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Chamberlin v. Venture Resorts, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Ocala Division

May 17, 2017

JENNIFER CHAMBERLIN, RYAN CHAMBERLIN, OLIVIA WOOTEN, STEVEN CRAIG, ANGELIQUE CRAIG and SPENCER CRAIG, Plaintiffs,
v.
VENTURE RESORTS, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          JAMES S. MOODY. JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs rented a cabin at Defendant's resort in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Plaintiffs allege Defendant was negligent for failing to evacuate Plaintiffs from a wildfire that burned the cabin shortly after Plaintiffs fled for their lives. Defendant argues this Court lacks personal jurisdiction and subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court agrees the Complaint must be dismissed because Plaintiffs failed to plead a basis for personal jurisdiction.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On November 27, 2016, Plaintiffs checked into a cabin at Defendant's resort in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The following day, Plaintiffs say the air was smoky due to a nearby wildfire. Plaintiffs called Defendant's office to ask about the fire and see if Plaintiffs needed to evacuate. Defendant assured Plaintiffs that the wildfire was contained and that there was no need to evacuate. Plaintiffs contacted Defendant's office another four times over the course of the day and night and were assured that there was no need to evacuate.

         Around 9:30 p.m. on November 28, 2016, Plaintiffs noticed there were flames near the cabin, grabbed what belongings they could, and fled. When Plaintiffs drove by Defendant's office shortly after 10 p.m., Plaintiffs say Defendant's employees had evacuated the office without notifying the guests. During the drive to safety, Plaintiffs say flames blazed on both sides of the road.

         On November 29, 2016, Plaintiffs learned the cabin in which they had stayed burned, destroying the nearly $20, 000 in personal property Plaintiffs left behind. Plaintiffs claim to have suffered severe emotional distress.

         On March 15, 2017, Plaintiffs sued Defendant in this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. The Complaint has two counts: innkeeper liability (Count I), and gross negligence (Count II). The only allegation regarding this Court's personal jurisdiction over Defendant is as follows:

28. Defendant, VENTURE RESORTS, INC., is a Tennessee for profit business, doing business as Gatlinburg Falls Resort, located with its principle [sic] place of business in Sevier County, Tennessee.

(Doc. 1, ¶28).

         MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a complaint to be dismissed for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. When reviewing a motion to dismiss, courts must limit their consideration to the well-pleaded allegations, documents central to or referred to in the complaint, and matters judicially noticed. See La Grasta v. First Union Securities, Inc., 358 F.3d 840, 845 (11th Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted); Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2005). Courts must accept all factual allegations contained in the complaint as true, and view the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93-94.

         Legal conclusions, however, “are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 664 (2009). In fact, “conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual deductions or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal.” Davila v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 326 F.3d 1183, 1185 (11th Cir. 2003). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must instead contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). This plausibility standard is met when the plaintiff pleads enough factual content to allow the court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (internal citations omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant argues the Complaint should be dismissed based on lack of personal jurisdiction and lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court will address the personal jurisdiction argument, which is dispositive, since it is straightforward and was raised by Defendant before the subject-matter jurisdiction argument. Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 587-88, 119 S.Ct. 1563, 157-722, 143 L.Ed.2d 760 (1999) (“Where, as here, however, a district court has before it a straightforward personal jurisdiction issue presenting no complex question of state law, and the alleged defect in subject-matter jurisdiction raises a difficult and novel question, the ...


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