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Malebranche v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 16, 2015

PHILIPPE R. MALEBRANCHE, Plaintiff,
v.
COLLEEN A. JOHNSON, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GEORGE J. HAZEL, District Judge.

This is a defamation case brought by Plaintiff Philippe R. Malebranche against his former spouse, Defendant Colleen A. Johnson. See ECF No. 1. The alleged defamation arises from a letter sent by Johnson from her residence in Arizona to an individual located in New Jersey. Johnson has filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). See ECF No. 10. A hearing is unnecessary. See Local R. 105.6 (Md.). For the reasons that follow, Johnson's motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Malebranche and Johnson resided as a married couple in Maryland until they were granted a divorce by the Circuit Court for St. Mary's County, Maryland on September 13, 2013. See ECF No. 2 at ¶ 1 & ECF No. 11-1 at 3. Malebranche continues to reside in Maryland while Johnson now resides in Arizona. See ECF No. 2. On November 10. 2014. Johnson sent a letter to Malebranche's supervisor, Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Hassel, who was located in New Jersey. See id. at ¶ 4 & ECF No. 10-1 at 11. In the letter. Johnson wrote that Malebranche "is failing to make payments [to Johnson] per court order with regard to his military pension" and requested Hassel's assistance in obtaining the funds. See ECF No. 10-1 at 11-12. She also wrote that Malebranche had violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and demonstrated conduct "unbecoming of an officer, " that Malebranche is a "serial cheater" who was convicted of adultery in a Maryland court, and that Malebranche mentally and physically abused her during the marriage. See id. & ECF No. 2 at ¶¶ 8-11.

Malebranche filed a defamation claim in the Circuit Court for St. Mary's County. Maryland on January 9, 2015 based on Johnson's letter. See ECF No. 2. Malebranche alleges that Johnson's letter harmed his reputation and caused him to lose a professional advancement opportunity and prospective income. See id. at ¶ 19-20.

Johnson filed a notice of removal in this Court on February 18, 2015. see ECF No. 1, and a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on February 23, 2015. See ECF No. 10. The Court will now address the motion to dismiss.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When a case has been removed to federal court, the court has personal jurisdiction over a party if the state court from which that case was removed had personal jurisdiction over that party. Diamond Healthcare of Ohio, Inc. v. Humility of Mary Health Partners, 229 F.3d 448, 450 (4th Cir. 2000) (citing ESAB Group, Inc. v. Centricut, Inc., 126 F.3d 617, 622 (4th Cir. 1997) ("[A] federal court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant in the manner provided by state law.")). When a motion to dismiss is filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), the district court determines if personal jurisdiction exists, and the plaintiff must establish jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Carefirst of Maryland, Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Akzo, N.V., 2 F.3d 56, 59-60 (4th Cir. 1993)). The court may resolve a motion under Rule 12(b)(2) without discovery or an evidentiary hearing. See generally 5B Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1351, at 274-313 (3d ed. 2004, 2012 Supp.). The court may address personal jurisdiction as a preliminary matter, ruling solely on the motion papers, supporting legal memoranda, affidavits, and the allegations in the complaint. Consulting Engineers Corp. v. Geometric Ltd., 561 F.3d 273, 276 (4th Cir. 2009). In deciding a 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss, the court construes all jurisdictional allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. New Wellington Fin. Corp. v. Flagship Resort Dev. Corp., 416 F.3d 290, 294 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

Personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant is proper when "(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). "In applying Maryland's long-arm statute, federal courts often state that [the] statutory inquiry merges with [the] constitutional inquiry.'" Dring v. Sullivan, 423 F.Supp.2d 540, 544 (D. Md. 2006) (citing Carefirst of Maryland, Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396-97; Stover v. O'Connell Assocs., Inc., 84 F.3d 132, 135 (4th Cir.1996) (additional citations omitted)). However, personal jurisdiction under Maryland's long-arm statute is also required. Mackey v. Compass Mktg, Inc., 892 A.2d 479, 493 n. 6 (Md. 2006) (stating that it is not permissible to simply dispense with analysis under the long-arm statute). Indeed, there may be cases where personal jurisdiction is proper under constitutional due process but not under Maryland's long-arm statute. See Dring, 423 F.Supp.2d at 545 (citing Krashes v. White, 341 A.2d 798, 804 (Md. 1975) ("Perhaps fact situations will arise which will be deemed outside the scope of the Maryland long arm' statute, although there may be a constitutional basis for jurisdiction over the nonresident defendant.")). Thus, this Court first looks at Maryland's long-arm statute.

A. Maryland's Long-Arm Statute

A plaintiff must specifically identify the Maryland statutory provision that authorizes jurisdiction, either in his complaint or in opposition to a Rule 12(b)(2) motion. See Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc. v. Playmore, Inc., 158 F.Supp.2d 649, 652 (D. Md. 2001). In his opposition to Johnson's motion, Malebranche argues personal jurisdiction is proper under Md. Code. Courts & Jud. Procs. Article ("CJP") § 6-103.1. § 6-103(b)(3), and § 6-103(b)(4). The Court will look at each provision in turn.

i. § 6-103.1

Malebranche argues that Maryland has jurisdiction over Johnson under Md. Code. CJP § ...


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