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Clearent, LLC v. Cummings

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

February 21, 2019

CLEARENT, LLC., Plaintiff,
v.
STEPHANIE CUMMINGS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on defendant Stephanie Cummings' motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction (#6). The issues have been fully briefed. For the reasons set forth, the Court will GRANT the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the complaint, this case involves four defendants (all but Cummings have already settled) who are alleged to have used confidential, proprietary, and trade secret information to harm plaintiff, Clearent LLC., while secretly working for one of its rivals. Plaintiff is in the business of credit card processing, which it says is a “highly competitive” industry that relies on confidential and proprietary information to gain a competitive advantage.

         Cummings was, at one time, an account executive for plaintiff. Her work responsibilities included, among other things, developing customer relations within a specific geographic area identified by plaintiff's sales team. In late 2018, plaintiff learned that Cummings “possessed an email address with CardConnect-a direct competitor to [plaintiff.]” It is alleged that Cummings used this e-mail address to solicit potential customers for CardConnect while still employed by plaintiff, using plaintiff's confidential, proprietary, and trade secret information to do so. As a result, plaintiff filed a four-count complaint against Cummings-and the other defendants-alleging breach of contract (Count I), misapplication of trade secrets under the Missouri Uniform Trade Secrets Act (Count II), misappropriation of trade secrets under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (Count III), and declaratory judgment “seek[ing] a declaration that defendants have materially breached their employment agreements” and an injunction “ordering defendants to abide by and specifically perform in accordance with the terms of their employment agreements” (Count IV).

         Specific to the issue of personal jurisdiction, plaintiff is a Missouri limited liability company with its principal place of business in Missouri. Cummings is domiciled in Montana. She has traveled to Missouri only once, for a three-day work conference in May of 2018 that did not include the exchange or use of any confidential, proprietary, or trade secret information at-issue in this case. She owns no real estate in Missouri, has never resided in Missouri, and states she has done no business in Missouri. Plaintiff disagrees with this last point, arguing Cummings “routinely communicated [by e-mail and phone] with [her] Missouri-based co-workers, ” and that “while [she] resides in Montana, she solicited and serviced plaintiff's customers in other states [such as] Washington, Nevada, and Alaska [that] explicitly identified that services would be provided by plaintiff in Missouri[.]” Plaintiff goes on to explain that Cumming's “tortious activities, ” even if committed extraterritorially, were ultimately felt in Missouri.

         Plaintiff also alleges that Cummings consented to jurisdiction in Missouri by signing an employment contract that purportedly included a forum selection clause limited to Missouri.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD FOR REVIEW

         It is the plaintiff who bears the ultimate burden of establishing the existence of personal jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Creative Calling Solutions, Inc. v. LF Beauty Ltd., 799 F.3d 975, 979 (8th Cir. 2015). At the motion stage, an action should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction if the evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, is sufficient to support a conclusion that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant is proper. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         1. Personal Jurisdiction in a Federal Question Case

         When, as here, the court's subject-matter jurisdiction is predicated on a federal statute or other federal question, personal jurisdiction requires two elements: (1) plaintiff must demonstrate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment is satisfied in haling a defendant into the particular court in question-that is to say, there must be a constitutionally sufficient relationship between defendant and the chosen forum; and (2) plaintiff must show defendant is amenable to service of process, which is guided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4. Omni Capital Intern., Ltd. v. Rudolf Wolff & Co., Ltd., 484 U.S. 97, 104 (1987); Fed.R.Civ.P. 4.

         The Due Process analysis questions whether either specific or general jurisdiction is satisfied-both designed to test the number, nature, and quality of a defendant's “contacts” with the forum state under International Shoe's “minimum contacts” framework. See Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 127 (2014); International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945); see also Aftanase v. Economy Baler Co., 343 F.2d 187, 197 (8th Cir. 1965) (establishing a five-factor test used within the circuit to determine whether the standards of International Shoe are met). To satisfy general jurisdiction, a defendant's contacts must be so “continuous and systematic” as for it to be fairly said that he or she is essentially at home in the forum. “For an individual, the paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction is the individual's domicile; for a corporation, it is an equivalent place, one in which the corporation is fairly regarded as at home.” Bristol-Meyers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, 137 S.Ct. 1773, 1780 (2017) (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 924 (2011)). Any claim may be heard against a defendant in the forum state having general jurisdiction over the defendant-even if all incidents underlying the claim occurred elsewhere. Daimler AG, 571 U.S. at 127; Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 137 S.Ct. at 1780. On the other hand, specific jurisdiction is much narrower (though more commonly relied upon by litigants) and is only satisfied when defendant's “minimum contacts” in the forum state-sporadic and limited though they are-act as the foundational basis for suit there. Daimler AG, 571 U.S. at 126-127. In essence, specific jurisdiction permits a forum state to reach defendants who, through their own acts, targeted a forum state with the commensurate responsibility of answering for those acts there should they have caused a legal harm. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 137 S.Ct. at 1780-1781.

         In this case, plaintiff claims to have specific personal jurisdiction over defendant rather than general personal jurisdiction and there there is no issue regarding ...


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