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Karanja v. Woodbridge Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

November 9, 2017

LUCY KARANJA, Plaintiff,
v.
WOODBRIDGE CORPORATION d/b/a WOODBRIDGE GROUP, et al. and DAVE RALSTON, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF PERSONAL JURISDICTION (DKT. 17)

          MARK A. GOLDSMITH United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Dave Ralston's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction (Dkt. 17). The issues were fully briefed, and a hearing was held on September 14, 2017. For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Lucy Karanja is an African woman and a former employee of Defendant Woodbridge Corporation, which formerly employed Defendant Dave Ralston as a Regional Manager. According to the complaint, Ralston, while serving as Karanja's boss at Woodbridge's Romulus factory, forced Karanja into sexual acts on multiple occasions. See Compl. ¶¶ 23, 30-31, 41-42, 45-46 (Dkt. 1). Karanja also alleges that Ralston would imitate her accent and make other comments related to her national origin, creating an atmosphere at the office that allowed such conduct to become widespread. See id. at ¶¶ 13-21. Karanja claims that Woodbridge retaliated against her after she reported Ralston's conduct, even though Ralston had since left the company. See id. at ¶¶ 56-62.

         Plaintiff brought this action, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 USC §2000e et seq., racial or national-origin discrimination in violation of 42 USC §1981, and sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Michigan's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, M.C.L. 37.2101 et seq. Defendant Ralston filed the instant motion to dismiss, arguing that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over him. See Def. Mot. to Dismiss (Dkt. 17).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Ralston argues in his motion that the Michigan courts lack both general and limited personal jurisdiction over him. In making this argument, Ralston argues that Michigan's long-arm statute does not capture the conduct alleged in Karanja's complaint.

         A. Standard of Review

         When presented with a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), a court may decide the motion on the basis of written submissions and affidavits alone. See Serras v. First Tenn. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 875 F.2d 1212, 1214 (6th Cir. 1989). When a court decides to pursue that path, the plaintiff must meet a “relatively slight” burden of a prima facie showing that personal jurisdiction exists to survive the motion. Estate of Thompson ex rel. Estate of Rakestraw v. Toyota Motor Corp. Worldwide, 545 F.3d 357, 360 (6th Cir. 2008). The plaintiff can do so by “establishing with reasonable particularity sufficient contacts between [the defendant] and the forum state to support jurisdiction.” Lexon Ins. Co. v. Devinshire Land Dev., LLC, 573 F. App'x 427, 429 (6th Cir. 2014). The court must view the pleadings and affidavits in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Estate of Thompson, 545 F.3d at 360, and may only dismiss if the specific facts alleged by the plaintiff collectively fail to make a prima facie case for jurisdiction, CompuServe, Inc. v. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257, 1262 (6th Cir. 1996). Where, as here, a court has federal question jurisdiction over a case, personal jurisdiction exists if (i) the state's long-arm statute applies to the defendant and (ii) the exercise of personal jurisdiction does not violate due process. Cmty. Trust Bancorp. v. Cmty. Trust Fin. Corp., 692 F.3d 469, 471 (6th Cir. 2012).

         B. Michigan's Long-Arm Statute

         Michigan's long-arm statute has been construed “to bestow the broadest possible grant of personal jurisdiction consistent with due process.” Audi AG & Volkswagon of Am., Inc. v. D'Amatom, 341 F.Supp.2d 734, 741 (E.D. Mich. 2004). The statute extends both general and limited jurisdiction over nonresident individuals and corporations. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.701 (general, individuals); Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.705 (limited, individuals); Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.711 (general, corporations); Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.715 (limited, corporations). As it pertains to individuals, courts may exert general personal jurisdiction over a defendant if the person (i) is present in the state at the time process is served; (ii) is domiciled in the state at the time that process is served; or (iii) consents to the exercise of personal jurisdiction. Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.701. Limited personal jurisdiction for particular claims may be established where the claims derives from the transaction of business in the state or from a tortious act or consequence within the state. Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.705(1)-(2). While general personal jurisdiction is lacking, limited personal jurisdiction does exist.

         Ralston has submitted an affidavit averring that he was served with a copy of the complaint while in Alabama, and thus he was not present in Michigan at the time of service. See Pl. Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. 1, ¶ 12. Ralston also averred that he does not work in Michigan, has no responsibilities in Michigan, has no property in Michigan, and has not resided in Michigan since 2004. Id. at ¶¶ 9-11. This supports a contention that Ralston is not domiciled in Michigan. See Black's Law Dictionary 588 (9th ed. 2009), “domicile” (“The place at which a person has been physically present and that the person regards as home”). Ralston further averred that he has not consented to jurisdiction. See Pl. Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. 1, ¶ 13. Ralston's attorney filed only a special appearance for the purpose of making the objection to personal jurisdiction, such that the appearance does not subject him to general jurisdiction. See McLean v. Isbell, 6 N.W. 210 (Mich. 1880). Karanja has presented no facts to contradict these specific assertions by Ralston. Accordingly, it appears that Ralston is correct that he is not subject to general personal jurisdiction in Michigan courts.

         Under the long-arm statute, limited personal jurisdiction exists over an individual if, among other potential criteria, the claim arises out of “the transaction of any business within the state” or “the doing or causing an act to be done, or consequences to occur, in the state resulting in an action for tort.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.705(1)-(2). As it pertains to transactions of business, even the slightest act of business is sufficient to grant personal jurisdiction. Citizens Bank v. Parnes, 376 F. App'x 496, 501 (6th Cir. 2010). To be subject to personal jurisdiction under the doing-or-causing-to-be-done prong of the statute, the defendant's purported tortious conduct or the injury alleged must have occurred in Michigan. Green v. Wilson, 565 N.W.2d 813, 817 (Mich. 1997).

         Ralston asserts that the long-arm statute does not apply to him because he does not live or work in Michigan, nor does he have any contacts in Michigan. See Def. Mot. to Dismiss at 6 (Dkt. 17). This argument misses the point of Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.705, which exists to provide jurisdiction over those who do not live or work in the state. Compare Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.701(2) (providing general personal jurisdiction over individuals domiciled in the state) with Mich. Comp. Laws ยง 600.705 (creating limited personal jurisdiction for specific claims over individuals who meet at least one of ...


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