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Williams v. Romarm, S.A.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 30, 2016

NORMAN WILLIAMS, DIANE HOWE, KEVIN ATTAWAY and JAMEL BLAKELEY, Plaintiffs,
v.
ROMARM, S.A., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          THEODORE D. CHUANG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On July 20, 2015, the Court granted a Motion to Dismiss, filed by Defendant Romarm, S.A. ("Romarm"), based on its finding that the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over Romarm. On March 15, 2016, with leave of the Court, Plaintiffs Norman Williams ("Williams"), Diane Howe ("Howe",, Kevin Attaway ("Attaway",, and Jamel Blakely ("Blakely") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed an Amended Complaint. ECF No. 56. Pending before the Court is Romarm's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. ECF No. 57. Because Plaintiffs have failed to cure the jurisdictional defects necessitating dismissal of the original Complaint, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUDD

         The factual background and procedural history of this case up to the granting of Romarm's first Motion to Dismiss are set forth in the Court's opinion on that motion and so will be only summarized here. See Williams v. Romarm, S.A., 116 F.Supp.3d 631, 634-35 (D. Md. 2015). Plaintiffs, who are citizens of Maryland and the District of Columbia, filed suit on September 2, 2014 against Romarm because a firearm manufactured by Romarm was allegedly used in two shootings that occurred in Washington, D.C. in 2010. The first shooting, on March 22, 200,, resulted in the death of the son of Williams and Howe; the second, on March 30, 2010, resulted in injury to Attaway and Blakeley. Plaintiffs alleged a violation of the District of Columbia Assault Weapons Manufacturing Strict Liability Act, D.C. Code SS 7-2551.01 to 7-2551.03 (2013), and common law claims for wrongful death, negligence, and nuisance.

         On July 20, 2015, the Court granted Romarm's first Motion to Dismiss on the grounds that the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over Romarm, a company wholly owned by the Romanian government that engages in the international marketing and sale of firearms. In so ruling, the Court first concluded that, based on a prior ruling by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in a predecessor case, the doctrine of collateral estoppel required the Court to adopt the finding that Romarm is a sufficiently independent entity from the Romanian government such that due process requires that Romarm have "minimum contacts" with Maryland in order to establish personal jurisdiction. See Williams, 116 F.Supp.3d at 636-37.

         The Court then considered the jurisdictional facts alleged in the Complaint. Plaintiffs alleged that Romarm sells firearms to a United States distributor, Century Arms International, Inc. ("Century",, pursuant to a loyalty agreement and contract, "for distribution to its dealers inside the United States, including Maryland, " such that its sales have a "direct effect" in the United States. Compl. ¶¶ 3-4, 8-9, ECF NO.2. Plaintiffs also asserted that the weapon used to kill J.H. and injure Attaway and Blakeley was manufactured by Romarm and was the subject of a "sale and purchase" in Maryland before it "was transported from Maryland to the District of Columbia" and used in the shootings. Id. ¶¶ 4, 11. The Court also analyzed documents submitted after the hearing on the motion, including printouts from the websites of two Maryland-based firearms dealers, Atlantic Firearms LLC and Atlantic Guns, each advertising a Romarm firearm for sale. See Williams, 116 F.Supp.3d at 641 n.6. The Court determined that, while "there can be no doubt... that Romarm has purposefully availed itself of the United States market, " under controlling precedent from the United States Supreme Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, it was not sufficient to show merely that Romarm had targeted the United States generally or that a Romarm weapon had at some point made its way to Maryland; rather, a showing that Romarm made a "specific effort" to sell firearms in Maryland was required. See Id. at 641-42. Because Plaintiffs "had not even shown that the firearm in question was sold in Maryland, much less that there is a regular course of sales of Romarm firearms in Maryland from which such purposeful conduct could be inferred, " the Court granted the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Id. at 642.

         Plaintiffs then requested leave to amend their Complain.. In its Order granting leave to amend, the Court instructed Plaintiffs that the Amended Complaint should fully address the due process element of personal jurisdiction and "stat[e] with specificity all known facts relating to Romarm's contacts with Maryland." See Order at 4-5, ECF No. 55.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Personal Jurisdiction

         Romarm seeks dismissal of the Amended Complaint on a number of grounds, including under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) based on a lack of personal jurisdiction. At the pleading stage, the plaintiff must make a prima facie showing that the defendant is properly subject to the court's jurisdiction. See Mylan Labs, Inc. v. Akzo, N.V., 2 F.3d 56, 59-60 (4th Cir. 1993). For purposes of resolving the Motion, the Court takes the facts set forth in the Amended Complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the Plaintiffs' favor. See Id. at 60. The Court, however, is also permitted to consider evidence outside the pleadings in resolving a motion under Rule 12(b)(2). See Structural Pres. Sys., LLC v. Andrews, 931 F.Supp.2d 667, 671 (D.Md. 2013).

         The Amended Complaint asserts that Romarm exports a substantial volume of firearms to the United States through its exclusive distributor, Century, with whom Romarm allegedly maintains a loyalty agreement "to ensure that Romarm products are promoted and marketed properly." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14-15, ECF No. 56. This loyalty agreement, according to Plaintiffs, "exemplifies the direct intent of Romarm to serve the entire U.S. market, including Maryland." Id. ¶ 15. Century purchases "on average, a minimum of $1.35 million per quarter" in firearms from Romarm and distributes them to federal firearms licensed gun dealers ("FFLs") for resale throughout the United States. Id. ¶ 14. Romarm also "manufactures and designs its weapons so that they can be modified by Century to comply with the firearm laws of the United States, and in turn its state-wide FFL dealers, including those in Maryland." Id. ¶ 11. Romarm "relies on Maryland law enforcement, including its state and county police, to secure their dealer warehouses from criminal activity" and trace stolen weapons. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiffs have also attached as an exhibit an incomplete printout from Atlantic Firearms LLC advertising a Romarm WASR-10 rifle, the same type of gun allegedly used in the shootings in this case.

         With respect to the weapon used in the March 2010 shootings, Plaintiffs attach to the Amended Complaint a record indicating that the firearm was sold on March 29, 2007 by Maryland Small Arms Range, Inc., a Maryland FFL. The Amended Complaint states that the weapon was sold by Century directly to Maryland Small Arms Range, Inc. However, Romarm has attached to its Motion records showing that the firearm was shipped from Romania to Century's Vermont location on November 22, 2006, and that Century then sold it on December 1, 2006 to an FFL located in Dayton, Ohio. Plaintiffs concede in their Opposition that the firearm was not, in fact, sold from Century directly to a Maryland FFL, but nevertheless assert that an "interlocking network" operates among FFLs in the United States that benefits Romarm. See Pl's Opp'n Mot. Dismiss at 10-11, ECF No. 58.

         The substance of the vast majority of these allegations was before the Court on the first Motion to Dismiss. The Amended Complaint adds the following new jurisdictional facts: (1) Romarm partners with Century to adapt its weapons to the requirements of the United States market and sell them nationwide, generating substantial revenue; (2) because of the presence of numerous FFLs in Maryland, there must be a significant volume of Romarm firearms transported into and sold in Maryland, requiring Romarm to rely on support from Maryland law enforcement; and (3) in 2007, the firearm later used in the shootings was received by a Maryland FFL and then sold, though neither Romarm nor Century sold it directly into Maryland. These new allegations fall short of fulfilling due process requirements and constrain the Court to again conclude that it cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over Romarm.

         In its prior Memorandum Opinion, the Court reviewed in detail the requirements for establishing personal jurisdiction articulated by the Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit. See Williams, 116 F.Supp.3d at 638-642. In summary, where, as here, the plaintiff does not allege that the defendant maintains continuous and systematic contacts with the forum state, the plaintiff must instead show that the defendant has sufficient "minimum contacts" with the forum state such that "maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Int'l Shoe Co v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). In the Fourth Circuit, the test for personal jurisdiction is whether (1) the defendant has "created a substantial connection to the forum state by action purposefully directed toward the forum state"; and (2) the exercise of jurisdiction would not offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Lesnick v. Hollingsworth & Vose Co.,35 F.3d 939, 945-46 (4th Cir. 1994). In this case, Plaintiffs must satisfy the "minimum contacts" requirement by demonstrating that Romarm maintains a "regular course of sales" into Maryland or by establishing the presence of other facts, "such as 'special state-related design, ...


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