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Seifert v. SF&P Advisors, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

July 2, 2019

ERIC SEIFERT, Plaintiff,
v.
SF&P ADVISORS, INC., Defendant.

         NOT FOR PULBICATION

          OPINION

          STANLEY R. CHESLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant SF&P Advisors, Inc.'s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), or in the alternative, to transfer venue. Plaintiff Eric Seifert has opposed the motion. The Court has opted to rule based on the papers submitted and without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons expressed below, the Court will grant Defendant's motion to transfer venue and will transfer this action to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). Insofar as the motion seeks dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction, it will be denied as moot in light of the transfer.

         I. Background

         This is an action for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Plaintiff Eric Seifert (“Plaintiff” or “Seifert”) is, and was at all relevant times a resident of New Jersey. Defendant SF&P Advisors, Inc. (“Defendant” or “SF&P”) is a Florida corporation, headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida. According to the Complaint, SF&P is engaged in the business of providing “valuation, accounting, research and financial analysis services primarily to . . . contractors in the heating, air conditioning and plumbing businesses.” (Compl., ¶ 2.) Its services are focused on mergers and acquisitions within the HVAC and plumbing industry. The work done by SF&P includes locating buyers and/or sellers for the aforementioned types of businesses.

         From October 2015 to June 2018, Seifert worked for SF&P in some capacity, whether as an employee, independent contractor or consultant. The Complaint alleges that, “beginning on or about October 20, 2015, Plaintiff agreed to provide services to Defendant in exchange for the payment of a salary and a percentage of fees earned by Defendant on the purchase and/or sale of a business in which Plaintiff was a participant in finding a buyer or seller.” (Id., ¶ 4.) Seifert alleges that he rendered these services primarily from his home office in Tenafly, New Jersey. According to SF&P's President, Fred Silberstein, “Seifert was the only independent contractor/consultant for SF&P who worked outside of Florida.” (Silberstein Aff., ¶ 9.) Seifert claims in his Complaint that SF&P failed to compensate him for his work on two transactions and also seeks a declaration as to his rights with respect to commissions allegedly earned on to two other transactions.

         Plaintiff filed this action in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County, asserting claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and declaratory relief. On May 21, 2019, Defendant removed the action to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. This Court has jurisdiction over the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).

         II. Discussion

         SF&P, a Florida corporation, maintains that it lacks sufficient contacts with the state of New Jersey to support personal jurisdiction and thus moves to dismiss this action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). The Third Circuit has held that, on a Rule 12(b)(2) motion, “the plaintiff must prove by affidavits or other competent evidence that jurisdiction is proper.” Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc., 566 F.3d 324, 330 (3d Cir. 2009).

         This Court, sitting in diversity, “may assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant to the extent allowed under the law of the forum state.” Id. New Jersey's long-arm statute, N.J. Ct. R. 4:4-4, authorizes personal jurisdiction “as far as is permitted by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Decker v. Circus Hotel, 49 F.Supp.2d 743, 746 (D.N.J. 1999); see also Avdel Corp. v. Mecure, 58 N.J. 264, 268 (1971) (holding that New Jersey's long-arm rule “permits service on nonresident defendants subject only to ‘due process of law'”). The Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause “limits the power of a state court to render a valid personal judgment against a nonresident defendant.” World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 291 (1980). It is well-established that a determination of whether due process permits a court to assert its power over a nonresident defendant must focus on “the defendant's relationship to the forum State.” Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 582 U.S.___, 137 S.Ct. 1773, 1779 (2017).

         In that regard, Supreme Court jurisprudence has recognized two types of personal jurisdiction, general (“all purpose”) jurisdiction and specific (“case-linked”) jurisdiction, which are distinct based on the nature and extent of the defendant's contacts with the forum. Id.; Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations., S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011). General jurisdiction applies when the defendant's “affiliations with the State are so ‘continuous and systematic as to render them essentially at home in the forum state.” Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 919 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 317 (1945)). Where general jurisdiction exists, the defendant's contacts with the state need not be related to the litigation, and, indeed, the forum court “may hear any claim against that defendant, even if all the incidents underlying the claim occurred in a different state.” Bristol-Myers Squibb, 137 S.Ct. at 1780 (citing Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 919). Specific jurisdiction, in contrast, exists where the litigation arises out of or relates to the defendant's contacts with the forum. Id. This means that “there must be ‘an affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State and is therefore subject to the State's regulation.'” Id. (quoting Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 919) (alteration in original). Where a court has specific jurisdiction, its authority is limited to adjudicating issues related to the very controversy on which that jurisdiction is based. Id.; see also Chavez v. Dole Food Co., Inc., 836 F.3d 205, 223 (3d Cir. 2016) (holding that courts may exercise specific jurisdiction over foreign defendants “when the cause of action arises from the defendant's forum related activities”).

         In its motion to dismiss, SF&P argues that there are no grounds for this Court to exercise either general or specific personal jurisdiction over SF&P. Seifert, Defendant notes in its moving brief, makes the conclusory assertion in his Complaint that SF&P has “sufficient minimum contacts with the State of New Jersey” to establish personal jurisdiction. (Compl., ¶ 5.) Defendant states that, although the Complaint sets forth no supporting facts, Plaintiff appears to invoke principles of specific jurisdiction and base its existence solely on Plaintiff's unilateral decision to live in New Jersey and work for SF&P remotely from his home for his own convenience. This kind of unilateral activity by Seifert does not establish, Defendant argues, that SF&P “purposefully directed [its] activities at residents of the forum, ” which is essential for specific jurisdiction to exist over a nonresident party. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985).

         In response, Plaintiff does not dispute the lack of specific jurisdiction over SF&P. Instead, he argues that general jurisdiction over SF&P exists based on its continuous and systematic contacts with New Jersey. Plaintiff concedes that “Defendant did not maintain its own business office in New Jersey, have employees in New Jersey, maintain a New Jersey phone number, maintain a bank account, own assets in New Jersey or advertise in New Jersey.” (Op. Br. at 5.) Nevertheless, he contends that SF&P has subjected itself to personal jurisdiction in New Jersey based on the following affiliations with the State: SF&P's president, Fred Silberstein, supervised Seifert's work (performed in New Jersey) and directed him to visit clients and potential clients in New Jersey for the benefit of SF&P; Silberstein and others on SF&P's staff communicated with Seifert on a near-daily basis by telephone, text and e-mail; Silberstein came to Seifert's New Jersey office on March 22, 2017 to discuss business matters; and Silberstein and Seifert made joint client visits in New Jersey on two occasions. Seifert adds that SF&P directed his compensation to New Jersey, sending checks to Seifert's home office or wiring money to the bank accounts he maintained in New Jersey.

         Plaintiff's effort to establish general jurisdiction falls far short of the standard set by the Supreme Court. The Court has “made clear that held that only a limited set of affiliations with a forum will render a defendant amenable to all-purpose jurisdiction there.” Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 137 (2014). For an individual litigant, the “paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction” is his or her domicile; for a corporation, the paradigm bases for general jurisdiction are the place of incorporation and the principal place of business. Id. (citing Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 924). This is not to say, the Supreme Court has explained, that general jurisdiction is necessarily limited to those for a, but the “continuous and systematic” affiliations required for general jurisdiction to attach in another place must rise to a level that would permit the forum to be regarded as the foreign litigant's practical home. Id. at 137-38. In Daimler, the Court expressly rejected as “unacceptably grasping” an application of the general jurisdiction analysis which would find that general jurisdiction attaches “in every State in which a corporation engages in a substantial, continuous, and systematic course of business.” Id. at 138 (internal quotations omitted). The governing inquiry, the Supreme Court has held, is “not ...


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