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Keller v. Clean Harbors, Inc.

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

March 26, 2018



          Nancy G. Edmunds, United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Magistrate Judge Stafford's Report and Recommendation [17] to deny Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [8], pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction. Defendant has filed two objections [20] to the Report and Recommendation. For the reasons that follow, the Court adopts the unobjected to portion of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and DENIES Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

         This Court performs a de novo review of those portions of Magistrate Judge Stafford's Report and Recommendation to which Plaintiff has objected. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The Court need not perform a de novo review of the report's unobjected-to findings. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150, 106 S.Ct. 466, 88 L.Ed.2d 435 (1985). Moreover, an objection that "does nothing more than state a disagreement with a magistrate [judge]'s suggested resolution, or simply summarizes what has been presented before, is not an 'objection' as that term is used in this context.'" Aldrich v. Bock, 327 F.Supp. 2d. 743, 747 (E.D. Mich. 2004). Indeed, the purpose of an objection to a report and recommendation is to provide the Court “with the opportunity to consider the specific contentions of the parties and to correct any errors immediately.” Id. (quoting United States v. Walters, 638 F.2d 947, 949-50 (6th Cir.1981)).

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff, Shannon Keller, a Michigan resident, filed a pro se complaint against Clean Harbors, Inc. ("Defendant"). The claim consisted of 1185 pages.[1] Plaintiff's complaint references her EEOC right to sue letter under Title VII and the Equal Pay Act, and alleges unlawful termination, retaliation, gender inequality, and sex stereotyping. (R&R; Dkt. 17, at 1; PgID 1740.) Plaintiff does not, however, identify a specific statute under which she is suing Defendant. Nonetheless, the Sixth Circuit liberally construes pleadings of a pro se litigant. Martiv v. Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 712 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972)); Herron v. Harrison, 203 F.3d 410, 414 (6th Cir. 2000) (pro se pleadings are held to "an especially liberal standard"); Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e) ("All pleadings shall be so construed as to do substantial justice"). Based on the documents Plaintiff provides, Magistrate Judge Stafford and this Court assume these are Title VII and Equal Pay Act claims.

         Defendant, a Massachusetts holding company, believes Plaintiff should have filed her complaint against non-party Clean Harbors Environmental Services, Inc. ("Environmental Services"), one of its wholly owned subsidiaries that does business in Michigan. (D. Mot. to Dismiss; Dkt. 8, at 9; PgID 1204.) Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, seeks to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), for lack of personal jurisdiction. Defendant's arguments rely almost exclusively on two declarations which contradict Plaintiff's factual claims, those of Michael McDonald and Julie Vacca-Hulak. Michael McDonald is the Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Assistant Secretary for Defendant and also Vice President of Environmental Services. (Dkt. 17, at 10; PgID 1749.) Julie Vacca-Hulak is the Human Resource Director for Environmental Services. Together these declarations state Environmental Services alone employed Plaintiff, and contradict the jurisdictional facts Plaintiff asserts. Plaintiff's 419 page Response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 10, ) amounted to a document dump, although some of that evidence the Magistrate Judge found helpful for resolving the motion. Defendant's August 2017 Reply in support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, again emphasized the sworn declaration of Michael McDonald and then addressed two pieces of the evidence Plaintiff included in her voluminous response. Defendant noted that the non-competition/confidentiality agreements Plaintiff executed with Defendant, are all governed by the laws of Massachusetts, meaning they did not avail themselves of Michigan's laws. Defendant also emphasized that the EEOC Charge of Discrimination identifies Plaintiff's employer as Environmental Services and not Defendant.

         II. Standard of Review - Personal Jurisdiction

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), "[t]he plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that jurisdiction exists." Theunissen v. Matthews, 935 F.2d 1454, 1458 (6th Cir. 1991). However, when a court rules on a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) without conducting an evidentiary hearing, "th[at] burden on the plaintiff is relatively slight." Air Prod. Controls, Inc. v. Safetech Int'l, Inc., 503 F.3d 544, 549 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Am Greets Corp. v. Cohn, 839 F.2d 1164, 1169 (6th Cir. 1988)).

         A district court has three procedural options when deciding a 12(b)(2) motion. Theunissen, 935 F.2d at 1458. It may decide the motion based on (i) written submissions and affidavits alone, (ii) hold an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the motion, or (iii) order discovery limited to the personal jurisdiction issue. Air Prod., 503 F.3d at 549; Theunissen, 935 F.2d at 1458. "[A] defendant who alleges facts that would defeat the court's personal jurisdiction can invoke the court's discretion to order a pretrial evidentiary hearing on those facts." Serras v. First Tenn. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 875 F.2d 1212, 1214 (6th Cir. 1989). "[T]his rule prevents a defendant from 'defeat[ing] personal jurisdiction merely by filing a written affidavit contradicting jurisdictional facts alleged by a plaintiff.' " Shneider v. Hardesty, 669 F.3d 693, 697 ((6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Serras, 875 F.2d at 1214).

         Here, neither party asked for limited discovery or for an evidentiary hearing. The Magistrate Judge therefore proceeded to resolve Defendant's motion based solely on the written submissions.

         Where there has been no evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff need only present a prima facie case in support of jurisdiction to defeat dismissal. Theunissen, 935 F.2d at 1458. See also Miller v. AXA Winterthur Ins. Co., 694 F.3d 675, 678 (6th Cir. 2012) (observing that in order to defeat a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff's affidavits must only make out a prima facie showing and the pleadings and affidavits are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff). A plaintiff may make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction 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 Fed.Appx. 427, 429 (6th Cir. 2014).

         A district court must view all pleadings and affidavits in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Miller, 694 F.3d at 678. Also, the district court does "not weigh the controverting assertions of the party seeking dismissal, " Estate of Thomson ex rel. Estate of Rakestraw v. Toyota Motor Corp. Worldwide, 545 F.3d 357, 360 (6th Cir. 2008). See also Serras, 875 F.2d at 1214 ("If [the plaintiff] meets [the prima facie] burden the motion to dismiss should be denied, notwithstanding any controverting presentation by the moving party.") This prevents a defendant "from regularly avoiding personal jurisdiction simply by filing an affidavit denying all jurisdictional facts." CompuServe, Inc. v. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257, 1262 (6th Cir. 1996).

         Defendant's factual disagreements with Plaintiff, and specifically Defendant's two supporting sworn declarations, at this stage are not weighed. Dismissal is only appropriate "if all the specific facts which the plaintiff [ ] alleges, collectively fail to state a prima facie case for jurisdiction, " when viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. CompuServe, Inc., 89 F.3d at 1262.

         If a plaintiff has presented a prima facie case for personal jurisdiction, the party opposing jurisdiction "remain[s] free to further contest the issue by requesting an evidentiary hearing or by moving for summary judgment if [ ] discovery reveals a material variance from the facts" plaintiff presented in their pleadings. Neogen Corp. v. Neo Gen Screening, Inc., 282 F.3d ...

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