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Ginavan v. Hard Rock Cafe International (USA), Inc.

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

August 2, 2019

DANA GINAVAN, Plaintiff,
v.
HARD ROCK CAFE INTERNATIONAL USA, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION (1) CONCLUDING THAT THE COURT LACKS PERSONAL JURISDICTION OVER DEFENDANT AND (2) DIRECTING PLAINTIFF TO INDICATE WHETHER SHE DESIRES FOR THE CASE TO BE TRANSFERRED

          BETH PHILLIPS, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Plaintiff filed this suit, asserting that she sustained injuries due to Defendant's negligence in maintaining its resort property. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in Missouri. (Doc. 11.) Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to Defendant's motion to dismiss, (Doc. 18), but has not specified whether she would like the case transferred or dismissed in the event that Defendant's motion is granted. The Court concludes that it does not have personal jurisdiction over Defendant. The Court will defer taking any further action, however, to allow Plaintiff an opportunity to indicate whether she would like the case to be dismissed without prejudice or transferred, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), to a court that has personal jurisdiction over the Defendant.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant is an international restaurant, entertainment, and hospitality business which operates, manages, licenses, and franchises cafés, hotels, and casinos. Defendant owns the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, a resort at which Plaintiff was a guest. (Doc. 8, ¶ 12.) On October 31, 2017, Plaintiff tripped and fell over a prop in a Halloween “haunted house” on the resort property, which she alleges was negligently erected and maintained by Defendant. (Doc. 8, ¶ 13.) Plaintiff alleges she sustained knee injuries that ultimately required surgery. (Doc. 8, ¶¶ 14-15.) Plaintiff was treated for her injuries in Missouri. (Doc. 18, p. 5.)

         Plaintiff is a resident of, and domiciled in, Missouri, (Doc. 8, ¶ 3), and she booked her travel through a Missouri-based travel agent. (Doc. 18-4, ¶¶ 1-2.) While Plaintiff's travel agent communicated with Defendant about accommodations, Plaintiff's agent ultimately booked her travel through American Airlines Vacations. (Doc. 18, p. 5; Doc. 18-4, ¶ 3.) Plaintiff paid with funds from a Missouri bank account. (Doc. 18, p. 5.) Plaintiff alleges that she based her purchasing decision on advertisements, website content, and marketing materials circulated in Missouri by Defendant. (Id.)

         Defendant is a Florida corporation. (Doc. 8, ¶ 4.) The parties offer different cities for Defendant's principal place of business, but both agree it is located in Florida. (Doc. 8, ¶ 4; Doc. 22-1, ¶ 2.) Defendant does not currently own or operate any businesses in Missouri. A Hard Rock Café franchise previously operated in St. Louis, Missouri but it was permanently closed on August 16, 2018. (Doc. 18-3, p. 3-6.) There are numerous Hard Rock Café franchises in many states across the country; in fact, the St. Louis location was the ninety-seventh franchise to be opened nationwide. (Id. at p. 5.) In compliance with Missouri law, Hard Rock Café International (STP) filed an Annual Registration Report with the Missouri Secretary of State on February 26, 2018, while the St. Louis franchise was still open. (Doc. 18-2, p. 1.) Additionally, eight years ago, Defendant filed a lawsuit in Missouri federal court against a Missouri resident for unauthorized use of its trademarks. (Doc. 18-1.)

         Defendant contends that the case must be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction, because it does not have the minimum contacts with Missouri necessary to satisfy the Due Process Clause. Plaintiff opposes Defendant's motion, arguing that the Court has both general and specific jurisdiction over Defendant. As discussed more fully below, the Court concludes that Defendant is not subject to personal jurisdiction in this forum, but the Court defers further action so that Plaintiff can indicate whether she wants the case transferred to a proper forum.

         II. DISCUSSION

         “Personal jurisdiction over a defendant represents the power of a court to enter a valid judgment imposing a personal obligation or duty in favor of the plaintiff.” Viasystems, Inc. v. EBM-Papst St. Georgen GmbH & Co., 646 F.3d 589, 592-93 (8th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation omitted). “When personal jurisdiction is challenged by a defendant, the plaintiff bears the burden to show that jurisdiction exists” and must “make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction over the challenging defendant.” Fastpath, Inc. v. Arbela Tech. Corp., 760 F.3d 816, 820 (8th Cir. 2014). A court may resolve the motion by either holding a hearing or reviewing the evidentiary record. Pangaea, Inc. v. Flying Burrito LLC, 647 F.3d 741, 745 (8th Cir. 2011).

         “When assessing whether personal jurisdiction exists over a nonresident defendant, jurisdiction must be authorized by Missouri's long arm statute and the defendant must have sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state to satisfy due process.” Downing v. Goldman Phipps, PLLC, 764 F.3d 906, 911 (8th Cir. 2014). These are separate inquiries under the Missouri long arm statute. See Myers v. Casino Queen, 689 F.3d 904, 909-10 (8th Cir. 2012). Even if the long arm statute is satisfied, Plaintiff must present a prima facie case establishing that the requirements of the Due Process Clause have been met. Here, the Court is not persuaded that the Due Process Clause has been satisfied so the long arm statute need not be addressed.

         As a general matter, due process protects a defendant from a judgment issued by a court in an unfamiliar forum. Pangaea, 647 F.3d at 745. Due process requires that a defendant have sufficient “minimum contacts” with the forum state, so that a lawsuit against him does not offend “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Id. (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). There are two types of personal jurisdiction: general and specific. “When a cause of action arises out of or is related to a defendant's contacts with the forum state, the exercise of personal jurisdiction is one of specific jurisdiction. However, if the exercise of jurisdiction does not depend on the relationship between the cause of action and the defendant's contacts with the forum state, the exercise of personal jurisdiction is one of general jurisdiction.” Epps v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 327 F.3d 642, 648 (8th Cir. 2003). Plaintiff argues that both specific and general jurisdiction exist over Defendant, so the Court will consider both.

         A. Specific Jurisdiction

         The test for specific personal jurisdiction “is satisfied if the defendant has purposefully directed his activities at residents of the forum and the litigation results from alleged injuries that arise out of or relate to those activities.” Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472-73 (1985) (internal citations and quotations omitted). There is “a five-factor test to determine the sufficiency of a non-resident defendant's contacts with the forum state to exercise specific jurisdiction over defendants. The five factors are: 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. We give significant weight to the first three factors.” Fastpath, 760 F.3d at 821. The third factor analyzes the connection between the cause of action and the contacts, so “[t]he third factor distinguishes whether the jurisdiction is specific or general.” Johnson v. Arden, 614 F.3d 785, 794 (8th Cir. 2010). The balance of these factors does not favor a finding of personal jurisdiction.

         Plaintiff relies on the fact that she (1) booked her travel while in Missouri; (2) booked her travel through a Missouri-based travel agent; (3) paid with funds from a Missouri bank account; (4) based her purchasing decision on advertisements, website content, and marketing materials circulated in Missouri by the Defendant; and (5) was treated for her ...


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