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Estate of Morris v. Goodwin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 8, 2015

THE ESTATE OF KATHERINE SARAH MORRIS, et al.
v.
ISAAC JEROME GOODWIN, et al.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, District Judge.

Presently pending and ready for resolution in this wrongful death case are three motions: (1) a motion for leave to amend the complaint filed by Plaintiff Marguerite Morris, on her own behalf (ECF No. 60); (2) a renewed motion for an entry of default against Defendant Isaac Goodwin filed by Plaintiff Marguerite Morris, on her own behalf and on behalf of the Estate of Katherine Morris (collectively, "Plaintiffs") (ECF No. 83); and (3) motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Latoya King (ECF No.85). The court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, the motions to amend and for entry of default judgment will be denied. The motion to dismiss filed by Defendant King will be granted.

I. Background

The allegations contained in the complaint are set forth in a prior memorandum opinion, but a brief overview of the thorny procedural history of the case is helpful here. See Estate of Morris v. Goodwin, Civ. Action No. DKC 12-3383, 2014 WL 372389 (D.Md. July 24, 2014). On or about June 17, 2013, Plaintiff Marguerite Morris, both in her individual capacity and as personal representative of the Estate of Katherine Sarah Morris, commenced this wrongful death action in the Circuit Court for St. Mary's County, Maryland against Defendants Isaac Jerome Goodwin, Latoya King, Damaris Rosa Brown, and Silver Goodwin.[1] (ECF No. 42). On November 13, 2013, Defendant King removed the action to this court, citing diversity of citizenship as the jurisdictional basis. (ECF No. 1). In response to the notice of removal, the court directed King to file all state court documents in this case pursuant to Local Rule 103.5.a. (ECF No. 23). After a request to transmit all papers in the case from the Circuit Court for St. Mary's County to the clerk's office in Greenbelt, the circuit court transmitted its original file rather than the copies. (ECF No. 36, at 4). The clerk's office in Greenbelt returned the original file to the circuit court, advising it to send copies. ( Id. ).

On March 13, 2014, Brown filed a line, requesting that an attached motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction or for failure to state a claim - which was filed in state court, but unresolved prior to removal - be docketed. (ECF No. 30). On July 24, 2014, the undersigned issued a memorandum opinion and order dismissing the case against Defendant Brown. (ECF Nos. 36 & 37). The order also gave counsel for Defendant Latoya King seven (7) days to file the state court documents on CM/ECF. (ECF No. 37). The July 24, 2014 order further directed Plaintiffs to file proof of service as to Defendant Goodwin within fourteen (14) days, as the record in this court did not reflect that Defendant Goodwin had yet been served. (ECF No. 36, at 13). On August 4, 2014, Plaintiffs filed purported proof of service as attachments in a renewed motion for an entry of default against Defendant Isaac Goodwin. (ECF No. 83). The docket reflects that two motions for entry of default were previously filed as to Defendant Goodwin in the Circuit Court for St. Mary's County. (ECF Nos. 52 & 68). The circuit court denied the first motion on October 7, 2013, (ECF No. 63), but does not appear to have ruled on the second motion at the time of removal.

On August 1, 2014, the original docket from the Circuit Court for St. Mary's County was filed in this court. (ECF Nos. 42-82). The docket reflects that on September 26, 2013, prior to removal, Plaintiff Marguerite Morris, on her own behalf, moved for leave to file an amended complaint in the circuit court. (ECF No. 60, at 1). That motion was not adjudicated prior to removal. ( See ECF No. 82, docket from circuit court).

On September 5, 2014, Defendant Latoya King moved to dismiss the complaint. (ECF No. 85). Soon thereafter, Plaintiffs' attorney moved to withdraw as counsel on behalf of both Marguerite Morris and the estate. (ECF No. 86). The court issued a letter order granting the motion to withdraw as to Marguerite Morris in her individual capacity, noting that the motion to withdraw appearance as to the estate would not be resolved for thirty (30) days pursuant to Local Rule 101.2. (ECF No. 89). On October 29, 2014, the court issued an order striking the appearance of counsel on behalf of the estate and giving the estate forty-five (45) days to obtain new counsel. (ECF No. 93). On November 6, 2014, Plaintiff Marguerite Morris filed a pro se opposition to Defendant King's motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 94). New counsel for the estate entered his appearance on December 6, 2014. (ECF No. 97).

II. Analysis

A. Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1) permits a party to amend its pleading once as a matter of course within 21 days after serving it; or 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier. This case was removed from the Circuit Court for St. Mary's County to this court on November 13, 2013, and at no point did Plaintiffs alert the court that they wanted to amend the complaint. Indeed, Plaintiffs filed subsequent motions and documents in this court, ( see, e.g., ECF Nos. 4, 14, 32), never indicating to the court that they wished to file an amended complaint or that they had moved for leave to amend the complaint in the Circuit Court for St. Mary's County. Moreover, the proposed amended complaint that Plaintiffs filed in the circuit court largely mirrors the original complaint. ( See ECF No. 60-5, Redlined Version of Amended Complaint). Plaintiffs indicate in the motion for leave to amend that they wish to remove as a plaintiff Willie J. Morris, who is now deceased, remove Silver Goodwin as a defendant, and "include exhibits and to set forth transactions or events that have occurred since the filing of the pleading." (ECF No. 60-1, at 2). Willie Morris has already been dismissed as a plaintiff in this action. (ECF No. 37, at 1). Silver Goodwin, Isaac Goodwin's mother, will also be dismissed from this lawsuit as the allegations in the complaint do not plead any cause of action against her and Plaintiffs admit as much by seeking to remove her as a defendant. The exhibits that Plaintiffs seek to attach to the amended complaint mostly pertain to Damaris Brown ( see ECF Nos. 60-1, at 2 & 60-4); the undersigned dismissed all claims in the complaint related to Ms. Brown for the reasons explained in the memorandum opinion and order dated July 24, 2014. (ECF Nos. 36 & 37). Accordingly, the motion for leave to file an amended complaint will be denied.

B. Motion to Dismiss by Defendant King

Defendant King moves to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 85).

Insofar as Defendant King contends that the court lacks personal jurisdiction, her motion is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). When personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant is challenged by a Rule 12(b)(2) motion, "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 jurisdiction turns on disputed facts, the challenge may be resolved after a separate evidentiary hearing, or the ruling may be deferred pending the introduction of evidence at trial relevant to the jurisdictional question. Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). Where, as here, a ruling is issued without conducting an evidentiary hearing and based solely on the complaint, "the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction." Carefirst, 334 F.3d at 396. In deciding whether the plaintiff has proved a prima facie case, all reasonable inferences arising from the proof must be drawn in favor of the plaintiff, and all factual disputes must be resolved in his or her favor. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Akzo, N.V., 2 F.3d 56, 60 (4th Cir. 1993).

Where the defendant is a nonresident, a federal district court may exercise personal jurisdiction only if "(1) an applicable state long-arm statute confers jurisdiction and (2) the assertion of that jurisdiction is consistent with constitutional due process." Nichols v. G.D. Searle & Co., 991 F.2d 1195, 1199 (4th Cir. 1993). The Maryland Long-Arm Statute, Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. ยง 6-103, authorizes the exercise of personal jurisdiction to the limits permitted by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See ALS Scan, Inc. v. Digital Serv. Consultants, Inc., 293 F.3d 707, 710 (4th Cir. 2002) ( citing Androutsos v. Fairfax Hosp., 323 Md. 634, 637 (1991)). This broad reach does not suggest that analysis under the long-arm statute is irrelevant; rather, it reflects that, "to the extent that a defendant's activities are covered by the statutory language, the reach of the statute extends to the outermost boundaries of the due process clause." Dring v. Sullivan, 423 F.Supp.2d 540, 545 (D.Md. 2006) ( quoting Joseph M. Coleman & Assocs., Ltd. v. Colonial Metals, 887 F.Supp. 116, 118-19 n.2 (D.Md. 1995)); see also Mackey v. Compass Mktg., Inc., 391 Md. 117, 141 n.6 (2006) (although the "long arm statute is coextensive with the limits of personal jurisdiction set by the due process clause, " it is not "permissible to dispense with analysis under the ...


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