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 Defendant's Second Motion
to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 18.) 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 ("PLL") in the Charleston County Court of
Common Pleas on August 14, 2018. (Dkt. No. 1-1.) Plaintiff
alleges that the Defendants sold a life insurance policy (the
"Policy") to Simon Gould, Plaintiffs 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 coverage in the amount of 1.2 million
pounds. (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 a trustee and her children were beneficiaries.
(Id. at ¶¶ 19 - 20.)
October 10, 2018, Defendants removed the case to this Court.
(Dkt. No. 1.) Shortly after, the Defendants moved to dismiss
for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that they are both
corporations based in the United Kingdom and have never
transacted business or marketed services in South Carolina.
(Dkt. No. 4 at 3 - 4.) In response, Plaintiff requested that
the Court stay ruling on the motion to dismiss and order
limited jurisdictional discovery. (Dkt. No. 6 at 6.) The
Court granted the requested jurisdictional discovery. (Dkt.
No. 14). As jurisdictional discovery is complete, Defendants
now renew their Motion to Dismiss, arguing that the Court
lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendants due to
insufficient contacts with South Carolina and because the
parties are bound by a forum selection clause requiring any
disputes to be litigated in England. (Dkt. No. 18.) Plaintiff
opposes the motion. (Dkt. No. 19).
burden is on the plaintiff to establish personal
jurisdiction. Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676
(4th Cir. 1989). After jurisdictional discovery, a Plaintiff
must prove personal jurisdiction by a preponderance of the
evidence. See Gourdine v. Karl Storz Endoscopy-Am.,
Inc., 223 F.Supp.3d 475, 482 (D.S.C. 2016). See also
Brown v. Geha-Werke GmbH, 69 F.Supp.2d 770, 774 (D.S.C.
1999) ("Although this court decided the issue of
personal jurisdiction without an evidentiary hearing...the
parties have engaged in jurisdictional discovery and offered
evidence beyond the pleadings and affidavits... [therefore]
Plaintiff must establish personal jurisdiction by a
preponderance of the evidence.").
its burden to show personal jurisdiction, 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. See, 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.'"
Ml Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)
(citations omitted). This can be met by showing either
general or specific personal jurisdiction. ALS Scan, Inc.
v. Digital Serv. Consultants, Inc., 293 F.3d 707, 711-12
(4th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). To assert general
jurisdiction, a defendant's contacts must be "so
'continuous and systematic' as to render them
essentially at home in the forum State." Daimler AG
v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 127, 134 S.Ct. 746, 754 (2014)
(citations omitted). For a corporation, that traditionally
renders them subject to general jurisdiction in its state of
incorporation or principal place of business. Id. at
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) (citations omitted). In other
words, the defendant must have "minimum contacts"
with the forum, the cause of action must arise from those
contacts, and the exercise of personal jurisdiction must be
reasonable. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S.
462, 472 - 476 (1985). Courts evaluate the reasonableness of
personal jurisdiction by considering "(a) the burden on
the defendant, (b) the interests of the forum state, (c) the
plaintiffs interest in obtaining relief, (d) the efficient
resolution of controversies as between states, and (e) the
shared interests of the several states in furthering
substantive social policies." Lesnick v.
Hollingsworth & Vose Co., 35 F.3d 939, 946 (4th Cir.
1994). "Minimum contacts" and
"reasonableness" are not independent requirements;
rather, they are both aspects 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.
cannot show that personal jurisdiction exists
here. It is undisputed that Defendants are not
based in the United States, are not registered or licensed to
conduct business in the United States, have no officers or
employees in South Carolina, and have never marketed their
services in the United States. (Dkt. No. 1-4 at ¶¶
8, 10, 26 - 40.) Defendant SPI was a Scottish Corporation
with its principal place of business in Edinburgh, Scotland.
(Id. at ¶ 37.) In 2009, Defendant Phoenix
acquired the Life and Pension policies of Defendant Scottish
(including the Policy at issue here). (Id. at ¶
9.) Defendant Phoenix is an English corporation with its
principal place of business in Birmingham, England.
(Id. at ¶ 2.) Instead of pointing to any
business activities in South Carolina, Plaintiff argues the
Court has jurisdiction based on the actions that occurred
after the issuance of the Policy.
life insurance Policy here was issued in January 1999 to
Simon Gould when he was living in Monaco but domiciled in the
United Kingdom. (Dkt. No. 1-5.) Nowhere did the Policy
reference the United States or South Carolina. Instead, Mr.
Gould's residence is listed as Monaco, he lists his
doctor as living in Beausoleil, France, and identifies an
individual from Manchester, England, as his representative.
(Dkt. No. 1-5 at 4 - 8, 11.) In August 2004, Plaintiff and
Mr. Gould purchased a home on Sullivan's Island in South
Carolina. (Dkt. No. 1-6.) No. evidence has been submitted
indicating that Defendants were notified at that time that
Plaintiff and Mr. Gould had purchased a home in South
Carolina. Plaintiff was not a party to the Policy.
2006, Plaintiff and Mr. Gould were divorced in South
Carolina. The Family Court in Charleston County allegedly
required Mr. Gould to continue paying the life insurance
premiums and designate Plaintiff as a beneficiary of 50% of
the death benefit as a trustee for their children. (Dkt. No.
19 at 3.) In order to comply with this Family Court order,
Mr. Gould requested and received from Defendant SPI a
company-branded form for creating a flexible gift trust
("FGT"). (Dkt. No. 19 at 4.) Using the FGT
document, Mr. Gould set up a trust with himself as the
settlor, listed as living in Monaco, and Plaintiff (for their
children) as a trustee, listed as living in South Carolina.
(Dkt. No. 19-2 at 1 - 8.) Two of their children, identified
on the form as living in South ...