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McGlothlin v. Hennelly

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

December 27, 2017

JAMES W. MCGLOTHLIN, Plaintiff,
v.
KEVIN N. HENNELLY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. STEELE, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction and Improper Venue (Doc. #17) filed on November 9, 2017. Defendant submitted his affidavit in support of the motion. (Doc. #17-2.) Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. #22) on November 29, 2017. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted with leave to amend the Complaint.

         I.

         This is an action for defamation and libel based on two statements allegedly published by defendant about plaintiff on the social media website, www.facebook.com (“Facebook”). The Complaint (Doc. #1) alleges two state law claims: (1) defamation/libel[1], and (2) injunctive relief to enjoin defendant from making and/or publishing any other false and defamatory statements (Count II).

         Plaintiff James McGlothlin (plaintiff or McGlothlin), a Florida citizen, is a businessman and the founding member of The United Company, which is the parent company of Scratch Golf, LLC. (Doc. #1, ¶¶ 1-2.) Scratch Golf owns real property in Beaufort County, South Carolina, operated and commonly known as the Hilton Head National Golf Course (the Property). (Id. at ¶ 7.) In or around July 2016, Scratch Golf submitted an application to Beaufort County to amend the zoning of the Property. (Id. at ¶8.)

         On May 14, 2017, defendant Kevin N. Hennelly (defendant or Hennelly), a South Carolina citizen, published the first Facebook post, criticizing Scratch Golf's rezoning application and the Property, stating that McGlothlin was a “crony capitalist” who would “break every rule in the book to get a government favor or handout.” (Doc. #7-1.) The post also stated that plaintiff was a “crook.” (Id.) On May 22, 2017, the zoning application was denied. (Id. at ¶ 10.) Plaintiff does not allege that the application was denied as a result of defendant's actions.

         On May 23, 2017, Hennelly published the second allegedly defamatory statement on Facebook, stating that plaintiff was “up to [his] eyeballs in the recent scandals in Virginia with the Governor and his wife. McGlothin gave the Governors [sic] wife a no show job at the heart of the ethical and criminal activity.” (Doc. #4-1.) Plaintiff alleges that the scandal involving the Governor and his wife was highly publicized. (Doc. #1, ¶13.)

         Plaintiff alleges general damages; actual damages, including injury to his reputation; mental suffering, anguish, and public humiliation; and punitive damages. (Doc. #1, ¶¶ 19-21.) Plaintiff further alleges that defendant is not only liable for the initial publication of the two statements, but also for each subsequent republication, as separate offenses. (Id. at ¶ 22.)

         II.

         Hennelly moves to dismiss the Complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. Plaintiff opposes both aspects of the motion.

         Personal Jurisdiction

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), the Court must conduct a “two-step inquiry when determining whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant is proper.” Thomas v. Brown, 504 Fed.Appx. 845, 847 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Horizon Aggressive Growth, L.P. v. Rothstein-Kass, P.A., 421 F.3d 1162, 1166 (11th Cir. 2005)). The Court first determines whether defendant's activities satisfy the Florida long-arm statute, and if so, whether the extension of jurisdiction comports with the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. See Meier v. Sun Int'l Hotels, Ltd., 288 F.3d 1264, 1269 (11th Cir. 2002). “A federal district court in Florida may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant to the same extent that a Florida court may, so long as the exercise is consistent with federal due process requirements. If both Florida law and the United States Constitution permit, the federal district may exercise jurisdiction over the nonresident defendant.” Licciardello v. Lovelady, 544 F.3d 1280, 1283 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal citation omitted). The plaintiff “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). Defendant asserts that neither component of this standard is satisfied in this case.

         Florida Long Arm Statute

         In his response, plaintiff relies upon subsection (1)(a)(2) of the Florida “long arm” statute related to specific jurisdiction, which permits the exercise of jurisdiction over actions arising out of tortious acts committed ...


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