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Sgiers v. Lamers Bus Lines, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 11, 2019

LAMERS BUS LINES, INC. et al., Defendants.


          Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Kathie Wilson Sgiers filed a negligence suit in the Circuit Court for Frederick County, Maryland against Lamers Bus Lines, Inc. ("Lamers"), a Wisconsin-based charter bus company, and "John Doe," one of its drivers. ECF 2 (Complaint). The driver was subsequently identified as Robert Mohr. At the relevant time, plaintiff was a parent chaperone for a middle school trip from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff claims that on February 15, 2015, while the group was traveling on a Lamers bus, she was injured when the driver "slammed on the brakes" as plaintiff was loading a movie into the bus's DVD player. Id. ¶ 6. Following the incident, plaintiff was transported to Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick, Maryland. Id. ¶ 7.

         Lamers timely removed the case to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. ECF 1 (Notice of Removal). Thereafter, Lamers moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6) or, alternatively, for summary judgment under Rule 56. ECF 7. Lamers claimed, inter alia, that the accident occurred in Virginia, not Maryland, and therefore this Court lacked personal jurisdiction over Lamers. Plaintiff disputed the contention as to the location of the incident.

         In a Memorandum (ECF 11) and Order (ECF 12) of May 2, 2018, I denied Lamers's motion, without prejudice. ECF 12. And, I granted limited discovery "on the question of the location of the bus at the time plaintiff was injured." Id. at 3. I explained, id.: "The legal issue here is whether Maryland's long-arm statute is satisfied by Lamers' conduct. The answer depends entirely on a disputed fact, i.e., whether the bus was in Maryland at the time of the injury."[1]

         Jurisdictional discovery has since concluded. Now pending is Lamers's "Renewed Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment," pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), 12(b)(6), and 56. ECF 16. It is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 16-1) (collectively, the "Motion") and numerous exhibits. ECF 16-2 - ECF 16-15. Lamers advances the same arguments that it previously asserted in its prior motion. See ECF 7-1[2]

         In particular, Lamers contends that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Lamers because the incident occurred in Virginia, not Maryland, and Lamers otherwise lacks the requisite minimum contacts with Maryland. ECF 16-1 at 7-18. Further, Lamers argues that, under the principle of lex loci delictus, Virginia law applies. Id. at 18-20. And, according to Lamers, Virginia affords a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury cases. Id. at 18 (citing Va. Code § 8.01-243(A)). Because plaintiff did not file suit until February 7, 2018, i.e., almost three years after the date of the occurrence, Lamers maintains that plaintiffs claims are time-barred. ECF 16-1 at 19-20.

         Sgiers opposes the Motion (ECF 17), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 18) and four exhibits. ECF 18-1 - ECF 18-4. She maintains that the injury occurred in Maryland. But, "assuming arguendo that the accident did not occur in Maryland," plaintiff argues that defendant's "tortious failure and omission to seek medical attention in a reasonable time and manner" provide a basis for personal jurisdiction in Maryland. ECF 18 at 7-8.

         Defendant has replied (ECF 22) and submitted two exhibits. ECF 22-1 - ECF 22-2.

         For the reasons that follow, I shall construe defendant's Motion (ECF 16) as a motion for summary judgment and deny it.

         I. Factual Background

         Lamers is incorporated in the state of Wisconsin with its "principal office" located in Green Bay, Wisconsin. ECF 16-4 (Affidavit of Kevin Lamers), ¶¶ 3-4. The company "mainly operates out of Wisconsin," id, ¶ 5, but it also has offices in Michigan and Florida. Id. ¶ 6; see ECF 16-5 (Michigan Registration); ECF 16-6 (Florida Registration).

         According' to Kevin Lamers, the company's owner and corporate secretary, Lamers has never had an office or a terminal in Maryland. Id. ¶ 6. Nor has it ever "employed a Maryland resident as an employee," "had a vehicle registered in Maryland," "contracted with a business entity incorporated in Maryland," "advertised its services in Maryland," or "had a fixed route in Maryland." Id. ¶¶7-10.

         At the time of the incident, Sgiers was a parent chaperone for a middle school trip from Chicago to Washington, D.C. ECF 16-8 (Plaintiff Affidavit), ¶ 4. On February 15, 2015, the last day of the trip, Sgiers was a passenger on a charter bus owned by Lamers and driven by Robert Mohr. ECF 16-7 (Mohr Affidavit), ¶¶ 1-2; ECF 16-8, ¶ 5.

         It is undisputed that on February 15, 2015, the group stopped for dinner at Magills Famous Pizza and Buffet ("Magills") in Annandale, Virginia. ECF 16-11 (Plaintiffs Answers to Defendants' First Set of Interrogatories) at 2. Sgiers said that, according to the trip itinerary, the stop was to occur at 6:30 p.m. ECF 16-10 at 42.[3] Sgiers estimated that the group was at Magills for an hour. Id. at 42-43. Following dinner, the group boarded two buses and began the drive back to Chicago. ECF 16-7, ¶ 3.

         According to Sgiers, the group had been traveling for "probably 40, 45 minutes" when the students on her bus asked to watch a movie. ECF 16-10 (Plaintiffs Deposition), at 22; see also ECF 16-8, ¶ 7; ECF 16-11 at 2. "The DVD player was located in the luggage rack," above the front passenger seats and "immediately behind the bus driver." ECF 16-8, ¶ 8; see also ECF 16-10 at 22. Sgiers asked Mohr "for permission to load a DVD into the DVD Player." ECF 16-8, ¶ 9. Mohr "said yes," and Sgiers "turned the power on for the DVD Player." Id. As Sgiers "stood to load a DVD," the bus driver "slammed on his breaks," sending her "violently into the heavy metal handrail at the front of the bus[.]" Id. ¶ 10.

         Sgiers estimated that the incident occurred between 8:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. ECF 16-10 at 43. She claims that "within a few minutes of the incident," Mohr pulled over the bus, and she "was looked at by the nurse," Colleen Meyer. ECF 16-8, ¶ 11. Meyer asked Sgiers how she was feeling, and Sgiers responded: "I think I'm okay." ECF 16-10 at 24. Sgiers then stood up and returned to her seat. Id.

         According to plaintiff, Mohr continued to drive. Id. at 25-26. "After about two minutes of driving," Sgiers "lied down" across her seat row. Id. at 26. Plaintiff recounted that Meyer again asked her if she was okay, and Sgiers responded, id.: "Well, can you break your ribs in the back? .... I've at least cracked, if not, broken a rib or two."

         By that point, Mohr had pulled over the bus in a parking lot, joined by the second bus that was traveling with the group. The second bus driver boarded Sgiers' bus and suggested that Sgiers "get medical help." ECF 16-10 at 27. After approximately five to ten minutes, the decision was made to take Sgiers to the nearest hospital. Id.; ECF 16-8, ¶11.

         According to Sgiers, she went to the hospital about "Ten minute [sic] later." ECF 16-10 at 43. She explained that Mohr drove only "for a few miles before [they] arrived at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick, Maryland," about 50 miles from Annandale, Virginia. ECF 16-8, ¶¶ 12-13. At approximately 8:42 p.m., plaintiff arrived at the hospital. ECF 16-15 (Medical Records). Later that night, plaintiff was "life flighted" from Frederick Memorial Hospital to "University of Maryland Shock Trauma" in Baltimore for "emergency surgery." ECF 16-10 at 34.

         Charles Rhodes, a faculty chaperone traveling on the second bus, averred that the group "had been travelling for some time when the buses pulled over" because Sgiers was hurt. ECF 16-9 (Rhodes Affidavit), ¶¶ 6-7.[4] At that point, Rhodes got off his bus to check on Sgiers. Id. ¶ 8. A decision was made to take Sgiers to the nearest hospital, and they drove only "for a couple of miles (2-5 miles) before [they] arrived at the hospital in Frederick, Maryland." Id. ¶ 9. Because the hospital was located in Frederick, Maryland, and considering "how short a period of time it took to get there," Rhodes concluded that "Sgiers' injury could not have occurred in Virginia, and must have occurred in Maryland." Id. ¶ 10.

         Jennifer Lovejoy, a parent chaperone riding on the second bus, also claimed that, after leaving Magills, the group "drove a ways, but not too long, and then pulled off of the highway because something happened on the first bus." ECF 18-3 (Lovejoy Affidavit), ¶¶ 3, 8. Rhodes got off the second bus "to find out what happened" and "came back onto [the second] bus saying that Ms. Sgiers had been injured." Id. ¶ 9. The group then drove "a short distance to a hospital to drop Ms. Sgiers there to be examined ...." Id.

         Lovejoy could not recall "exact times," but said that the group "had traveled into Maryland and very shortly after is when [they] pulled off the highway to follow the first bus because of the accident Ms. Sgiers had on the bus." Id. ΒΆ 11. And, the hospital was "only minutes away from ...

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