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Lewis v. Willough At Naples

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 21, 2018

Derrick Lewis, Plaintiff,
v.
The Willough at Naples, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          James K. Bredar Chief Judge

         Derrick Lewis (“Plaintiff”) filed suit against The Willough at Naples[1] (“Willough”) and Oglethorpe, Inc., (“Oglethorpe”), collectively “Defendants, ” alleging negligence and negligent entrustment based on injuries he sustained while he was a patient at a treatment facility operated by Defendants. Now pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). (ECF No. 5.) The Motion has been briefed (ECF Nos. 5-1, 6-1, and 7) and no hearing is required, see Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons set forth below, the case will be TRANSFERRED to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

         I. Background

         Defendants own and operate a healthcare facility in Naples, Florida “that is licensed to provide psychiatric help and rehabilitation for those suffering from depression, anxiety, and substance abuse issues.” (Compl., ECF No. 1-2, ¶ 2.) Defendant Oglethorpe is the parent company of Defendant Willough and is headquartered in Tampa, Florida. (Id. ¶ 3.) In addition to the Willough at Naples, Oglethorpe also “supervises, owns, controls, and manages multiple facilities in the states of Florida, Louisiana, and Ohio.” (Id.) Oglethorpe, however, “does not have facilities in the State of Maryland.” (Id.) Both Defendants are incorporated in Florida and “neither company maintains any offices or agents in Maryland.” (Picciano Aff., ECF No. 5-2, ¶3.) Nor do Defendants “own any property[, ] . . . operate any facility[, ] . . . . [or] engage in any business in Maryland.” (Id. ¶ 4-5.)

         Plaintiff, a resident of Maryland, was treated as a “psychiatric and rehabilitation” inpatient at the Willough at Naples starting in September 2015. (ECF No. 1-2, ¶ 5.) On September 8, 2015, Plaintiff's knee was injured by a malfunctioning door at Defendants' facility in Naples, Florida. (Id. ¶ 7.) As a result of this incident, “Plaintiff suffered severe bodily injuries, pain, and emotional distress.” (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff was subsequently injured again on October 31, 2015, when he slipped on the wet floor of a shared bathroom at the Willough. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff alleges this injury was the result of Defendants' refusal to place him in a handicap-accessible single room after his initial injury. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         II. Legal Standard

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) is a test of the court's personal jurisdiction over the defendant. “[W]hen, as here, the court addresses the question [of personal jurisdiction] on the basis only of motion papers, supporting legal memoranda and the relevant allegations of a complaint, the burden on the plaintiff is simply to make a prima facie showing of a sufficient jurisdictional basis to survive the jurisdictional challenge.”[2] New Wellington Fin. Corp. v. Flagship Resort Dev. Corp., 416 F.3d 290, 294 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989)). In doing so, the court must construe the relevant allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and “draw the most favorable inferences for the existence of jurisdiction.” Id. (quoting Combs, 886 F.2d at 676).

         III. Analysis

         “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.” Nichols v. G.D. Searle & Co., 991 F.2d 1195, 1199 (4th Cir. 1993). Maryland courts have “consistently held” that Maryland's long arm statute “is coextensive with the limits of personal jurisdiction set by the due process clause of the Federal Constitution.” Beyond Sys., Inc. v. Realtime Gaming Holding Co., LLC, 878 A.2d 567, 576 (Md. 2005). For this reason, when “applying Maryland's long-arm statute, federal courts often state that ‘[the] statutory inquiry merges with [the] constitutional inquiry.'” Beyond Sys., Inc. v. Kennedy W. Univ., No. CIVA DKC 2005-2446, 2006 WL 1554847, at *3 (D. Md. May 31, 2006) (quoting Carefirst of Maryland, Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Centers, Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396-97 (4th Cir. 2003)). Indeed, the Court of Appeals of Maryland has used this language itself. See Beyond Sys., 878 A.2d at 580 (“Because we have consistently held that the reach of the long arm statute is coextensive with the limits of personal jurisdiction delineated under the due process clause of the Federal Constitution, our statutory inquiry merges with our constitutional examination.”).

         However, the Court of Appeals of Maryland has clarified that the “merges” language does not eliminate the need to satisfy the requirements of the long-arm statute first. See, e.g., Mackey v. Compass Marketing, Inc., 892 A.2d 479, 493 n.6 (Md. 2006). Rather, due process simply “defines the outer perimeter of Maryland's long-arm statute, but does not eliminate the need to identify a prong of the statute that appears to confer jurisdiction.” Beyond Sys., 2006 WL 1554847, at *4. Indeed, a number of courts, including this one, have held that a plaintiff must identify the specific provision of the Maryland long-arm statute that confers jurisdiction. See, e.g., Gibbs v. Cty. of Delaware, Civ. No. RWT 15-1012, 2015 WL 6150939 *2 (D. Md. Oct. 15, 2015) (“[A] plaintiff is required to identify a specific provision within the Maryland long-arm statute which authorizes personal jurisdiction.”).

         Here, Plaintiff has not identified which prong of the Maryland long-arm statute authorizes the Court to assert personal jurisdiction over Defendants. Moreover, it is not at all clear to the Court that Defendants' conduct falls under any provision of the long-arm statute. Accordingly, Plaintiff's failure to cite, and the Court's inability to identify, a governing provision of the Maryland long-arm statute provides an independent basis for dismissal or transfer. However, because neither party has briefed this issue, and because it is apparent that the Court may not assert personal jurisdiction over Defendants in a manner consistent with due process (as explained infra), the Court does not rely solely on this ground in determining to transfer the case.

         In evaluating whether the assertion of specific jurisdiction is consistent with constitutional due process, [3] the Court must consider “(1) the extent to which the defendant purposely availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the State; (2) whether the plaintiff['s] claims arise out of those activities directed at the State; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be constitutionally reasonable.” Consulting Eng'rs Corp. v. Geometric Ltd., 561 F.3d 273, 278 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting ALS Scan, Inc. v. Digital Serv. Consultants, Inc., 293 F.3d 707, 712 (4th Cir. 2002)). The first prong of this test “articulates the minimum contacts requirement of constitutional due process that the defendant purposely avail [it]self of the privilege of conducting business under the laws of the forum state.” Id. “[C]ourts have considered various nonexclusive factors in seeking to resolve whether a defendant has engaged in such purposeful availment, ” including:

• whether the defendant maintains offices or agents in ...

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