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Williams v. American International Group, Inc.

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

January 16, 2019

Randy Williams, Plaintiff,
v.
American International Group, Inc. and American Home Assurance Company, Defendants.

          ORDER

          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court for consideration of Plaintiff's objections to the Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West, who recommends granting a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction filed by one of the two defendants in this case.[1]

         Standard of Review

         I. Review of the R & R

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The Magistrate Judge's recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the R & R to which specific objections are made, and it may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b).

         The Court must engage in a de novo review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge's report to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate [Judge]'s proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of specific objections to the R & R, the Court reviews only for clear error, Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005), and the Court need not give any explanation for adopting the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199-200 (4th Cir. 1983).

         II. Personal Jurisdiction; Rule 12(b)(2)

         “[P]ersonal jurisdiction involves [a] court's authority over a particular defendant.” Sky Cable, LLC v. DIRECTV, Inc., 886 F.3d 375, 392 (4th Cir. 2018) (citing Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 126 (2014)). “In general, the federal district courts exercise personal jurisdiction in the manner and to the extent provided by state law. In other words, a district court has personal jurisdiction over a defendant if the state courts where the federal court is located would possess such jurisdiction.” ePlus Tech., Inc. v. Aboud, 313 F.3d 166, 176 (4th Cir. 2002) (internal citation omitted).

         A party may assert the defense of lack of personal jurisdiction by motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). “Under Rule 12(b)(2), a defendant must affirmatively raise a personal jurisdiction challenge, but the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating personal jurisdiction at every stage following such a challenge.” Grayson v. Anderson, 816 F.3d 262, 267 (4th Cir. 2016).

         Discussion[2]

         Plaintiff Randy Williams, proceeding pro se, filed this diversity action in this Court and sues two defendants: American International Group, Inc. (“AIG”) and American Home Assurance Company (“American Home”). Defendant AIG has filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), see ECF No. 71, and the Magistrate Judge recommends granting the motion.[3] See R & R [ECF No. 108]. Plaintiff has filed objections to the R & R asserting, among other things, that the Court should not decide the motion without permitting him “a reasonable opportunity to conduct discovery on the issue of personal jurisdiction.”[4] ECF No. 111 at pp. 7-8.

         “As with many pretrial motions, a court has broad discretion to determine the procedure that it will follow in resolving a Rule 12(b)(2) motion.” Grayson, 816 F.3d at 268. “The plaintiff's burden in establishing jurisdiction varies according to the posture of a case and the evidence that has been presented to the court.” Id. The Fourth Circuit has explained:

If a district court looks only at the initial court filings, “a plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing” that personal jurisdiction exists.[5]Id. at 268. That approach is disfavored, and the “better course is for the district court to follow a procedure that allows it to dispose of the motion as a preliminary matter” applying a preponderance of the evidence standard.Id. An evidentiary hearing is not required before the preponderance standard attaches, but we do require district courts to “afford the parties a fair opportunity to present both the relevant jurisdictional evidence and their legal arguments, ...

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