United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Claudette Coleman's estranged husband Alan Coleman
allegedly sexually abused a minor, Jane Doe, from
approximately 2005 until 2009 while he was employed by
Defendant KIPP DC and supervised by Defendant Susan
Schaeffler Ettinger and later when he was employed by
Defendant Capital City Charter School. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff
Coleman brought this civil action on behalf of herself and
her three minor children alleging that they suffered
emotional distress upon learning of the abuse in 2016 and
seeking to hold Defendants liable for failing to report
Coleman's criminal conduct. Id. Pending before
the Court are Defendants' Motions to Dismiss for lack of
personal jurisdiction or for Plaintiffs' failure to state
a claim. ECF Nos. 11 & 14. No. hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following
reasons, Defendants' Motions to Dismiss for lack of
personal jurisdiction are granted.
employed Alan Coleman as a teacher during the 2004-2005
academic year. ECF No. 1 ¶ 9. During that school year,
Coleman, who was 34, began an inappropriate sexual
relationship with Jane Doe, one of his 14-year-old students.
Id. ¶¶ 11-12. According to the Complaint,
Defendants KIPP DC “failed to take any disciplinary
action against Alan Coleman, failed to investigate the
matter, failed to report the sexual abuse of Jane Doe to any
authority or to take action to stop the sexual abuse, ”
and Defendant Schaeffler Ettinger failed to supervise or
monitor Coleman's interactions or activities.
Id. ¶¶ 15, 20. Plaintiffs allege that
Schaeffler Ettinger knew or suspected that Coleman was
sexually abusing Jane Doe. Id. ¶ 72. After the
school year ended, Coleman left KIPP DC and was hired by
Capital City Charter School for the 2005-2006 school year.
Id. ¶¶ 32, 59. Before hiring Coleman,
Capital City performed a background check on him, which came
back “clean.” Id. ¶ 59. Coleman
remained employed with Capital City until 2015. Id.
¶ 25. Jane Doe left KIPP DC to attend another school
after her eighth-grade year. Id. ¶ 37. However,
Coleman's sexual abuse of Jane Doe continued until June
2009. Id. ¶ 12. At least some of the abuse
occurred in Maryland. Id. ¶ 18.
Coleman met Alan Coleman in September 2009, and the two
married in December 2010. Id. ¶¶ 22, 24.
At the time that the Colemans met, Plaintiff Coleman lived
and worked in Pennsylvania. Id. ¶ 21. Plaintiff
Coleman was not “aware of any sexual depravity
concerning Mr. Coleman as a child sexual predator” when
they met. Id. ¶ 22. They later lived in
Maryland together until 2015. Id. ¶ 23.
Plaintiff Coleman had one son from a previous relationship,
Plaintiff F.T., and the Colemans had two children together,
Plaintiffs D.C. (son) and D.C. (daughter). Id.
¶ 22, 24.
March 2015, Coleman told Plaintiff Coleman that he was having
problems with the new principal at Capital City and had
decided to leave the school. Id. ¶ 25. He did
not share his true reason for leaving Capital City with
Plaintiff Coleman, which was that Capital City had fired him
after receiving a report from Jane Doe that she had been
abused by Coleman when she was a child. Id. ¶
26. After Coleman's termination from Capital City, the
couple decided to relocate their family to Florida where
Coleman began a new teaching position. Id.
¶¶ 26, 28. Capital City allegedly did not report
what it had learned from Jane Doe to any law enforcement or
social services agency or investigate the matter.
Id. ¶ 27.
11, 2016, armed police officers arrived at the Colemans'
home in Florida and arrested Coleman based on allegations of
sexual abuse of a minor. Id. ¶¶ 53, 56.
Coleman eventually pled guilty to related charges in
Montgomery County Circuit Court in Montgomery County,
Maryland and the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Id. ¶¶ 70-71. Plaintiffs experienced
emotional distress upon learning about Coleman's sexual
abuse of Jane Doe. Plaintiff F.T. “has become suicidal,
” and Plaintiff Coleman suffers from Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD). Id. ¶¶ 77-78.
Plaintiffs D.C. and D.C. “are depressed and suffer
humiliation on a regular basis in their community.”
Id. ¶ 79.
20, 2018, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint against Defendants
KIPP DC, Capital City, and Susan Schaeffler Ettinger,
alleging one count of negligence. The suit also named Alan
Coleman as a Defendant, but Plaintiffs subsequently
voluntarily dismissed their claim against Coleman to cure a
lack of complete diversity for subject-matter jurisdiction
purposes. ECF No. 26. Relevant to whether this Court has
personal jurisdiction over the remaining Defendants,
Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants “are doing business
and have the necessary minimum contracts within the state of
Maryland.” Id. ¶ 1. Defendants KIPP DC
and Capital City are schools that “conduct business in
the District of Columbia” with principal offices
located in the District of Columbia. Id.
¶¶ 6-7. Defendant Susan Schaeffler Ettinger was the
Principal and a Founder of KIPP DC, and she was an employee,
servant, agent of KIPP DC at all relevant times. Id.
¶ 6. Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs'
Complaint. ECF Nos. 11, 14.
move to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint for lack of
personal jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(2). A challenge to personal jurisdiction is
to be resolved by “the judge, with the burden 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)
(citation omitted). Discovery and an evidentiary hearing are
not required to resolve a Rule 12(b)(2) motion, however.
See generally 5B Wright & Miller, Federal
Practice & Procedure § 1351, at 274-313 (3d ed.
2004, 2012 Supp.). Rather, the Court may, in its discretion,
address personal jurisdiction as a preliminary matter, ruling
solely on the motion papers, supporting legal memoranda,
affidavits, and the allegations in the complaint.
Consulting Engineers Corp. v. Geometric Ltd., 561
F.3d 273, 276 (4th Cir. 2009); see also In re Celotex
Corp., 124 F.3d 619, 628 (4th Cir. 1997). In such a
circumstance, the plaintiff need only make “a prima
facie showing of a sufficient jurisdictional basis to survive
the jurisdictional challenge.” Consulting Engineers
Corp., 561 F.3d at 276. “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)
(citing Mylan Labs. Inc. v. Akzo N.V., 2F.3d 56, 62
(4th Cir. 1993)).
jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant is proper when
“(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); see also Fed. R. Civ. P.
4(k)(1)(A). “In applying Maryland's long-arm
statute, federal courts often state that ‘[the]
statutory inquiry merges with [the] constitutional
inquiry.'” Dring v. Sullivan, 423
F.Supp.2d 540, 544 (D. Md. 2006) (collecting cases). A
court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over a
defendant is consistent with due process so long as the
defendant has established “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) (citation omitted).
Put differently, the court must consider whether a
defendant's contacts with the forum state are substantial
enough that it “should reasonably anticipate being
haled into court there.” World-Wide Volkswagen
Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980). The standard
varies, depending on whether the plaintiff seeks to establish
specific or general jurisdiction. “To establish general
jurisdiction, the defendant's activities in the state
must have been ‘continuous and systematic.'”
Carefirst of Md, 334 F.3d at 397. Because there is
no suggestion by Plaintiffs here that Defendants engaged in
continuous and systematic activities within Maryland, the
Court's inquiry focuses on specific jurisdiction as
opposed to general jurisdiction. To establish specific
personal jurisdiction, the Fourth Circuit has applied a three
factor test: “(1) the extent to which the defendant
‘purposefully avail[ed]' 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.'” ALS Scan. Inc. v. Digital
Serv. Consultants, Inc., 293 F.3d 707, 712 (4th Cir.
Plaintiffs allege in conclusory fashion that Defendants
“are doing business and have the necessary minimum
contacts within the state of Maryland, ” the only
Maryland contact that Plaintiffs allege Defendants had is
their relationship with Coleman. While “[e]ven a single
contact may be sufficient to create jurisdiction when the
cause of action arises out of that single contact, ”
Carefirst of Md., 334 F.3d at 397, here, Plaintiffs
have failed to allege that Defendants' contact with
Coleman shows they purposefully availed themselves of the
privilege of conducting activities in Maryland. Although
Coleman has various contacts with Maryland, Defendants
employed Coleman in the District of Columbia. Additionally,
Defendant KIPP DC is an agent/representative of KIPP in the
District of Columbia with its principal office located in the
District of Columbia. ECF No. 1 ¶ 6. There are no
factual allegations in the Complaint indicating that
Defendant Schaeffler Ettinger conducted business outside the
District of Columbia. See Id. And Defendant Capital
City “is a not-for-profit public charter school
authorized to conduct business and conducting business in the
District of Columbia with its principal office” in the
District of Columbia. Id. ¶ 7.
Coleman lived in Maryland while he worked for Defendants only
bears on Coleman's connection to Maryland, not on whether
Defendants intentionally established minimum contacts with
Maryland. The allegation that Defendants happened to employ a
Maryland resident is insufficient to demonstrate that the
Defendants purposefully took advantage of the privileges
afforded to those conducting activities in Maryland. See
e.g., Debt Relief Network, Inc. v. Fewster, 367
F.Supp.2d 827, 830 (D. Md. 2005) (court lacked personal
jurisdiction over an out-of-state corporation where
jurisdictional basis was solely that a shareholder or officer
resided in the forum state). Taken together, Defendants did
not purposefully avail themselves of the privilege of
conducting business in Maryland by hiring a Maryland
Plaintiffs' claims against Defendants do not arise out of
Defendants' activities in Maryland even if they are
related to Coleman's activities in Maryland. To be sure,
Plaintiffs allege that at least some of Coleman's sexual
abuse occurred in Maryland, id. ¶ 18, that
Coleman lived in Maryland with Plaintiffs from 2009-2015,
id. ¶ 23, and that Coleman pled guilty to
charges of sexual abuse in Maryland, id. ¶ 71.
But Plaintiffs claims against Defendants arise not out of
Coleman's conduct, but out of acts or omissions by
Defendants that occurred in the District of Columbia where
Defendants conduct their business. Neither Coleman nor Jane
Doe are parties to this case, and the facts related to each
element of any alleged negligence by Defendants here occurred
outside of Maryland. First, if Defendants owed
Plaintiffs' any duty that duty arose from either Florida
or District of Columbia law. See ECF No. 11-2 at
6-9; ECF No. 14-1 at 9. Further, any breach of that alleged
duty occurred in the District of Columbia: Plaintiffs allege
that Defendants failed to take certain steps to report or
curtail Coleman's suspected abuse of Jane Doe, but as
District of ...