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In re E.E. ex rel. Epsey

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson Division

July 29, 2016

In re: E.E., by and through his Next Friend Molly Epsey, Plaintiff,
v.
Eagle's Nest Foundation d/b/a Eagle's Nest Camp and Outdoor Academy, Defendant.

          In re E.E., Plaintiff, represented by Candy Kern-Fuller, Upstate Law Group.

          Eagle's Nest Foundation, Defendant, represented by Stephen Clay Keim, Ford and Harrison & Kristin Starnes Gray, Ford and Harrison.

          Outdoor Academy, Defendant, represented by Stephen Clay Keim, Ford and Harrison.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          BRUCE HOWE HENDRICKS, District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to transfer venue. (ECF No. 17.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED. However, rather than dismissing this action, the Court transfers the case to the Western District of North Carolina, Asheville Division.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff E.E. ("Plaintiff") is a minor child and brings this action through his mother and next friend, Molly Espey ("Ms. Espey"). Plaintiff is a citizen and resident of Pickens County, South Carolina. (ECF No. 10 at 1.) Defendant Eagle's Nest Foundation d/b/a Nest Camp and Outdoor Academy ("Defendant") is a North Carolina non-profit educational organization. ( Id. ) Its experiential educational programs include Eagle's Nest Camp (a residential co-ed summer camp, "Camp"), The Outdoor Academy (an academic residential semester school) and Hante Adventures (educational adventure programs for teens). ( Id.; ECF No. 20 at 2.) The Eagle's Nest Camp and The Outdoor Academy take place in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina. (ECF No. 20 at 2.) The Hante Adventures program varies in location. ( Id. ) It has taken place once in South Carolina-a two week excursion in the summer of 2009. ( Id. )

         Plaintiff attended a semester at The Outdoor Academy in Spring 2015. (ECF No. 10 at 5.) During this time, Defendant extended Plaintiff an offer to be a Junior Counselor for the 2015 Summer Program at Eagle's Nest Camp. ( Id. at 3-5.) However, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant rescinded the offer after learning of texts Plaintiff sent concerning his depressive feelings. ( Id. at 3.) Citing concerns for Plaintiff's mental health, Defendant prohibited Plaintiff from attending the Eagle's Nest Camp, communicating with anyone in the Camp, or stepping foot on Defendant's property without prior written approval. ( Id. at 4.) Plaintiff alleges that after the texting incident, Defendant required Plaintiff to sign an invasive care plan in order to return to the Outdoor Academy. ( Id. at 5.) According to Plaintiff, both his ban from the Camp and the care plan were discriminatory and caused him to suffer emotional distress. ( Id. at 5-6.) Plaintiff seeks remedies under the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1201, et. seq. ( Id. at 6.)

         On September 9, 2015, Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(3). (ECF No. 17.) Specifically, Defendant asserts that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction in this case and that the venue is also improper. ( Id. at 1.) In the alternative, Defendant asks that the Court transfer venue in this case to the Western District of North Carolina, Asheville Division. ( Id. at 1-2.) Plaintiff filed a response on September 28, 2015 (ECF No. 19), to which Defendant replied on October 8, 2015 (ECF No. 20). The Court has reviewed the briefing and the applicable law, and now issues the following ruling.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When a court's personal jurisdiction is challenged, the burden is on the plaintiff to establish that a ground for jurisdiction exists. Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). When the court resolves the motion on written submissions (as opposed to an evidentiary hearing), the plaintiff need only make a "prima facie showing of a sufficient jurisdictional basis." Id. However, the plaintiff's showing must be based on specific facts set forth in the record. Magic Toyota, Inc. v. Southeast Toyota Distributors, Inc., 784 F.Supp. 306, 310 (D.S.C. 1992). The court may consider the parties' pleadings, affidavits, and other supporting documents but must construe them "in the light most favorable to plaintiff, drawing all inferences and resolving all factual disputes in his favor, and assuming plaintiff's credibility." Sonoco Prods. Co. v. ACE INA Ins., 877 F.Supp.2d 398, 404-05 (D.S.C. 2012) (internal quotations omitted); see also Carefirst of Maryland, Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003) ("In deciding whether the plaintiff has made the requisite showing, the court must take all disputed facts and reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff."). However, a court "need not credit conclusory allegations or draw farfetched inferences." Sonoco, 877 F.Supp.2d at 205 (internal quotations omitted).

         To meet his burden, Plaintiff must show (1) that the exercise of jurisdiction is authorized by the long-arm statute of the state and (2) that the exercise of personal jurisdiction complies with the constitutional due process requirements. E.g., Christian Science Bd. Of Directors of First Church of Christ, Scientist v. Nolan, 259 F.3d 209, 215 (4th Cir. 2001). South Carolina has interpreted its long-arm statute to extend to the constitutional limits of due process. See Southern Plastics Co. v. Southern Commerce Bank, 423 S.E.2d 128, 130-31 (S.C. 1992). Thus, the first step is collapsed into the second, and the only inquiry before the Court is whether the due process requirements are met. ESAB Group, Inc. v. Centricut, LLC, 34 F.Supp.2d 323, 328 (D.S.C. 1999).

         Due process requires that a defendant have sufficient "minimum contacts with [the forum] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1940)). This standard can be met in two ways: "by finding specific jurisdiction based on conduct connected to the suit or by finding general jurisdiction." E.g., ALS Scan, Inc. v. Digital Serv. Consultants, Inc., 293 F.3d 707, 711-12 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 (1984)).

         A court can assert general jurisdiction over business entities only when the "continuous corporate operation within a state is thought so substantial and of such a nature as to justify suit against it on causes of action arising from dealings entirely distinct from those activities." Nichols v. G.D. Searle & Co., 991 F.2d 1195, 1199 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 131 S.Ct. 2846, 2853-54 (2011) (holding that the "paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction" of a corporation is "one in which the corporation is fairly regarded as at home"). Thus, general jurisdiction requires a showing that "the defendant's activities in the state" were "continuous and systematic." Carefirst, 334 F.3d at 397 (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         To determine whether specific jurisdiction exists, the Court considers "(1) the extent to which the defendant has purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the state; (2) whether the plaintiffs' claims arise out of those activities directed at the state; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be constitutionally reasonable.'" Id. (citing ALS Scan, Inc. v. Digital Serv. Consultants, Inc.,293 F.3d 707, 711-12 (4th Cir. 2002), cert. denied,537 U.S. 1105 (2003)). This three-part test is designed to protect a defendant from having to litigate a ...


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