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Gold v. Gold

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 12, 2017

JOEL GOLD, Plaintiff
v.
SCOTT GOLD, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          James K. Bredar United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Joel Gold brings this action for fraud and civil conspiracy against Scott Gold, Plaintiff's son, and Doris Gold, Plaintiff's ex-wife. (Compl. ECF No. 2.) Defendant Doris Gold has moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. (ECF No. 10.) That motion has been fully briefed (ECF Nos. 12, 15), and no hearing is necessary, see Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion will be granted.

         I. STANDARD TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF PERSONAL JURISDICTION

         When a party challenges the district court's personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2), the burden is on the plaintiff to prove the existence of jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence, and if there is a dispute as to the pertinent facts, the court may resolve that dispute at a separate evidentiary hearing or during trial. Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). However, where the court decides jurisdiction on the motion papers alone, ―the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of a sufficient jurisdictional basis to prevail.' Perdue Foods LLC v. BRF S.A., 814 F.3d 185, 188 (4th Cir. 2016). ―In considering a challenge on such a record, the court must construe all relevant pleading allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, assume credibility, and draw the most favorable inferences for the existence of jurisdiction.' Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989).

         II. ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT

         The Complaint alleges that on June 6, 2014, Scott Gold purchased a boat, ―the Rehoboth Star, ” and at an unspecified time, caused the boat to be docked in West Ocean City, Maryland. (Compl. ¶ 6.) On December 4, 2015, Plaintiff obtained a judgment against Scott Gold in in the Superior Court of New Jersey in the amount of $248, 777.54. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Allegedly knowing that Plaintiff would seek to attach the boat, Scott Gold proceeded to sell it for $170, 000 to Don Hetherington, Phil Houck, and/or a business entity they controlled.[1] (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 8, 11.) He allegedly arranged for the sale to be structured such that the buyers paid a total of $90, 000 to the parties holding security interests in the boat, $10, 000 to Scott Gold himself, and a total of $70, 000 in eight different checks made out to Scott Gold's mother, Doris. (Id. at ¶ 11.)

         According to the Complaint, these payments did not satisfy any legal right held by Doris Gold, but rather represented an agreement between her and her son that she would help him to conceal the assets and protect them from being attached by Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Plaintiff alleges that Doris Gold knew of the judgment, knew of the sale, and understood that by accepting the proceeds on Scott Gold's behalf, she would help him to keep that money beyond Plaintiffs reach. (Id.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff has alleged that in the instant case, the Court has specific jurisdiction over Doris Gold through the conspiracy theory of personal jurisdiction. (Pl's Mem. in Opp'n 4, ECF No. 16.) However, in the face of his opponent's challenge, Plaintiff has failed to make a prima facie showing that at the time Doris Gold formed her alleged agreement with her son to defraud Plaintiff she should reasonably have known that Scott would take some actions in furtherance of that agreement within the state of Maryland. Such a showing is required before one may proceed under the conspiracy theory of personal jurisdiction. Accordingly, Defendant Doris Gold's motion to dismiss will be granted.

         A federal court, sitting in diversity, has personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant if ―(1) an applicable state long-arm statute confers jurisdiction and (2) the assertion of that jurisdiction is consistent with constitutional due process.' Perdue Foods LLC v. BRF S.A., 814 F.3d 185, 188 (4th Cir. 2016). The reach of Maryland's long-arm statute is coextensive with the reach of the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, so the ―statutory inquiry merges with [the] constitutional examination.' Id. However, courts may not ―simply dispense with analysis under the [Maryland] long-arm statute, ' but rather, must interpret it ―to the limits permitted by the Due Process Clause when they can do so consistently with the canons of statutory construction.' Mackey v. Compass Mktg., Inc., 892 A.2d 479, 493 n.6 (Md. 2006).

         Maryland's long-arm statute provides personal jurisdiction over any person who, among other things, ―transacts any business or performs any character of work or service in [Maryland]' or ―causes tortious injury in [Maryland] by an act or omission in [Maryland].' Md. Code Ann., Courts & Jud. Proc. § 6-103(b) (LexisNexis 2013). The statute provides jurisdiction over someone who performs such acts directly or through an agent. Id. Maryland's Court of Appeals has concluded that a co-conspirator is an ―agent' within the meaning of the statutory text and therefore that Court has adopted the conspiracy theory of personal jurisdiction. Mackey, 892 A.2d at 495. Under this theory, an out-of-state party who would independently lack sufficient minimum contacts with a forum state may nonetheless be subject to suit in the forum if she engages in a conspiracy with another who has such contacts. Id. at 484. In other words, certain actions done in furtherance of a conspiracy by one co-conspirator may be attributed to another co-conspirator for jurisdictional purposes. Id. To establish personal jurisdiction under this theory, a plaintiff must make a threshold showing that

(1) two or more individuals conspire to do something
(2) that they could reasonably expect to lead to consequences in a particular forum, [then]
(3) one co-conspirator commits [an] overt act[] in furtherance of the ...

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