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Smith v. Windy Hill Foliage, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida

April 11, 2018

WEBSTER SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
WINDY HILL FOLIAGE, INC., SUNCO CARRIERS, INC., HIRERIGHT, LLC, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Webster Smith alleges that defendants Windy Hill Foliage, Inc., Sunco Carriers, Inc., and HireRight, LLC, violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et. seq. (2012), causing Sunco to terminate his employment. HireRight and Sunco have moved to dismiss Smith's claims against them under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), arguing that the court lacks personal jurisdiction. (Dkt. ##13, 17.) Instead of responding to the defendants' motions to dismiss, Smith filed a motion to transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) to the Middle District of Florida. (Dkt. #21.) Defendant Windy Hill opposes transfer, preferring to remain in Wisconsin where it is headquartered. As explained below, the record shows that the Middle District of Florida has personal jurisdiction over all parties, and the transfer is in the interest of justice. Accordingly, plaintiff's motion to transfer is granted.

         ALLEGATIONS OF FACT[1]

         Defendant Windy Hill, a Florida corporation with its principal place of business in Marshfield, Wisconsin, employed Smith as a tractor-trailer driver through October 2015. That month, Smith took his tractor-trailer to a service center for repairs. Shortly after, Smith alleges that he voluntarily left his position.

         Sometime after Smith left its employ, Windy Hill advised defendant HireRight, a consumer credit reporting agency, that: (1) Smith had been involved in a preventable accident before the October repairs; and (2) he was a “no show” for work. Smith contends this information is false. HireRight is a Delaware limited liability company with its principal place of business in Irvine, California.

         One month after his departure from Windy Hill, defendant Sunco, a Florida corporation with its principal place of business in Lakeland, Florida, hired Smith as a company driver. Just a month later, Sunco terminated Smith. After the termination, Smith learned HireRight provided a report to Sunco detailing his employment history, including the false information from his Wisconsin employer.

         OPINION

         I. Defendants HireRight's and Sunco's Motions to Dismiss

         As reflected by plaintiff's decision to move to transfer, rather than oppose defendants' motions to dismiss, this court lacks personal jurisdiction over either HireRight or Sunco. Nevertheless, the court will set forth the reasons for this in light of the remaining defendant Windy Hills' opposition to transfer plaintiff's claim against it. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires a finding of “minimum contacts” between the defendant and the forum state for a court to exercise personal jurisdiction, “such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Brook v. McCormley, 873 F.3d 549, 552 (7th Cir. 2017) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Wash., 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)) (internal quotation marks omitted). A court may establish jurisdiction over a defendant either through general or specific jurisdiction.

         A. General Personal Jurisdiction

         General jurisdiction requires a defendant to have “continuous and systematic” contacts with the forum state, such that it is essentially “at home.” BNSF Ry. v. Tyrrell, 137 S.Ct. 1539, 1558 (2017). A corporate defendant is typically “at home” only in its place of incorporation and its principal place of business. Id. In the “exceptional case, ” general jurisdiction may be found where the defendant's contacts “may be so substantial and of such a nature to render the corporation at home in that State.” Id. (quoting Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 761 (2014)). Moreover, in determining whether it can exercise general jurisdiction over a corporate defendant, a court must consider the corporation's activities in their entirety -- “nationwide and worldwide” -- because “[a] corporation that operates in many places can scarcely be deemed at home in all of them.” Daimler, 134 S.Ct. at 762 n.20.

         Neither HireRight nor Sunco even arguably fall under this court's general personal jurisdiction. Not only is HireRight a Delaware limited liability company with its principal place of business in Irvine, California, it has no physical presence in Wisconsin and its customers in Wisconsin account for less than 1.5% of its revenue. (Aldrich Decl. (dkt. #15) ¶¶ 3-4; Compl. (dkt. #1) ¶9.) As for Sunco, it is incorporated in Florida, and maintains its principal place of business in Lakeland, Florida.[2] (Templin Decl. (dkt. #19) ¶ 2.) Moreover, Sunco has no physical presence in Wisconsin. (Id. at ¶¶ 6-7.) Finally, while Sunco occasionally delivers goods to Wisconsin, these deliveries comprise less than one percent of its business. (Id. at ¶ 8.)

         B. Specific Jurisdiction

         This leaves only the possibility of specific personal jurisdiction over either HireRight or Sunco. Specific jurisdiction requires: (1) the defendant's purposeful direction of activities at the forum state or purposeful availing of the privilege of conducting business in the forum state; (2) the alleged injury arises out of the defendant's forum-directed activities; and (3) the exercise of specific jurisdiction comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. See Tamburo v. Dworkin, 601 F.3d 693, 702 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985)). “The action must directly arise out of the specific contacts ...


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