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Pandit v. Pandit

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 16, 2018

PANDIT, Plaintiff
PANDIT, et al., Defendants



         Plaintiff Subodh Pandit brings this intra-family dispute, alleging defamation and related claims. ECF No. 1. Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, or alternatively, for failure to state a claim. ECF Nos. 8, 13, 20. The motions to dismiss are fully briefed, and the Court rules under Local Rule 105.6 because no hearing is necessary. For the reasons that follow, the Court dismisses this action for lack of personal jurisdiction and denies as moot the remainder of Defendants' arguments.

         I. Background

         The Complaint centrally concerns an alleged “malicious campaign to smear [Plaintiff's] reputation” orchestrated by Defendants, his extended family. ECF No. 1 ¶ 9. Plaintiff's brother, Sudhir Pandit, and his brother's wife, Dorothy Pandit, (together, the “Pandit Defendants”) wrote four allegedly defamatory emails and letters about Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 11-20. Dorothy Pandit's sister, Cathaline Samuel, and her husband, Meshach Samuel, (together, the “Samuel Defendants”) wrote an additional three allegedly defamatory letters about Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Based on these communications, Plaintiff has filed this action against Defendants for defamation and related claims. ECF No. 1.[1]

         However, little has been averred about any meaningful connection between Defendants and the State of Maryland. All Defendants live in Arkansas (id. ¶¶ 2-5), and Defendants sent each of the letters and emails from Arkansas. ECF No. 8 at 1; ECF No. 13 at 9. One Defendant sent one email to “numerous recipients, ” including four people located in Maryland (ECF No. 1 ¶ 11), and another sent a letter to a recipient in Maryland. Id. ¶ 15. The Pandit Defendants moved out of Maryland over thirty years ago, and they, along with the Samuel Defendants, have maintained only sporadic contact over the years with Maryland, none of which is the subject of the Complaint. ECF No. 14-1 ¶¶ 3-5; ECF No. 18-1 ¶ 11. Not surprisingly, Defendants contend that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them.

         II. Standard of Review

         A court may not hear any claim against parties for whom personal jurisdiction is lacking. Lightfoot v. Cendant Mortg. Corp., 137 S.Ct. 553, 562 (2017). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Carefirst of Maryland, Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003). The precise question is whether the court possesses jurisdiction at the time the claim arose. Glynn v. EDO Corp., 536 F.Supp.2d 595, 606 n.15 (D. Md. 2008). Where, as here, the Court considers the question of personal jurisdiction without an evidentiary hearing, “the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction, ” taking all disputed facts and reasonable inferences in his favor. Id.; see also Aphena Pharma Solutions-Maryland, LLC v. BioZone Labs., Inc., 912 F.Supp.2d 309, 314 (D. Md. 2012). If “the facts present even a close question” as to the lack of personal jurisdiction, the court should dismiss or transfer the case. Dring v. Sullivan, 423 F.Supp.2d 540, 549 (D. Md. 2006).

         III. Analysis

         A federal court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant either “in the manner provided by state law” pursuant to the state's long arm statute, or where the defendant is “at home” in the forum state. Carefirst, 334 F.3d at 396 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A)); Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 127 (2014). The former is known as “specific jurisdiction, ” while the latter is termed “general jurisdiction.” Plaintiff invokes both specific and general jurisdiction, so the Court addresses each in turn.

         A. Specific Jurisdiction

         For “specific jurisdiction, ” the plaintiff must prove that jurisdiction: (1) is authorized by the forum state's long-arm statute, and (2) comports with the due process requirements inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Christian Sci. Bd. of Dir. of First Church of Christ, Scientist v. Nolan, 259 F.3d 209, 215 (4th Cir. 2001). Maryland's long-arm statute is co-extensive with federal due process limits. Mackey v. Compass Mktg., Inc., 391 Md. 117, 141 n.6 (2006).[2]

         Maryland's long-arm statute sets forth several enumerated avenues to confer personal jurisdiction on an out-of-state defendant. Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 6-103(a); Am. Bank Holdings, Inc. v. Grange Mut. Cas. Co., No. DKC 09-2228, 2010 WL 2302356, at *3 (D. Md. June 7, 2010). The parties direct this Court to two such avenues: (1) where a defendant “[c]auses tortious injury in the State by an act or omission in the State;” § 6-103(b)(3), or (2) where a defendant “[c]auses tortious injury in the State or outside of the State by an act or omission outside the State if he . . . engages in any other persistent course of conduct in the State.” § 6-103(b)(4).

         For Section 6-103(b)(3) to apply, both the tortious injury and activity must occur in Maryland. Dring, 423 F.Supp.2d at 546. Here, the alleged defamatory letters and emails were sent from Arkansas, not Maryland. ECF No. 8 at 1; ECF No. 13 at 9. Thus, the “tortious act” occurred in Arkansas. See Dring, 423 F.Supp.2d at 546 (emails); Craig v. Gen. Fin. Corp. of Ill., 504 F.Supp. 1033, 1037 (D. Md. 1980) (letters). Section 6-103(b)(3) does not apply. See Dring, 423 F.Supp.2d at 546.

         Plaintiff nonetheless contends that certain nonspecific discussions which supposedly took place in Maryland satisfy Section 6-103(b)(3). This simply is not so. The tortious activity arises exclusively from allegedly defamatory emails and letters sent from Arkansas, not some nonspecific discussions. The Court further notes that the only discussion described in the Complaint with any specificity had occurred in 2012, well beyond the statute of limitations. See ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 8-20; Long v. Welch & Rushe, Inc., 28 F.Supp.3d 446, 456 (D. Md. 2014) (noting Maryland's one year statute of limitations for defamation claims); Shulman v. Rosenberg, No. 1889, Sept. Term, 2016, 2018 WL 286404, at *5 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Jan. 4, 2018), cert. denied, 458 Md. 597 (2018) (noting ...

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