United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
WARREN A. STILES, M.D. AND TONYA MARIE STILES, Plaintiffs,
BANKERS HEALTHCARE GROUP, INC., Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
W. HAROLD ALBRITTON, Senior District Judge.
This cause is before the court on Defendant Bankers Healthcare Group, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 11) on the basis of forum non conveniens and alternatively for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). Also before the court are Plaintiffs Warren ("Dr. Stiles") and Tonya Stiles's Response to the Motion (Doc. # 16), the Defendant's Reply thereto (Doc. # 18), and the Plaintiffs' Reply to Defendant's Reply (Doc. # 21).
The Plaintiffs filed their original Complaint on October 21, 2014. The Complaint sets forth claims for violations of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) (Count I), a request for a declaratory judgment (Count II), unjust enrichment (Count III), negligence (Count IV), wantonness (Count V), Fraudulent Misrepresentation (Count VI), and Slander of Title (Count VII). The controversy between the parties arises out of a loan transaction in which the Defendant loaned approximately $584, 000 to Dr. Stiles. A document styled Financing Agreement (Sole Proprietorship), Promissory Note/Security Agreement/Personal Guaranty ("The Agreement") was signed by Dr. Stiles on June 7, 2012 and by the Defendant on June 8, 2012. Although Mrs. Stiles was not a signatory to the loan documents, she joined as a Plaintiff here because of the contention that the documents purported to impose a lien on the Plaintiffs' residence, which was shown as the business address of Dr. Stiles. In this action, the Plaintiffs contend that the loan in question was actually a consumer loan, rather than a commercial loan as it is labeled in The Agreement.
The Agreement (Doc. #1-1) contains a forum selection clause providing that disputes will be resolved in the courts of Onondaga County, New York or Broward County, Florida. On October 30, 2014, shortly after this action was filed, but before the Defendant was served, the Defendant filed a state court suit against Dr. Stiles personally and against Warren A. Stiles d/b/a Warren A. Stiles, M.D. in Onondaga County, New York. Both actions were filed after the Defendant notified Dr. Stiles that the loan was delinquent as of June 25, 2014, and after the Defendant sent Dr. Stiles a copy of the Complaint it would file in the New York state court if the account was not brought current. On December 23, 2014, the Defendant filed the instant Motion to Dismiss. The Motion is premised on the allegation that the applicable forum selection clause contained in The Agreement is valid and enforceable and therefore requires this court to dismiss the instant action so that the entire controversy can be resolved as part of the suit pending in Onondaga County, New York.
For the reasons to be discussed, the Motion to Dismiss is due to be GRANTED. The case will be dismissed without prejudice for forum non conveniens.
II. APPLICABLE STANDARDS
A. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction
In the context of a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in which the court exercises its discretion not to hold an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of jurisdiction over the movant, non-resident defendant. Morris v. SSE, Inc., 843 F.2d 489, 492 (11th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted). A prima facie case is established if the plaintiff presents sufficient evidence to defeat a motion for a directed verdict. Id. at 492. The court must construe the allegations in the complaint as true, to the extent they are uncontroverted by defendant's affidavits or deposition testimony. Id. (citations omitted). Moreover, where the evidence presented by the parties' affidavits and deposition testimony conflicts, the court must construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant plaintiff. Id.
B. Forum Non Conveniens
Forum non conveniens is "the appropriate way to enforce" a valid forum selection clause that directs litigation to a nonfederal forum. Atl. Marine Const. Co. v. U.S. Dist. Court for the W. Dist. of Tex., 134 S.Ct. 568, 580 (2013).
To establish that dismissal under forum non conveniens is proper, typically the moving party must establish "that (1) an adequate alternate forum is available, (2) the public and private factors weigh in favor of dismissal, and (3) the plaintiff can reinstate his suit in the alternative forum without undue inconvenience or prejudice.'" Tazoe v. Airbus S.A.S., 631 F.3d 1321, 1330 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Leon v. Million Air, Inc., 251 F.3d 1305, 1310-11 (11th Cir. 2001)). Although the plaintiffs' choice of forum is usually "entitled to deference, and there is a presumption in favor of" that choice, Wilson v. Island Seas Invs. Ltd., 590 F.3d 1264, 1269 (11th Cir. 2009), when the plaintiff files suit outside a forum listed in a binding forum selection clause, its choice "merits no weight." Atl. Marine, 134 S.Ct. at 581. Instead, "as the party defying the forum-selection clause, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that transfer to the forum for which the parties bargained is unwarranted." Id.
Dr. Warren Stiles is the president of and a shareholder in East Alabama Ear Nose and Throat, P.C. ("EAENT"). He is married to Tonya Stiles, also a Plaintiff in this case. Dr. William R. Blythe and Dr. Wesley S. Whatley are also shareholders in EAENT. The practice has been providing ...