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Rice v. M-E-C Co.

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

October 25, 2017

Stephen Rice, Plaintiff,
v.
M-E-C Company, John Quick, Jr., Lynn Ann Lichtenfeld, Pamela Walden, Michael Hudson, Jacob R. Johnston, Reuben Andreas, Reuben Roff Andreas Trust, John Andreas, Amanda Fisk, Joan K. Parker, Stephen D. Parker, and W. Kent Shields, Defendants.

          ORDER

          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Pamela Walden (ECF No. 4), Michael Hudson and W. Kent Shields (ECF No. 15), Stephen D. Parker (ECF No. 40), Lynn Ann Lichtenfeld (ECF. No. 44), Jacob R. Johnston (ECF No. 54), and John Andreas and Amanda Fisk[1] (ECF. No 71). For the reasons set forth herein, the motions of Defendants Walden, Hudson, Shields, Parker, and Johnston are granted; the motions of Defendants Lichtenfeld, Andreas, and Fisk are denied.

         BACKGROUND

         This action arises out of a dispute over wages and benefits allegedly owed to Plaintiff Stephen Rice. Plaintiff began working for Defendant M-E-C Company, headquartered in Kansas, in September 2012. Plaintiff alleges that he was tasked with finding a location for a new M-E-C office and decided on Charleston, South Carolina. Plaintiff relocated to South Carolina and M-E-C's South Carolina office opened in 2014. Beginning in the fourth quarter of 2015, Plaintiff alleges he was not paid commissions owed under his employment contract. On May 9, 2016, Defendants Amanda Fisk and Lynn Lichtenfeld met with Plaintiff in the South Carolina office. The following day, Plaintiff alleges that his cell phone was disconnected, the locks were changed on the office, and he received an email from Defendant Lichtenfeld stating he was terminated. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant M-E-C failed to contribute to his retirement plan in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, wrongfully terminated him, and converted his intellectual and personal property to their own use following his termination.

         Sometime after his move to Charleston but before his termination, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant M-E-C did not make timely payments on Plaintiff's leased home in Charleston. In this period, Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant John Quick, M-E-C President, agreed that M-E-C would absorb the lost value of Plaintiff's home in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Plaintiff purchased that home when he relocated to work for M-E-C in Kansas, but then put it up for sale after relocating to Charleston. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants knowingly made false statements about him, intentionally inflicted emotional distress, and conspired against him. Plaintiff seeks damages based on these allegations.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Defendants removed this case on May 17, 2017. On May 19, Defendant Pamela Walden moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff responded on June 18, and Walden did not reply.

         On June 7, Defendants Michael Hudson and W. Kent Shields moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Plaintiff responded on June 29, and Hudson and Shields replied on July 6.

         On July 3, Defendant Stephen D. Parker moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff responded on July 9, and Parker replied on July 17.

         On July 7, Defendant Lynn Ann Lichtenfeld moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Plaintiff responded on July 14, and Lichtenfeld did not reply.

         On August 4, Defendant Jacob R. Johnston moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff responded on August 13, and Johnston replied on August 21.

         On September 21, Defendants John Andreas and Amanda Fisk moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff responded on October 5, and Andreas and Fisk did not reply.

         Accordingly, these motions are now ripe for review.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants Walden, Hudson, Shields, Parker, Lichtenfeld, Johnston, Andreas, and Fisk move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The motions of Defendants Walden, Parker, Johnston, Andreas, and Fisk also assert that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Court turns first to the challenges to personal jurisdiction and then to the remaining alleged failures to state a claim.

         I. Personal Jurisdiction

         As a court of limited jurisdiction, Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994), this Court must remain mindful of the fact that “[t]he validity of an order of a federal court depends upon that court's having jurisdiction over both the subject matter and the parties, ” Ins. Corp. of Ir. v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 701 (1982) (citing Stoll v. Gottlieb, 305 U.S. 165, 171-72 (1938); Thompson v. Whitman, 85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 457, 465 (1873)).

         When personal jurisdiction is challenged by the defendant, the plaintiff has the burden of showing that jurisdiction exists. See In re Celotex Corp., 124 F.3d 619, 628 (4th Cir. 1997). When the court decides a pretrial personal jurisdiction dismissal motion without an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff need only prove a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction. Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 675 (4th Cir. 1989). In making this determination, “the court must construe all relevant pleading allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, assume credibility, and draw the most favorable inferences for the existence of jurisdiction.” Combs, 886 F.2d at 676. However, the court need not “credit conclusory allegations or draw farfetched inferences.” Masselli & Lane, PC v. Miller & Schuh, PA, 215 F.3d 1320, (4th Cir. 2000) (unpublished table decision) (per curiam) (quoting Ticketmaster-New York, Inc. v. Alioto, 26 F.3d 201, 203 (1st Cir. 1994)). The plaintiff's showing must be based on “specific facts set forth in the record.” Magic Toyota, Inc. v. Se. Toyota Distribs., Inc., 784 F.Supp. 306, 310 (D.S.C. 1992). Additionally, if “a defendant's sworn affidavit contests the allegations in the complaint, the plaintiff can no longer rest on those allegations.” Callum v. CVS Health Corp., 137 F.Supp.3d 817, 835 (D.S.C. 2015) (citing Wolf v. Richmond Cty. Hosp. Auth., 745 F.2d 904, 908 (4th Cir. 1984)). Instead, the plaintiff must “present an affidavit or other evidence showing jurisdiction exists over the nonresident defendant, ” with any continuing factual conflicts resolved in the plaintiff's favor. Id.; see also Clark v. Remark, 993 F.2d 228 (4th Cir. 1993) (unpublished table decision) (per curiam). “In reviewing the record before it, a court may consider pleadings, affidavits, and other evidentiary materials without converting the motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment.” Magic Toyota, 784 F.Supp. at 310 (quotation omitted).

         “[T]o validly assert personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant, two conditions must be satisfied.” Christian Sci. Bd. of Dirs. of the First Church of Christ, Scientist v. Nolan, 259 F.3d 209, 215 (4th Cir. 2001). First, the exercise of jurisdiction must be authorized by the long-arm statute of the forum state, and second, the exercise of personal jurisdiction must not “overstep the bounds” of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Anita's N.M. Style Mexican Food, Inc. v. Anita's Mexican Foods Corp., 201 F.3d 314, 317 (4th Cir. 2000). South Carolina's long-arm statute has been construed to be coextensive with, and reach the outer limits allowed by, the Due Process Clause. E.g., ESAB Grp. v. Zurich Ins. PLC, 685 F.3d 376, 391 (4th Cir. 2012). Therefore, the dual jurisdictional requirements collapse into the due-process analysis. See Id. Accordingly, the scope of the inquiry is whether a defendant has “certain minimum contacts” with the forum, such that “maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional ...


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