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Capital Restaurant Group, LLC v. Burger King Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

October 10, 2019

Capital Restaurant Group, LLC, Plaintiff,
Burger King Corporation, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Burger King Corporation's motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 9.) The Plaintiff filed a response (ECF No. 12) and the Defendant timely replied. (ECF No. 13.) Upon review of the record, the parties' briefs, and the relevant legal authority, the Court grants the Defendant's motion. (ECF No. 9.)

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Capital Restaurant Group is a franchisee of Defendant Burger King. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 1.) The Plaintiff wishes to sue Burger King for a number of state claims in Florida state court. (Id.) The parties' franchise agreement, however, contains a forum selection clause in which the parties agreed to litigate their claims in the Southern District of Florida. The relevant language is as follows:

Franchisee and [Burger King Corporation] acknowledge and agree that the U.S. District Court of the Southern of Florida, or if such court lacks jurisdiction, the 11th Judicial Circuit (or its successor) in and for Miami-Dade County, Florida, shall be the venue and exclusive proper forum in which to adjudicate any case or controversy arising either, directly or indirectly, under or in connection with this Franchise Agreement[.]

(Id. at ¶ 16.) The Plaintiff asserts that the forum selection clause expands the federal court's jurisdiction by circumventing the resident defendant rule found in 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2). (Id. at ¶ 27.) The Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment regarding the validity of the forum selection clause.

         This Plaintiff is not the first franchisee to make this argument. On November 17, 2016, franchisees of the Defendant's affiliated brand, Tim Hortons, filed a complaint against Tim Hortons in state court. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 29 (citing Picktown Foods, LLC, et al. v. Tim Hortons, USA, Inc, Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County No. 16-29754 CA 40)). Tim Hortons moved to dismiss the Picktown action based on the forum selection clause. The Picktown plaintiffs opposed dismissal arguing that the forum selection clause was against public policy and expanded federal court jurisdiction. (Id. at ¶ 31.) The state court granted the motion to dismiss but left open the question of the scope of federal court jurisdiction. The Picktown plaintiffs then filed a declaratory judgment action in the Southern District of Florida asking the court to decide the issue. Judge Altonaga did not reach the question of enforceability of the forum selection clause, holding that such review was barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Picktown Foods, LLC, et al. v. Tim Hortons, USA, Inc., No. 17-21072, ECF No. 28 (S.D. Fla. June 22, 2017) (Altonaga, J.).

         The Plaintiffs argue that neither the state court or the federal court in Picktown decided the issue and it is now ripe for review.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires “a short and plain statement of the claims” that “will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the ground upon which it rests.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). The Supreme Court has held that “[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quotations and citations omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Thus, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 1950. When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all of the plaintiff's allegations as true in determining whether a plaintiff has stated a claim for which relief could be granted. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984). For purposes of Rule 12(b)(6), a court generally may not look beyond the pleadings, which includes any information attached to a complaint. U.S. ex. Rel. Osheroff v. Humana, Inc., 776 F.3d 805, 811 (11th Cir. 2015) (internal citations omitted).

         III. Analysis

         The Plaintiff's complaint seeks a declaration from this Court that the forum selection clause in the parties' agreement is invalid because it circumvents the forum defendant rule. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 25.) The Defendant's motion to dismiss argues that just because the resident defendant rule would prevent the Defendant from removing this case to federal court if it were brought in state court, that does not mean that the forum selection clause is invalid. (ECF No. 9 at 8-9.) However, neither party addresses whether this Court, or any other court, has analyzed a forum selection clause that circumvents the resident defendant rule.

         The forum defendant rule limits the right of defendants in state court to remove diversity cases if the defendant is from the forum state. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2). In other words, if the plaintiff chooses to bring his claims in state court against a resident defendant, the defendant cannot remove the case to federal court, even if the case could have been originally brought in federal court under diversity jurisdiction. See Bentley v. Miami Air Int'l, Inc., 377 F.Supp.3d 1337, 1345 (S.D. Fla. 2019) (Altonaga, J.). Here, the Plaintiff would like to bring its state claims in state court but, pursuant to the forum selection clause, must bring its claims in the Southern District of Florida if the court has subject matter jurisdiction. The ...

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