United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
ORDER AND OPINION
Richard M. Gergel United States District Court Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Partial Motion
to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 24). For the reasons set forth below,
the Court denies the motion.
David Oppenheimer filed this action on October 2, 2018,
against Defendants The Goldklang Group ("TGG") and
South Carolina Baseball Club, LP d/b/a The Charleston
RiverDogs. (Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges generally that the
Defendants infringed on Plaintiffs' copyrights by using
his photographs in promotional materials for the Charleston
RiverDogs without permission. (Id.) On January 17,
2019, Defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss, seeking
to dismiss "The Goldklang Group" as a Defendant,
arguing that it is a fictitious entity that does not exist
and therefore cannot be sued. (Dkt. No. 14.) Plaintiff
subsequently filed an amended complaint, which included
additional allegations regarding TGG, including that TGG is a
consulting and management firm that operates the RiverDogs,
and the initial motion to dismiss was denied as moot. (Dkt.
Nos. 18 at ¶ 5; 22.) Defendants now renew their motion
to dismiss, again arguing that TGG cannot be sued as it is a
nonexistent, fictitious entity. (Dkt. Nos. 24; 32.)
additionally argue that, even if TGG can be sued, the Court
lacks personal jurisdiction overTGG. (Id.) Plaintiff
opposes the motion. (Dkt. No. 31.)
personal jurisdiction is challenged, the burden is on the
plaintiff to establish jurisdiction. Combs v.
Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). When resolved
on written submissions, the plaintiff must make a
"prima facie showing of a sufficient
jurisdictional basis." Id. The plaintiffs
showing must be based on facts set forth in the record, taken
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Magic
Toyota, Inc. v. Se. Toyota Distribs., Inc., 784 F.Supp.
306, 310 (D.S.C. 1992); Sonoco Prods. Co. v. ACE INA
Ins., 877 F.Supp.2d 398, 404-05 (D.S.C. 2012) (internal
quotation and alteration marks omitted). However, a court
"need not credit conclusory allegations or draw
farfetched inferences." Sonoco, 877 F.Supp.2d
at 405 (citations omitted).
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. 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.'"
Int'lShoe 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, a defendant must have "minimum
contacts" with the forum, the claim must arise from
those contacts, and personal jurisdiction must be reasonable.
Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 -
476 (1985). Courts evaluate the reasonableness 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.
argue that TGG does not exist and therefore cannot be sued.
For parties other than an individual or corporation, capacity
to suit is determined by "the law of the state where the
court is located[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P.
17(b)(3). Under South Carolina law, "[a]ll
unincorporated associations may be sued and proceeded against
under the name and style by which they are usually known
without naming the individual members of the
association." S.C. Code Ann. § 15-5-160. As
explained by the Court of Appeals of South Carolina,
"[a]n unincorporated association is a body of individual
persons organized without a charter for the prosecution of
some common enterprise." Graham v. Lloyd's of
London, 296 S.C. 249, 255 (Ct. App. 1988). S.C. Code
Ann. § 15-5-160 permits a plaintiff to "bring the
members of an association before the court without naming and
serving process upon them individually." Id. See
also Fowler v. Beasley, 322 S.C. 463, 466 (1996)
("an unincorporated association may be sued under the
name by which it was generally known without naming the
individual members of the association."). Importantly,
SC Code Ann. § 15-5-160 only provides a procedure for
bringing parties before the Court, and any "liability of
the members of the association...is determined by the
applicable substantive law." Graham, 296 S.C.
at 256. TGG therefore, as an unincorporated association, can
Goldklang Group is capable of being sued, the Court must
determine whether it has personal jurisdiction over TGG.
Defendants submit affidavits and argue that there is no
personal jurisdiction over TGG because TGG only exists as a
"branding strategy" and a "loose
affiliation" of minor league baseball teams with
overlapping ownership. (Dkt. Nos. 24 at 4; 24-1 at ¶ 7.)
They submit that there is no entity named The Goldklang
Group, that TGG is not incorporated, does not have a place of
business, has no ownership interest in the RiverDogs, has no
offices, employees, agents, a registered agent, or
representatives in South Carolina, does not pay any taxes,
and does not own any bank accounts, assets or have any parent
or subsidiary companies. (Dkt. Nos. 24-1.) Defendants also
contend that to the extent anyone involved with TGG provides
leadership or engages in hiring for the Riverdogs it is
through separate entities, such as Defendant South Carolina
Baseball Club, L.P., and not on behalf of TGG. (Dkt. No.
Plaintiff submitted evidence to meet their burden to show
personal jurisdiction over Defendant TGG. Regardless of
whether the Court has general jurisdiction, it is clear that
specific jurisdiction exists here. Plaintiff submitted
multiple screen shots from TGG's website. (Dkt. No.
18-1.) TGG's website states that it is a "sports
entertainment consulting and management firm" that was
formed as an "investment partnership" to acquire
"controlling interests in three Minor League Baseball
franchises," including the Charleston RiverDogs, whose
logo is shown on the page. (Id.) The page goes on to
state that TGG has "participated in the construction
and/or financing of three minor league stadiums,"
listing Charleston as one of their projects. (Id.)
Further, the webpage indicates that it is copyrighted by
"The Goldklang Group." (Id.) The website
additionally states that the RiverDogs play "under their
Goldklang Group ownership" and that TGG continues to
"oversee the club." (Dkt. No. 18-2.) TGG, on their
website and other job search websites, also posts job
openings for the RiverDogs. ...