United States District Court, D. South Carolina
William M. Schmalfeldt, Sr., Plaintiff,
Patrick G. Grady; William John Joseph Hoge, III; Eric P. Johnson; and Sarah Palmer, Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Kaymani D. West, United States Magistrate Judge.
M. Schmalfeldt, Sr. ("Plaintiff), proceeding pro se,
brought this civil action pursuant to diversity jurisdiction,
alleging claims against four persons who are residents of
South Carolina for libel, conspiracy, reckless conduct/wanton
and willful misconduct, and abuse of process. This matter is
before the court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for
Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, Motion to Strike the Amended
Complaint, Motion for a More Definite Statement, and Motion
to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim upon which Relief Can
be Granted, all filed on August 3, 2017. All four Motions are
included in the same document and the same Memorandum in
Support addresses all four Motions. ECF Nos. 45, 45-1.
Plaintiff responded to Defendants' Motions on August 9,
2017, ECF Nos. 46, 46-2. The court entered a
Roseboro Order on August 16, 2017, advising Plaintiff
of the importance of such motions and of the need for him to
file an adequate response. ECF No. 50. Defendants did not
file a reply. Defendants' Motions are now ripe for
consideration. This case was referred to the undersigned
United States Magistrate Judge for all pretrial proceedings
pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A)
and (B) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.). Because
Defendants' Motions to Dismiss are dispositive, a Report
and Recommendation is entered for the court's
Factual and Procedural Background
operative Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. 32, and the
docket of this case shows that Plaintiff currently resides in
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The four Defendants reside in
four different states: Defendant Grady resides in Illinois,
Defendant Hoge resides in Maryland, Defendant Johnson resides
in Tennessee, and Defendant Palmer resides in North Carolina.
Id. No Defendant was served with process in South
Carolina, all four Defendants are represented by the same
attorney, and all join in the pending Motions filed by that
attorney. Plaintiff alleges that his pleading is brought
under diversity jurisdiction and asserts several causes of
action: libel, conspiracy, reckless conduct/wanton and
willful misconduct, and abuse of process. Plaintiff alleges
that this court can exercise personal jurisdiction over these
out-of-state residents because they committed a tort in this
state, i.e., the alleged libel that he sues for
under his pleading, and because they "aim their blogs
and online comments toward South Carolina." Id.
at 6. According to Plaintiff, Defendants have remarked online
about his difficulty in finding housing in South Carolina and
their many years of negative comments/statements about him
have created a Google presence that has made it
"understandable that South Carolina landlords would
refuse to rent an apartment to the Plaintiff."
Id. at 7. Plaintiff does not explicitly say that he
was denied housing directly because of Defendants' online
activities, but he does state that "[v]arious
applications made by Plaintiff to various apartment complexes
have been rejected or outright ignored due to a
well-discussed tendency among property renters to do a
'Google Check' on the name of the prospective
claims are based on facts showing that Plaintiff and all
Defendants have had longstanding and ongoing negative
interactions with each other, since at least 2015 and before
Plaintiff moved to South Carolina, on internet blogs and in
the comments on such blogs. According to Plaintiff, these
negative interactions have followed him through residential
moves from Maryland in 2015 to Wisconsin to Iowa in early
2017 and now to South Carolina. Id. at 3. According
to Plaintiff, Defendants use words such as
"deranged" and "cyberstalker" to falsely
describe Plaintiff and have falsely labeled him a child
abuser and child pornographer. Id. at 8. According
to Plaintiff, some of Defendants' comments have incited
"their more unstable readers to take action"
against him such as calls for physical harm and death and has
caused him to move from Maryland, to Wisconsin, to Iowa, and
now to South Carolina. Id. at 11-12. Finally,
Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Palmer abused process in
North Carolina when she obtained a restraining order against
Plaintiff. Id. at 12-13. Plaintiff seeks nominal,
general, and punitive damages and injunctive relief, plus
suit costs and expenses. Id. at 14.
Motions to Dismiss
their Motions to Dismiss, Defendants assert that this court
cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over them because to do
so would not comport with due process. Defendants contend
that Plaintiff cannot show that any of them have "a
substantial connection with South Carolina, " ECF No. 45
at 1, or that any of them purposefully targeted this state
through any of their activities. ECF No. 45-1 at 6.
Defendants also contend that the Second Amended Complaint
fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted because
Plaintiff fails to allege libel that occurred while he was in
South Carolina, fails to allege damages under Counts II and
III, and fails to allege improper use of process under Count
IV. Id. at 5.
responds that this court should exercise specific personal
jurisdiction over Defendants because they committed a tort
(libel) in whole or in part in the State of South Carolina.
ECF No. 46-2 at 5; see S.C. Code Ann. § 36 2
803(A)(3). He argues that Defendants made defamatory
statements about him on several internet blogs and aimed
their comments at landlords in South Carolina in an effort to
"make it difficult" for him to find housing in this
State. ECF No. 46-2 at 5. In his Response to Defendants'
Motion, Plaintiff quotes from several June and July 2017
internet posts from Defendants relating to his housing
situation and refers to part of his Second Amended Complaint
where he appears to be "suing on behalf of South
Carolina landlords." ECF No. 46 at 4-6. He asserts that
these postings show that Defendants intended to harm him in
South Carolina and, thus, they purposely availed themselves
of the privilege of conducting activities in South Carolina,
providing sufficient minimum contacts with the State to
satisfy due process. Id. at 6. With regard to
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a
Claim on Which Relief can be Granted, Plaintiff responds that
this court's initial review of his pleading settled that
issue in his favor and argues that his Second Amended
Complaint clearly sets out damages and alleges that Defendant
Palmer used process in North Carolina with an improper
motive. Id. at 7; ECF No. 46- 2 at 8-11.
Standard of Review
survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief
that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In construing a
motion to dismiss, the facts, though not the legal
conclusions, alleged in a plaintiffs pro se complaint must be
taken as true. Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1292
(4th Cir. 1978); Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662. A pro se
complaint should survive a motion to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim only when a plaintiff
has set forth "enough facts to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550
U.S. at 570. "Factual allegations must be enough to
raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and
beyond the level that is merely conceivable. Id. at
555. A pro se complaint should be liberally construed.
Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir.
1978). However, a court is not required "to accept as
true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation,
" Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986),
or a legal conclusion unsupported by factual allegations.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Dismissal is appropriate
when a complaint contains a description of underlying facts
that fails to state a viable claim. Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Twombly, 550
U.S. at 558.
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 plaintiffs 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). 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 plaintiffs credibility." Sonoco Prods.
Co. v. ACE INA Ins., 877 F.Supp.2d 398, 404-05 (D.S.C.
2012) (internal quotation and alteration marks omitted);
see also Carefirst of Md., 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 considering the issue of personal jurisdiction
"need not credit conclusory allegations or draw
farfetched inferences." Sonoco, 877 F.Supp.2d
at 205 (internal quotation marks omitted).
his burden, Plaintiff must show (1) that South Carolina's
long-arm statute authorizes jurisdiction, and (2) that the
exercise of personal jurisdiction complies with the
constitutional due-process requirements. E.g., Christian
Sci. Bd. of Dirs. 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 S. Plastics Co.
v. S. 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, i. e., whether the defendant
has "minimum contacts" with the forum state.
See, e.g., ESAB Group, Inc. v. Centricut, LLC, 34
F.Supp.2d 323, 328 (D.S.C. 1999); Sonoco Prods. Co. v.
Inteplast Corp.,867 F.Supp. 352, 352 (D.S.C. 1994). The
dual jurisdictional requirements merge into a single inquiry
as to whether a defendant has 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 7 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." 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)). 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.'" Carefirst of
Md., 334 F.3d at 397 (citing ALS Scan, 293 F.3d
at 711-12; Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, 466
U.S. at 414 & n.8). In other words, the defendant must
have "minimum contacts" with the forum, see
Burger King v. Rudzewicz,471 U.S. 462, 471-76 (1985),
the cause of action must arise from those contacts, and the
exercise of personal jurisdiction must be reasonable.
"Minimum contacts" and "reasonableness"
are not independent requirements; rather, they are aspects of
the requirement of due process, and thus "considerations
sometimes serve to establish the reasonableness of
jurisdiction upon a lesser showing of minimum contacts than
would otherwise be required." Burger King, 471
U.S. at 477. District Courts are not required to engage in
speculative inferences from conclusory facts proposed to
support personal jurisdiction. See, e.g., Haley Paint Co.
v. E. I. Dupont De Nemours & Co.,775 F.Supp.2d 790,
799 (D. Md. 2011) (applying general pleading rules to
jurisdictional facts; conclusory assertions of conspiracy and
alter ego ...