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Karn v. PTS of America, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 11, 2019

PTS OF AMERICA, LLC, et al. Defendants.


          GEORGE J. HAZEL United States District Judge

         In December 2015, Plaintiff William Karn was transported from Maryland to South Carolina in prisoner transport vans operated by Defendants Prisoner Transportation of America, LLC (“PTS”) and Brevard Extraditions, LLC d/b/a United States Prisoner Transport, Inc. (“Brevard”). ECF No. 40 at 2.[1] Defendant Jorge Santiago, an employee of PTS, and Defendants Christopher Cabrera, James Lebron, and Robert Mitchell King, Sr., employees of Brevard, were assigned to Plaintiff's transport. Id. ¶¶ 6-10. Plaintiff alleges that during this transport he was subjected to “horrendous physical and mental abuses.” Id. He filed his first Complaint in this case in September 2016 alleging violations of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as various state law claims. ECF No. 1. The Court granted a motion to dismiss all claims as to the institutional defendants and all but the constitutional claims as to the individual defendants. ECF No. 22. Having now conducted discovery, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint alleging violations of the Due Process Clause, the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and state law negligence claims.[2] ECF No. 40. Defendants have filed Motions to Change Venue, ECF Nos. 49, 65, a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, ECF No. 55, and Motions to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction, ECF Nos. 64, 65. No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, Defendants Cabrera and King's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction, ECF No. 65, shall be denied without prejudice. The remaining Motions shall be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At 10:00pm on December 23, 2015, Defendants Santiago and Lebron, employees of PTS and Brevard respectively, picked up Plaintiff, a pre-trial detainee, in Montgomery County, Maryland to transport him to Horry County, South Carolina to face charges that he failed to timely pay child support. ECF No. 40 ¶¶ 7, 9, 15. Plaintiff alleges that he was immediately shackled-so tightly that his hands went numb-and placed into a van with ten other prisoners who had already been in the van for days. Id. ¶¶ 18-21, 23. Plaintiff alleges that the conditions in the van were horrendous, as the prisoners had not been given adequate opportunities to use the bathroom or to bathe. Id. ¶¶ 20, 28, 67-76. The van and the other prisoners were soiled with urine, vomit, and feces. Id. The van left Montgomery County, Maryland and drove to South Charleston, West Virginia, arriving a few hours later. Id. ¶ 37.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was kept in these conditions for the next nine days on a circuitous trip through West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina before finally arriving in South Carolina on December 31. Id. at 3, ¶ 37. Defendants Cabrera and King did not come into contact with Plaintiff until they took over his transport in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Id. ¶ 35. Plaintiff's additional allegations of misconduct can be found in the Court's previous memorandum opinion in this case. See Karn v. PTS of Amer. No. GJH-16-3261, 2018 WL 3608772 at *1-2 (D. Md. July 26, 2018).


         Under a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the burden is “on the plaintiff ultimately to prove the existence of a ground for jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.” Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). The court may allow a plaintiff to make “a prima facie showing of a sufficient jurisdictional basis to survive the jurisdictional challenge, ” see Consulting Eng'rs Corp. v. Geometric Ltd., 561 F.3d 273, 276 (4th Cir. 2009), but the “plaintiff must eventually prove the existence of personal jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence, either at trial or at a pretrial evidentiary hearing.” New Wellington Fin. Corp. v. Flagship Resort Dev. Corp., 416 F.3d 290, 294 n. 5 (4th Cir. 2005). “In deciding whether the plaintiff has made the requisite showing the court must take all disputed facts and reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Carefirst of Md., Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003). A federal court exercises personal jurisdiction over a defendant by applying the law of the state in which it sits. Id.

         On a motion to dismiss for improper venue, “[i]t is the Plaintiff's burden to establish that venue is proper.” Tinoco v. Thesis Painting, Inc., No. GJH-16-752, 2017 WL 52554 at *2 (D. Md. 2017). The Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Aggarao v. MOL Ship Mgmt. Co., 675 F.3d 355, 366 (4th Cir. 2012). To survive a motion to dismiss for improper venue, “the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of venue.” Mitrano v. Hawes, 377 F.3d 402, 405 (4th Cir. 2004). On a motion to transfer venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404, however, “the burden is on the moving party to show that transfer to another forum is proper.” Lynch v. Vanderhoef Builders, 237 F.Supp.2d 615, 617 (D. Md. 2002).

         On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court “must accept the factual allegations of the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Rockville Cars, LLC v. City of Rockville, Md., 891 F.3d 141, 145 (4th Cir. 2018). To overcome a 12(b)(6) motion, the “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Plaintiffs must “provide sufficient detail” to show “a more-than-conceivable chance of success on the merits.” Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, 887 F.3d 637, 645 (4th Cir. 2018) (citing Owens v. Balt. City State's Attorneys Ofice, 767 F.3d 379, 396 (4th Cir. 2014)). The mere recitation of “elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, is not sufficient to survive a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012). Nor must the Court accept unsupported legal allegations. Revene v. Charles Cnty. Commis., 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989). A plausibility determination is a “context-specific inquiry” that relies on the court's “experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679-80.


         A. Personal Jurisdiction

         As an initial matter, individual Defendants James Lebron, Christopher Cabrera, and Robert King, Sr. challenge the Court's personal jurisdiction over them. ECF Nos. 64, 65. For a district court to assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, “(1) the exercise of jurisdiction must be authorized under the state's long-arm statute; and (2) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Carefirst, 334 F.3d at 396. In Maryland, the “long-arm statute is coextensive with the limits of personal jurisdiction set by the due process clause of the Constitution, ” so the statutory inquiry merges with the constitutional inquiry. Id. at 396-97. For a court's exercise of jurisdiction over a defendant to comply with the due process clause, the defendant must have “‘minimum contacts' with the forum, such that to require the defendant to defend its interests in the state ‘does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Id. at 397 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)).

         Where the defendant's contacts with the forum state provide the basis for the suit, those contacts may establish “specific jurisdiction.” Id. In the Fourth Circuit, to determine whether specific jurisdiction exists the Court must consider “(1) the extent to which the defendant has purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the state; (2) whether the plaintiffs' claims arise out of those activities directed at the state; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be constitutionally ‘reasonable.'” Id. The exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant is constitutionally reasonable if it is not “so gravely difficult and inconvenient as to place the defendant at a severe disadvantage in comparison to his opponent.” CFA Inst. v. Inst. of Chartered Fin. Analysts of India, 551 F.3d 285, 296 (4th Cir. 2009). The Fourth Circuit has identified several factors relevant to the constitutional reasonableness inquiry:

(1) the burden on the defendant of litigating in the forum; (2) the interest of the forum state in adjudicating the dispute; (3) the plaintiff's interest in obtaining convenient and effective relief; (4) the shared interest of the states in obtaining efficient resolution of disputes; and ...

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