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FCA U.S. LLC v. Bullock

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

April 19, 2018

FCA U.S. LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
PATREA BULLOCK, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (Dkt. 10)

          MARK A. GOLDSMITH United States District Judge

         This matter is now before the Court on Defendant Patrea Bullock's motion to dismiss based on jurisdiction and venue (Dkt. 10). The motion is fully briefed, and a hearing was held on January 5, 2018. For the following reasons, the Court denies Bullock's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant Patrea Bullock is an attorney who previously worked for two law firms in California (Universal & Shannon, LLP (“U&S”) and Gates, O'Doherty, Gonter & Guy LLP (“GOGG”)). Compl. ¶¶ 8, 20 (Dkt. 1). Plaintiff FCA was a client of both U&S and GOGG, and during Bullock's time working for these law firms, she worked on dozens of breach of warranty cases for FCA. Id. ¶¶ 9, 21.

         On April 19, 2017, Bullock attended an FCA “Warranty Litigation Trial School.” Id. ¶ 19; see also FCA U.S. California Warranty Litigation Trial School Confidentiality Agreement (“Confidentiality Agreement”), Ex. 1-A to Compl. (Dkt. 1-2). She signed a confidentiality agreement, which stated:

This Confidentiality Agreement and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with it will be exclusively governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the state of Michigan. Any dispute or claim concerning this Agreement may be brought only in Michigan state or federal courts and the undersigned attendee hereby submits to the exclusive jurisdiction of those courts.

         Confidentiality Agreement.

         After Bullock left GOGG in October 2017, she opened her own law firm. Compl. ¶ 30. In November 2017, she served FCA with a breach of warranty case in California, Brown v. FCA U.S. LLC, No. 34-2017-00222086 (Super. Ct. of Cal., Sacramento), where Bullock was listed as the plaintiff's counsel of record. Id. ¶ 31. FCA then filed the instant complaint, alleging claims for breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, violation of federal trade secret laws, breach of fiduciary duty, and injunctive relief. Bullock now challenges this Court's exercise of subject matter and personal jurisdiction and objects to venue, as well.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         In considering whether to dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) due to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving the existence of subject-matter jurisdiction. Musson Theatrical, Inc. v. Fed. Express Corp., 89 F.3d 1244, 1248 (6th Cir. 1996); Moir v. Greater Cleveland Reg'l Transit Auth., 895 F.2d 266, 269 (6th Cir. 1990). Challenges to subject-matter jurisdiction fall into two general categories: “facial attacks” - which argue that the pleading allegations are insufficient - and “factual attacks” - which challenge the factual veracity of the allegations. United States v. Ritchie, 15 F.3d 592, 598 (6th Cir. 1994). On a motion raising a facial attack, “the court must take the material allegations of the petition as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Id. In reviewing a motion raising a factual attack, “the court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case.” Id.

         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 Fed. 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). If 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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Bullock argues that this action should be dismissed, because (i) the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction; (ii) the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over her; and (iii) venue is improper. See generally Def. Mot. (Dkt. 10).

         A. This Court Has Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

         Bullock claims that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, because FCA does not sufficiently allege a claim arising under federal law, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1331. FCA has alleged that Bullock violated the Defend Trade Secret Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1836(b). Bullock claims that FCA has failed to properly identify a trade secret, on the theory that its strategy on how to respond, defend, and/or settle breach of warranty cases are not trade secrets - it is ...


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