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Curne v. Traxnyc Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

May 3, 2019

JARELL CURNE, Plaintiff,
TRAXNYC CORP., Defendant.



         Before the Court is Defendant TraxNYC Corp.'s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter and Personal Jurisdiction, and for Plaintiff's Failure to State a Claim. (Doc. #10). As discussed below, the motion is granted because this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendant.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Jarrell Curne is a Missouri domiciliary who brings this lawsuit against Defendant TraxNYC Corp., a custom jeweler based in and operating from New York. (Doc. #1, p. 2; Doc. #10-1, ¶ 2). “All of the jewelry [Defendant] designs is manufactured in New York.” (Doc. #10-1, ¶ 3). Defendant does not currently “have any store or business branches or franchises in Missouri.” (Doc. #10-1, ¶ 4). Defendant “operates a website” where potential customers can access Defendant's email address “if they wish to commission the design of custom jewelry.” (Doc. #10-1, ¶ 5).

         Plaintiff wanted to design “multiple chains to be worn as a set while performing on stage because he is a rap musician.” (Doc. #1, ¶ 3). On October 20, 2018, while in Missouri, Plaintiff “initiated contact with [Defendant] through its website” to request price quotes on several items of custom jewelry to be designed by Defendant in New York. (Doc. #1, ¶ 3; Doc. #10-1, ¶¶ 3, 5). An exchange of emails and text messages followed, in which the parties discussed prices and design specifics. (Doc. #1, ¶ 3). Between November 6, 2018, and February 12, 2019, Plaintiff made layaway deposits on several pieces of custom jewelry via Defendant's website. (Doc. #1, ¶¶ 3-4).

         After Plaintiff made the layaway deposits, the parties began to disagree about the quoted prices and specifics for the jewelry. (Doc. #1, ¶ 3). Plaintiff asked Defendant to refund his layaway payments. (Doc. #1, ¶ 3). According to Plaintiff's Complaint, “[t]he Defendant lied stating they issued a refund, but would not, and still have not provided Plaintiff, Curne, with a copy of the refund receipts as requested showing it was done on February 20, 2019 like the Defendant said it would.” (Doc. #1, ¶ 7). “Due to the breakdown in communication with the Plaintiff, no goods or jewelry were ever shipped to Plaintiff in Missouri.” (Doc. #10-1, ¶ 12).

         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, brings claims for “Fraud, and misrepresentation, ” “Bank Fraud, ” defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and “Negotiable Instrument.” (Doc. #1, pp. 13-17). Plaintiff requests injunctive relief, actual damages, punitive damages, interest, and costs. Defendant filed the present motion, arguing three different grounds for dismissal. First, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claims do not meet the amount-in-controversy requirement under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).[1] Second, Defendant argues that the Due Process Clause bars this Court from exercising personal jurisdiction over Defendant because Defendant does not have sufficient minimum contacts with Missouri. Third, Defendant argues that Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         II. Legal Standard

         When a defendant seeks dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2), “the plaintiff bears the burden to show that jurisdiction exists.” Fastpath, Inc. v. Arbela Techs. Corp., 760 F.3d 816, 820 (8th Cir. 2014) (citing K-V Pharm. Co. v. J. Uriach & CIA, S.A., 648 F.3d at 591-92 (8th Cir. 2011)). The plaintiff's prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction “must be tested, not by the pleadings alone, but by the affidavits and exhibits presented with the motions and in opposition thereto.” Dever v. Hentzen Coatings, Inc., 380 F.3d 1070, 1072-73 (8th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Block Indus. V. DHJ Indus., Inc., 495 F.2d 256, 259 (8th Cir. 1974)). Personal jurisdiction is “either specific or general.” Creative Calling Sols., Inc. v. LF Beauty Ltd., 799 F.3d 975, 979-80 (8th Cir. 2015). Specific, or case-linked, personal jurisdiction over a defendant exists when that defendant has sufficient contacts with the forum State and the plaintiff's claim arises from or relates to those contacts. Id. (citing Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 127 (2014)). General, or all-purpose, personal jurisdiction over a defendant exists when that defendant's contacts with the forum State “are so continuous and systematic as to render [the defendant] essentially at home” in that State, regardless of how the plaintiff's claim arose. Daimler, 571 U.S. at 127, 136-39 (holding that an individual's domicile and a corporation's place of incorporation and principal place of business are “paradigm” bases for general personal jurisdiction).

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff does not argue that Defendant is subject to general personal jurisdiction in Missouri, and so this Court will decide only whether it may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Defendant. A forum court must have both statutory and constitutional authority to exercise specific jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant. Creative Calling Sols., 799 F.3d at 979 (citing K-V Pharm. Co., 648 F.3d at 592) (holding that personal jurisdiction is proper “if the forum State's long-arm statute permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction and that exercise is consistent with the Due Process Clause”). For statutory authority to exercise specific jurisdiction, a federal court looks to the law of the State where the court sits-usually that state's long-arm statute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A); see also Walden v. Fiore, 571 U.S. 277, 283 (2014) (unanimous). For constitutional authority to exercise specific jurisdiction, a federal court looks to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. K-V Pharm. Co., 648 F.3d at 592.

         Under the Due Process Clause, a forum court may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant only if “the defendant purposely establish[ed] ‘minimum contacts' in the forum state such that asserting personal jurisdiction and maintaining a lawsuit against the defendant does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Id. at 592 (quoting Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 464 (1985)). Such minimum contacts exist only when the nonresident defendant “purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws, ” so that the defendant “should reasonably anticipate” litigation in the forum State. Burger King, 471 U.S. at 474-75 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958)). This connection between the defendant and the forum State must “arise out of contacts that the defendant [itself] creates with the forum State, ” Fastpath, 760 F.3d at 821 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Walden, 571 U.S. at 277), not from “random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts” or “the unilateral activity of another party or a third person.” Burger King, 471 U.S. at 475 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 299 (1980); Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 417 (1984)).

         In the Eighth Circuit, courts “determine the sufficiency of a nonresident defendant's contacts with the forum State” in light of five factors: “1) the nature and quality of contacts with the forum state; 2) the quantity of the contacts; 3) the relation of the cause of action to the contacts; 4) the interest of the forum state in providing a forum for its residents; and 5) convenience of the parties.” Fastpath, 760 F.3d at 821 (citing Dever, 380 F.3d at 1073) (holding that courts “give significant weight to the first three factors”). Defendant argues “exercising personal jurisdiction over the defendant would violate due process” because Defendant “can certainly not be said to have availed itself to jurisdiction in Missouri” and thus “Defendant does not have the ‘sufficient minimum contacts' required under the Due Process Clause.” (Doc. #10, pp. 9-10). Plaintiff argues that Defendant has sufficient minimum contacts with Missouri because Defendant “has had direct contact with” Missouri, “has spoken with the Missouri Attorney General, ”[2] “has a contract with [Plaintiff] who resides in Grandview, Missouri, ” has promised to deliver goods into Missouri, “advertises on Facebook and Instagram social media as well as Ebay to all states within America, ” “serves customers throughout the United States of America including Missouri, ” and “has a non-passive website which the Plaintiff” used to pay “for several layaway items.” (Doc. #14, pp.6-7). In this case, the Due Process Clause does not allow this Court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Defendant even if Missouri's long-arm statute covers Defendant's alleged conduct.

         The first two factors-the nature, quality, and quantity of Defendant's Missouri contacts-weigh against exercising personal jurisdiction over Defendant. See Fastpath, 760 F.3d at 821. Defendant is located in New York, not Missouri. Defendant has no stores or offices in Missouri. (Doc. #10-1, ¶ 4). Defendant “does not advertise its products or jewelry in Missouri. (Doc. #10-1, ¶ 6). Defendant's “only connection with any citizens or entities in Missouri is through its website, ”[3] (Doc. #10-1, ¶ 6), and, to the extent Defendant maintains social media accounts, Plaintiff does not show that Defendant purposefully directed its social media accounts to Missouri residents in particular. Plaintiff initially reached out to Defendant via Defendant's website, seeking to commission the design of the custom jewelry. (Doc. #1, ¶ 3; Doc. #10-1, ¶¶ 3, 5). This is unilateral activity by the Plaintiff, not purposeful availment by Defendant. See Burger King, 471 U.S. at 475. All of Defendant's “employees and agents are based in and work in” New York” and “interacted with Plaintiff solely through [Defendant's] website, text messages, phone calls, and email.” (Doc. #10-1, ¶¶ 8-9). These communications are not “a ‘deliberate' and ‘substantial connection' with” Missouri “such that [Defendant] could ‘reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.'” See Viasystems, Inc. v. EBM-Papst St. Georgen GmbH & Co., KG, 646 F.3d 589, 594 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Burger King, 471 U.S. at 474-75). “The 3D-rendering of Plaintiff's custom jewelry took place in New ...

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