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Scarbrough v. Transplant Resource Center of Maryland, Inc.

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

March 28, 2017




         This matter is before the court on the Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction (Doc. # 21), filed by Defendant Transplant Resource Center of Maryland, Inc. d/b/a The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland (“Living Legacy”). The Motion has been fully briefed. (Docs. # 22-25).

         I. Background

         Living Legacy is a non-profit corporation incorporated under the laws of the state of Maryland with its principal place of business in Arbutus, Maryland. (Doc. # 1-1 ¶ 2; Doc. # 21-2 p. 184). Living Legacy is a certified and accredited organ procurement organization (“OPO”) that procures deceased-donor organs for organ transplantation. (Doc. # 21-2 p. 16). There are 58 OPOs operating in the United States. (Doc. # 21-2 p. 32-33). Each OPO is responsible for organ procurement in a specific service area; Living Legacy's service area is a portion of the state of Maryland. (Doc. # 21-2 p. 33-34). OPOs also are assigned a region; Living Legacy's region is Region 2, which includes New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and parts of Pennsylvania. (Doc. # 21-2, p. 40, 95-96).

         OPOs are members of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), which is a federally-established network. (Doc. # 21-3 at p. 2). The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) serves as the OPTN under contract with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). (Doc. # 21-3 at p. 2-3). The process for determining who will receive the donated organs is as follows: UNOS has created a computerized network which matches donated organs with transplant candidates by applying certain matching criteria. (Doc. # 21-3 at p. 3). These matching criteria are programmed into the UNOS database. (Id.). When a transplant hospital accepts a person as a transplant candidate, it enters into the UNOS database medical data about that person, such as the person's blood type, medical urgency, and location of the transplant hospital. Included in that information is whether a candidate would entertain a high-risk organ. (Doc. # 22-1 at 2-19)[1].

         When an organ procurement organization such as Living Legacy obtains authorization from an organ donor, it enters into the UNOS database medical data such as the donor's blood type, body size, and the location of the donor hospital. (Doc. # 21-2, p. 188-190). The UNOS database then generates a “match run” using the combination of donor and candidate information to create a rank-ordered list of potential recipients (or candidates) to be offered each donated organ. (Doc. # 21-2, p. 188-190). With respect to a particular donor's kidney, the candidates who appear highest in the ranking are those who are an exact match. Thereafter, all other things being equal, local and regional candidates are given priority, with national candidates listed afterward. (Doc. # 21-2, p. 188-190). Living Legacy has no control over the “match run” list that is generated pursuant to the UNOS database. (Id.). Plaintiff's name was one-hundred and twenty-second on the list. (Id.).

         With respect to its local and regional matches (i.e., candidates in Maryland, D.C., New Jersey, and parts of Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia), Living Legacy makes the offer and receives the acceptance. (Doc. # 21-2, p. 190). For national candidates, like Plaintiff in this case, UNOS makes the offer, receives the acceptance, and then notifies Living Legacy of the acceptance. (Doc. # 21-2, p. 191-92). The offer is made to the candidate's transplant surgeon, and the decision whether to accept the organ is made by that surgeon, either in consultation with the potential recipient or alone. (Doc. # 21-2, 188, 192). Neither Living Legacy nor UNOS determines who will receive the organ. (Doc. # 21-2, p. 188, 192-93)

         When a kidney is being transplanted locally or regionally, Living Legacy arranges the transportation of the kidney from the procurement site to the transplant hospital or the OPO for that service area. (Doc. # 22-1, p. 29, 62-64). When, however, the organ is being sent to a national recipient, UNOS arranges for the transportation. (Doc. # 22-1, p. 29). In either case, Living Legacy does not fill out the address of the organ's destination, someone else (perhaps the courier) addresses the label. (Doc. # 22-1, at p. 48-49, 51). Living Legacy only affixes a UNOS-supplied label that contains information related to the donor UNOS number, the donor's blood type, the contents of the box, and Living Legacy's address. (Doc. # 22-1, p. 55-57, 64; Doc. # 22-1 at 63-64).

         In this case, UNOS offered the kidney to Plaintiff, an Alabama recipient, Plaintiff's Alabama surgeon accepted, and UNOS coordinated with Sterling Courier to pick up the kidney for delivery to Alabama. (Doc. # 22-1, at p. 64). Sterling Courier, or someone at Sterling's direction, filled out the label indicating that the kidney was to be transported to Alabama. (Doc. # 22-1, at p. 81-85). Typically, Sterling picks up the organ from Living Legacy, transports it to the airport, and puts it on a commercial airline. (Doc. # 22-1, at p. 87).

         Other than the kidney at issue in this case, no kidneys procured by Living Legacy have been sent to Alabama in the last twelve years. (Doc. # 24 at 4). A total of ten (10) kidneys procured by Living Legacy have been sent to Alabama. (Doc. # 24 at 4). Those transplants occurred between 1991 and 2002. (Doc. # 24 at 4).

         The crux of Plaintiff's Complaint in this case is that, when Plaintiff was notified of the availability of a kidney for her transplant, she traveled from Florida to Birmingham's University of Alabama Hospital to undergo the transplant. (Doc. # 1-1 ¶ 16). Plaintiff was admitted at the hospital and prepared for surgery. (Doc. # 1-1 ¶ 17). Thereafter, it was discovered that, allegedly due to improper packaging and/or transport, the kidney could not be used for Plaintiff's transplant. (Doc. # 1-1 ¶ 24).

         II. Standard of Review

         A Rule 12(b)(2) motion tests the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2). “A plaintiff seeking the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant bears the initial burden of alleging in the complaint sufficient facts to make out a prima facie case of jurisdiction.” United Techs. Corp. v. Mazer, 556 F.3d 1260, 1274 (11th Cir. 2009); see also Posner v. Essex Ins. Co., 178 F.3d 1209, 1214 (11th Cir. 1999) (“A plaintiff seeking to obtain jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant initially need only allege sufficient facts to make out a prima facie case of jurisdiction.”). If a plaintiff satisfies his initial burden and a defendant then challenges personal jurisdiction by submitting affidavit evidence in objection to personal jurisdiction, the burden traditionally shifts back to the plaintiff to produce evidence supporting jurisdiction. See Meier ex rel. Meier v. Sun International Hotels, Ltd., 288 F.3d 1264, 1269 (11th Cir. 2002); see also Posner, 178 F.3d at 1214 (“The plaintiff bears the burden of proving ‘by affidavit the basis upon which jurisdiction may be obtained' only if the defendant challenging jurisdiction files ‘affidavits in support of his position.'” (citation omitted)). When the issue of personal jurisdiction is decided on the evidence, but without a discretionary hearing, a plaintiff demonstrates a “prima facie case of personal jurisdiction” by submitting evidence sufficient to defeat a motion made pursuant to Rule 50(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Snow v. DirecTV, Inc., 450 F.3d 1314, 1317 (11th Cir. 2006). At this evidentiary juncture, the court construes the complaints' allegations as true if they are uncontroverted by affidavits or deposition testimony, id., and where there are conflicts, the court “construe[s] all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff[s].” Whitney Info. Network, Inc. v. Xcentric Ventures, LLC, 199 F.Appx. 738, 741 (11th Cir. 2006) (unpublished) (quoting Meier, 288 F.3d at 1269).

         III. ...

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