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Lewis v. Park Plus, Inc.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

December 18, 2013

LUTRICIA Y LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
PARK PLUS, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ALEXANDER WILLIAMS, Jr., District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. The Court has reviewed the record and deems a hearing unnecessary. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Lutricia Y. Lewis is a Maryland citizen who resides in Prince George's County, Maryland. Plaintiff is the widow of Albert L. Lewis, Jr., who died in a tragic workplace accident that is the genesis of this lawsuit. Plaintiff is the personal representative of Mr. Lewis's estate. For its part, Defendant is a Delaware corporation whose principal place of business is New Jersey.

The Parties dispute the extent of Defendant's contacts with the state of Maryland. Defendant asserts that it lacks continuous and systematic contacts with Maryland because: (1) it is not authorized to conduct business in Maryland; (2) it has no resident agent in Maryland; (3) it does not advertise in Maryland; (4) it does not own any real property in Maryland; and (5) it has never had an office in Maryland. In response, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant operates and maintains a large parking facility in Towson, Maryland and has employees who live on-site. Although there is a question about whether employees live, or have lived, on-site, Defendant seems to acknowledge that it installed, and currently operates, an automated parking facility at The Palisades of Towson, which is a luxury apartment building attached to the parking facility. The Palisades of Towson is located at 212 Washington Avenue, Towson, Maryland. Plaintiff also asserts that Defendant currently maintains, or has maintained, an office in Towson at 215 Washington Street. However, according to publicly available information, there is no such address as "215 Washington Street, Towson, Maryland."[1]

In 2006, Defendant sold nonparty American Service Center Associates, LLC d/b/a America Service Center and/or Mercedes Benz of Arlington (ASC) forty Spacemaker QP1000 Electric Quad Stackers (Stackers). According to the Complaint, the Stackers are four-tier automobile car-lift stacking systems used to vertically stack and store automobiles. Plaintiff does not allege that the Stackers were manufactured or sold in Maryland. Immediately following the sale, Defendant installed the Stackers at ASC. Thereafter, Defendant and ASC allegedly entered into a contract by which Defendant assumed the responsibility to inspect, service, and maintain the Stackers.

Mr. Lewis started to work for ASC in 1995. On November 26, 2011, according to the Complaint, Mr. Lewis was working near the Stackers when one of the stacking trays on Stacker Serial Number 008909 (the Stacker) fell and struck Mr. Lewis on the head and neck and killed him.

On June 13, 2013, Plaintiff filed her Complaint. Doc. No. 1. The Complaint contains the following causes of action: wrongful death; negligence; breach of implied warranties; breach of contract; and a claim for damages under the Virginia Wrongful Death Act.

In response, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss. Doc. No. 4. Defendant argues that, because it lacks meaningful contacts with Maryland, the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it. Defendant further argues that venue in the District of Maryland is improper and that the District of Virginia is a more convenient forum.

Plaintiff filed her Response on August 15, 2013. Doc. No. 10. Though seeming to recognize that the Court lacks specific jurisdiction over Defendant, Plaintiff argues that the Court has general jurisdiction over Defendant due to Defendant's operation and maintenance of the Towson parking facility and the putative office. In the alternative, Plaintiff asks the Court to order jurisdictional discovery. Defendant has replied and the matter is ripe for review.[2]

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

When nonresident defendants challenge the court's power to exercise personal jurisdiction over them via motion under Rule 12(b)(2), "the jurisdictional question is to be resolved by the judge, with the burden on the plaintiff ultimately to prove grounds for jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence." Carefirst of Md., Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). If the existence of jurisdiction turns on disputed factual questions, the court may resolve the motion on the basis of an evidentiary hearing. See Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). However, if the court rules on the motion without conducting an evidentiary hearing, "the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction." Carefirst, 334 F.3d at 396; see also CoStar Realty Info., Inc. v. Field, 612 F.Supp.2d 660, 667 (D. Md. 2009) ...


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