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Roper v. Trissl Sports Cars

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northwestern Division

February 6, 2017

TIMOTHY ROPER, Plaintiff
v.
TRISSL SPORTS CARS, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND PARTIAL DISMISSAL ORDER

          HARWELL G. DAVIS, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The above-entitled civil action is before the court on the Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction filed by defendant Gary Grove.[1] (Doc. 14). Plaintiff has filed responses to the motion. (Docs. 23 & 26).

         I. The Complaint

         Plaintiff's complaint seeks a declaratory judgment and asserts claims for fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of contract and unjust enrichment against defendants Trissl Sports Cars and TMT America. The action arose from plaintiff's purchase of a vehicle from Trissl Sports Cars and TMT America.[2] Plaintiff, a resident of the United Kingdom, sought to purchase a 1965 air-cooled Porsche 911. He contacted Trissl after seeing its advertisement in an online car forum for a 1965 Porsche 911 (VIN 301834). After email exchanges and negotiations, plaintiff purchased a vehicle from Trissl, and the vehicle was delivered to plaintiff in the United Kingdom. However, upon inspection, the vehicle turned out to be a 1967 Porsche 911S (VIN 301834), and it appeared that VIN tags from a 1965 Porsche 911 had been welded onto the vehicle actually delivered to plaintiff.

         Plaintiff was able to obtain the factory build sheet for the 1967 car and was able to determine much about the provenance of both the vehicle he purchased and the vehicle he thought he was purchasing. Plaintiff avers he discovered that Gary Grove bought the 1967 Porsche and obtained a Certificate of Conformity from Porsche on February 9, 2015, identifying VIN 301834 as belonging to a 1965 Porsche 911. Grove advertised the car for sale before Trissl bought it on March 3, 2015. Plaintiff avers other potential buyers of the vehicle from Grove reported to plaintiff what Grove had told them, which contradicted Trissl's subsequent representations of the car's provenance in the online advertisement and what plaintiff was told.

         II. The Motion to Dismiss

         In support of his motion, defendant Grove states that he is not a resident of the State of Alabama and lacks sufficient contacts with the State of Alabama for this court to exercise either specific or general jurisdiction. In his affidavit, Grove states that he is a resident and citizen of Tennessee. (Doc. 14-1 at ¶ 2). He has never resided in Alabama and does not and never has owned or leased personal property in Alabama. (Id. at ¶¶ 3, 4). Grove also attests he does not and never has owned a business in Alabama, does not conduct business in Alabama, and never has been employed in Alabama. (Id. at ¶ 5). Grove further attests that he never has maintained a bank account in Alabama, nor has he ever maintained an office or place of business, address, directory listing, answering service, or telephone number in Alabama. (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 7). He also asserts that, apart from the instant action, he never has been a plaintiff or defendant in any lawsuit in state of federal court in Alabama. (Id. at ¶ 8). He also has no personal or business reason to travel to, nor be in, Alabama. (Id. at ¶ 11). With respect to the sale of the vehicle to Trissl, Grove states that he sold an early model Porsche to Trissl in Lenoir City, Tennessee, on March 3, 2015, and that the sale was conducted in Tennessee after Trissl inspected the vehicle at his home in Tennessee. (Id. at ¶ 9, 10).

         In his opposition, plaintiff asks the court to deny or defer ruling on the motion until he is able to conduct discovery of Grove. Plaintiff contends that Grove's testimony is fundamental to establishing his case against Trissl and TMT America. He asserts that Grove's testimony may contradict Trissl's testimony and evidence, or will at least definitively establish what Grove told Trissl when he sold the vehicle to Trissl. In fact, plaintiff has served interrogatories on Grove. Plaintiff argues that if Grove is dismissed as a defendant from this action, he would have to file suit against Grove in Tennessee; however, since he has no claim against Grove (other than wishing to determine what Grove told Trissl about the vehicle), any such suit would be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Thus, plaintiff asserts, Grove is a necessary party defendant to this action for purposes of discovery only. Plaintiff avers there is no need for Grove to attend court, only respond to plaintiff's interrogatories from Tennessee.

         III. Personal Jurisdiction Analysis

         The subject matter jurisdiction of this court is based on diversity of citizenship and amount in controversy, as provided in 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The United States Supreme Court has identified two types of personal jurisdiction, specific and general. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 411-15 nn. 8 & 9, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 1870-72 nn.8 & 9, 80 L.Ed.2d 404 (1984). Specific personal jurisdiction arises when the defendant's contacts with the forum are related to the plaintiff's cause of action. Madara v. Hall, 916 F.2d 1510, 1516 n.7 (11th Cir. 1990); Williams Elec. Co. v. Honeywell, Inc., 854 F.2d 389, 392 (11th Cir. 1988) (per curiam).[3]

         When a plaintiff is seeking to establish a court's personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant, the plaintiff must state sufficient facts in the complaint to support a reasonable inference that the defendant can be subjected to jurisdiction within the state in which the court sits. When a district court does not conduct an evidentiary hearing on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant. Madara v. Hall, 916 F.2d 1510, 1514 (11th Cir. 1990); Morris v. SSE, Inc., 843 F.2d 489, 492 (11th Cir. 1988). The plaintiff can establish a prima facie case by presenting enough evidence to withstand a motion for directed verdict. Id.; Stubbs v. Wyndham Nassau Resort and Crystal Palace Casino, 447 F.3d 1357, 1360 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Meier ex rel. Meier v. Sun Int'l Hotels, Ltd., 288 F.3d 1264, 1268-69 (11th Cir. 2002)). The facts as alleged in the complaint must be accepted by the court to be true, to the extent they are uncontroverted by the defendant's affidavits. Morris, 843 F.2d at 492. If the complaint allegations and the defendant's affidavits conflict, the court must construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id.; Stubbs, 447 F.3d at 1360. However, plaintiff still bears the burden to “produce evidence supporting personal jurisdiction.” Stubbs, 447 F.3d at 1360.

         A court engages in a two-part analysis to determine whether it has personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant. Cable/Home Communication Corp. v. Network Prods., Inc., 902 F.2d 829, 855 (11th Cir. 1990). First, the state's long arm statute must offer a basis for the exercise of jurisdiction. Id. If so, the court must then determine whether there are sufficient “minimum contacts” to satisfy the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, such that “maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 158, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463, 61 S.Ct. 339, 342, 85 L.Ed. 278 (1940)).

         Alabama's long arm statute, Rule 4.2, Ala.R.Civ.P, provides in pertinent part:

(b) Basis for Out-Of-State Service. An appropriate basis exists for service of process outside of this state upon a person or entity in any action in this state when the person or entity has such contacts with this state that the prosecution of the action against the person or entity in this state is not inconsistent with ...

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