United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
Amy Joyce Gunn Hoyt, formerly known as Amy Joyce Gunn Gould, individually, and as guardian ad litem and trustee for Simms Augustus Hoyt, formerly known as Simon Augustus Gould, a minor fifteen 15 years of age, and Raphael Augustus Hoyt, formerly known as Raphael Charles Augustus Gould, a minor under the age of fourteen 14 years, Plaintiffs,
Phoenix Life Limited and Scottish Provident Institution, Defendants.
ORDER AND OPINION
Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge
matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs motion to stay
ruling on Defendants' motion to dismiss and for
jurisdictional discovery. (Dkt. No. 6.) For the reasons set
forth below, the Court grants the motion.
Amy Joyce Gunn Hoyt, individually and on behalf of two of her
minor children, brought this case against Defendants Scottish
Provident Institution ("SPI") and Phoenix Life
Limited ("PLI") in the Charleston County Court of
Common Pleas on August 14, 2018. (Dkt. No. 1-1.) Defendant
SPI is a life insurance company headquartered in Glasgow,
Scotland, and Defendant PLI is a life insurance company based
in Birmingham, England. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that
the Defendants sold a life insurance policy (the
"Policy") to her ex-husband in 1999,  and brings claims
for breach of contract, estoppel and bad faith based on the
Defendants' alleged failure to pay benefits after her
ex-husband's death. (Id. at ¶¶ 66 -
142.) Plaintiffs ex-husband was a citizen of the United
Kingdom, and the Policy provided 1.2 million pounds sterling
of coverage. (Id. at ¶ 7, Dkt. No. 6 at 6.)
Plaintiff and her ex-husband moved to South Carolina in 2004.
(Dkt. No. 1-1 at ¶ 10.) Plaintiff alleges that she had a
vested ownership interest in the Policy no later than 2006,
as part of a settlement agreement and a divorce decree from
South Carolina family court. The Policy was also allegedly a
part of a flexible gift trust, of which Plaintiff was an
additional trustee, and her children were beneficiaries.
(Id. at ¶¶ 19 - 20.)
October 10, 2018, Defendants removed the case to this Court.
(Dkt. No. 1.) On October 16, 2018, the Defendants moved to
dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. (Dkt. No. 4.) The
Defendants allege that they are both corporations based in
the United Kingdom and have never transacted any business or
marketed any services in South Carolina. (Dkt. No. 4 at 3 -
4.) The Defendants further allege that they never had a
contractual relationship with Plaintiff, only her ex-husband,
and that Plaintiff initiated the only contacts the Defendants
had with her in South Carolina. (Id. at 4 - 5.) To
support their motion, Defendants relied in part upon a
declaration from the Customer Director of Defendant PLI,
Plaintiffs ex-husband's application for coverage, and a
Policy explanation dated March 1998. (Dkt. Nos. 1-4; 1-5;
1-7.) All were submitted with Defendants' notice of
removal. (Id.) Defendants further allege that a
forum selection clause identifies the United Kingdom as the
proper forum for this action. (Dkt. No. 4 at 4.)
October 19, 2018, Plaintiff requested that the Court stay
ruling on the motion to dismiss and instead order limited
jurisdictional discovery, specifically seeking the entire
file of the Policy and also authorization to take a 30(b)(6)
deposition. (Dkt. No. 6 at 6.) Plaintiff alleges there are
documents showing communications with South Carolina spanning
many years and that establish Plaintiffs ownership interest.
(Id. at 3.) Plaintiffs Complaint further alleges
that the Defendants intentionally entered into a contract to
be performed in South Carolina and agreed to provide coverage
to Plaintiff in South Carolina. (Dkt. No. 1-1 at ¶¶
2 - 3.) Defendants oppose the motion. (Dkt. No. 11.)
personal jurisdiction is challenged, the burden is on the
plaintiff to establish jurisdiction. Combs v.
Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). 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). To meet their burden, a plaintiff must
show (1) that South Carolina's long-arm statute
authorizes jurisdiction, and (2) that the exercise of
personal jurisdiction complies with 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). Since South Carolina's long-arm
statute extends to the constitutional limits of due process,
the only inquiry is whether due process requirements are met.
ESAB Group, Inc. v. Centricut, LLC, 34 F.Supp.2d
323, 328 (D.S.C. 1999); S. Plastics Co. v. S. Commerce
Bank, 423 S.E.2d 128 (S.C. 1992).
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) (citation omitted). Plaintiff concedes that the Court
does not have general jurisdiction over the Defendants. (Dkt.
No. 6 at 2.) Therefore, 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 Maryland, Inc.
v. Carefirst Pregnancy Centers, Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 397
(4th Cir. 2003).
may compel discovery to aid in its resolution of personal
jurisdiction issues. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Akzo, N.V.,
2 F.3d 56, 64 (4th Cir. 1993) ("limited discovery
may be warranted to explore jurisdictional facts in some
cases."). See also Poole v. Transcon. Fund Admin.
Ltd., No. CV 6.T2-2943-MGL, 2013 WL 12243970, at *5
(D.S.C. Aug. 7, 2013). "When the Plaintiffs claim does
not appear frivolous, a district court should ordinarily
allow discovery on jurisdiction in order to aid the Plaintiff
in discharging the burden of establishing the court's
jurisdiction." Central Wesleyan College v. W.R.
Grace & Co., 143 F.R.D. 628, 644 (D.S.C. 1992).
However, "[w]hen a plaintiff offers only speculation or
conclusory assertions about contacts with a forum state, a
court is within its discretion in denying jurisdictional
discovery." Carefirst of Md, Inc., 334 F.3d
390, 402 (4th Cir. 2003).
discovery is clearly appropriate here. Jurisdiction will turn
on whether Plaintiff can prove that the Defendants had the
requisite minimum contacts to subject them to the Court's
specific personal jurisdiction. The conclusion will depend on
any communications and contractual dealings the Defendants
had with Plaintiff in South Carolina, such as Plaintiffs
allegation that the Defendants intentionally entered into a
contract to be performed in South Carolina and agreed to
provide coverage to Plaintiff in South Carolina. (Dkt. No.
1-1 at ¶¶ 2 - 3.)
on the type and extent of these contacts and contracts, they
may be sufficient to confer jurisdiction. See McGee v.
Int'l Life Ins. Co., 355 U.S. 220, 78 S.Ct. 199
(1957) Gurisdiction appropriate based on an insurance
contract which had a "substantial connection" with
California where premiums were mailed from there and insured
was a resident of the state). But see Le Bleu Corp. v.
Standard Capital Grp., Inc., 11 Fed.Appx. 377, 380 (4th
Cir. 2001) (no jurisdiction where parties exchanged mail and
phone calls, defendant's employees visited North Carolina
twice, payment was mailed from North Carolina, and contract
was signed in North Carolina). Plaintiff alleges that she
does not have access to the insurance plan documents,
communications or contracts necessary to prove the
allegations that may give rise to jurisdiction, and claims
that these documents do exist as shown by Defendants'
reliance on some of them in their motion to dismiss.
Therefore it is appropriate for the Court to order
jurisdictional discovery. This limited discovery is
particularly appropriate here as the Defendants cite to parts
of the allegedly relevant documents in their motion to
dismiss, and without discovery the Court would be left to
rely on the representations of only one party regarding which
documents are relevant to jurisdiction.
additionally argue that jurisdictional discovery is
inappropriate because, even if the Plaintiff could prove the
requisite minimum contacts, the Policy contains a forum
selection clause identifying "England and Wales,
Scotland or Northern Ireland" as the proper jurisdiction
for any claims under the Policy. (Dkt. No. 1-7 at ¶
12.14.) However, the forum selection clause additionally
states that the proper forum is dependent on a "policy
schedule" that may affect applicable law. While
Defendants included a policy schedule from January 21, 1999,
the Policy acknowledges that there may be later issued policy
schedules, which conceivably could affect the enforceability
of the forum selection clause. (Dkt.Nos. 1-7 at ¶