Fifth Circuit applies a three-step analysis for the specific jurisdiction inquiry, asking: (1) 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; (2) whether the plaintiff's cause of action arises out of or results from the defendant's forum-related contacts; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction is fair and reasonable. Monkton Ins. Services, Ltd. v. Ritter, 768 F.3d 429, 433 (5th Cir. 2014)(citing Seiferth v. Helicopteros Atuneros, Inc., 472 F.3d 266, 271 (5th Cir. 2006).

         Even if MBUSA and Autohaus possess sufficient minimum contacts to Louisiana, the Plaintiff's allegations make clear the independently determined second prong of the specific jurisdiction test-that the Plaintiff's action arises from MBUSA's and Autohaus's forum-related contacts-cannot be met. See e.g. In re Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Prods, Liab. Litig., 753 F.3d 521, 543 (5th Cir. 2014)(finding the second prong to be an independent inquiry after applying the “stream of commerce” test under the first prong). The complaint makes clear that the Plaintiff, a Texas resident, purchased the subject parts kit from Autohaus in Texas, and that absolutely no pertinent activities occurred in Louisiana. Indeed, the complaint makes only general jurisdiction allegations, claiming the MBUSA “provides new Mercedes Benz automobiles to authorized dealerships in Lafayette, Louisiana” and that Autohaus LLC “is an automobile dealership that sells new and used Mercedes Benz vehicles, as well as other makes of used cars, ” ...


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