Court Description: OPINION. Signed by Judge Evelyn Padin on 9/19/2022. (dam)
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DUDHWALA v. CHOICE HOTELS INTERNATIONAL SERVICES CORPORATION et al Doc. 22 Case 2:22-cv-00873-EP-MAH Document 22 Filed 09/19/22 Page 1 of 11 PageID: 138 NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY NEERAV DUDHWALA, Plaintiff, Civil Action No. 22-873 (EP) (MAH) v. OPINION CHOICE HOTELS INTERNATIONAL SERVICES CORPORATION D/B/A CHOICE HOTELS, Defendant. PADIN, District Judge. Plaintiff Neerav Dudhwala, a New Jersey resident, sued Defendant Choice Hotels , a Delaware Company headquartered in Maryland, for employment discrimination. Choice moves to dismiss personal jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff opposes. For the reasons below, this Court in part, declines to exercise personal jurisdiction, and transfers the action to the District of Maryland. I. BACKGROUND Choice1 is a Delaware corporation that maintains its headquarters in Rockville, Maryland. Compl. ¶ 1. On October 12, 2020, Choice Senior Vice President Janis Cannon hired Plaintiff as the Director of Ascend Hotel Collection, a Choice sub-brand. Id. ¶¶ 3, 4. 1 . Compl. ¶ 1. Choice explains that the entity which employed Plaintiff (and therefore the proper defendant) 4. Dockets.Justia.com Case 2:22-cv-00873-EP-MAH Document 22 Filed 09/19/22 Page 2 of 11 PageID: 139 for that position contained a requirement that he move to Rockville, Maryland, by August 31, 2021. Id. ¶ 7. Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff affordable house that could fit his family of four. Id. ¶ 9. H relocate by August 31, 2021, by renting space from his sister. Id. Cannon expressed concern that this would violate the terms of offer letter. Id. On May 7, 2021, Plaintiff relayed his relocation plan to Human Resources Director Beth McMahon. Id. ¶ 10. McMahon, like Cannon, expressed concern that his plan violated the offer family. Id. ¶ 11. On May 13, 2021, Rockville office, Cannon again expres Id. ¶ 12. On May 20, 2021, Cannon and McMahon met virtually with Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 13. McMahon told Plaintiff that his relocation plan did not comply with the offer letter. Id. Plaintiff argued that the letter did not mention his family. Id. In June 2021, Choice introduced a hybrid work model permitting some remote work for employees who were already based in Rockville. Id. ¶ 14. On June 8, 2021, at an in-person meeting in Maryland rk and extended his relocation deadline one month, subject to the requirement that Plaintiff relocate at the same time as his family. Id. ¶ 16. offer and be deemed a voluntary resignation. Id. Plaintiff, again reminding McMahon of the difficult housing market, adhered to his original relocation plan. Id. McMahon responded that Plaintiff should submit his resignation by the next day. Id. 2 Case 2:22-cv-00873-EP-MAH Document 22 Filed 09/19/22 Page 3 of 11 PageID: 140 Plaintiff declined. Id. ¶ 17. At a June 11, 2021 Zoom meeting, McMahon and Cannon mbling a severance package for Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 18. HR Officer Patrick Cimerola. Id. ¶ 20. On June 18, 2021, after a Zoom meeting with Cimerola, Cimerola offered Plaintiff a two-month severance package. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. By the end of June, Id. ¶ 20. Throughout his employment, Plaintiff was never disciplined. Id. ¶¶ 6, 23. Id. health treatment. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. Plaintiff filed the Complaint in New Jersey state court, alleging one count: violation of the , specifically disparate treatment based upon marital status. Id. ¶ 28, et seq. Plaintiff seeks back pay, front pay, punitive damages, and fees and costs. Id. at p. 7. On February 17, 2022, Choice removed the matter to this Court on diversity grounds. DE 1. Choice now moves to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2) and (6) (DE 6), arguing that this Court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction and that the Complaint fails to state a claim. Because the Court agrees with motion as to that argument, deny the remaining arguments without prejudice, and transfer the matter to the District of Maryland. 3 Case 2:22-cv-00873-EP-MAH Document 22 Filed 09/19/22 Page 4 of 11 PageID: 141 II. LEGAL STANDARD Rule 12(b)(2) permits a party to move to dismiss a case for lack of personal jurisdiction. T Mellon Bank PSFS Nat'l Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir. 1992). Generally, a s allegations as true and construe disputed facts in favor of Carteret Sav. Bank, FA v. Shushan, 954 F.2d 141, 142 n.1 (3d Cir. 1992). But when other co Dayhoff Inc. v. H.J. Heinz Co., 86 F.3d 1287, 1302 (3d Cir. 1996). Thus, to withstand a Rule 12(b)(2) motion, a plaintiff may not rely on the pleadings alone, Time Share Vacation Club v. Atl. Resorts, Ltd., 735 F.2d 61, 66 n.9 (3d Cir. 1984). In conducting this support. See, e.g., Shnayderman v. Cell-U-More, Inc., Civ. No. 18-5103, 2018 WL 6069167, at *11 (D.N.J. Nov. 20, 2018) (using information from the plaintiff s complaint and declaration to determine that the defendant did not travel to the forum state or solicit a loan from the plaintiff in the forum state); Pausch LLC v. Ti-Ba Enters., Civ. No. 13-6933, 2014 WL 5092649, at *6-7 (D.N.J. Oct. 8, 2014) (using declarations from both parties to conclude that contacts with the forum were insufficient for personal jurisdiction). comports with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 296 (3d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). The inquiry involves two steps: 4 Case 2:22-cv-00873-EP-MAH Document 22 Filed 09/19/22 Page 5 of 11 PageID: 142 looking to the state requirements, then to the constitutional requirements. IMO Indus., Inc. v. Kiekart AG, 155 F.3d 254, 259 (3d Cir. 1998). In New Jersey, the two steps collapse into law provides that cou -arm jurisdiction -resident defendant to the uttermost Nicastro v. McIntyre Mach. Am., Ltd., 201 N.J. 48, 72 (2010), rev'd on other grounds sub nom., J. McIntyre Mach., Ltd. v. Nicastro, 564 U.S. 873 (2011). Thus, to establish personal jurisdiction, the Due Process Clause requires (1) minimum contacts between the defendant and the forum; and (2) that jurisdiction over the defendant Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 476 (1985) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 320 (1945)). Once a plaintiff presents a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction by establishing minimum contacts, the burden shifts to the defendant. Carteret Sav. Bank, 954 F.2d at 150 (citing Burger King, 471 U.S. at 477). When sufficient minimum contacts have been established, O'Connor v. Sandy Lane Hotel Co., 496 F.3d 312, 324 (3d Cir. 2007) Burger King, 471 U.S. at 477. III. DISCUSSION Personal jurisdiction can be general or specific. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 127 (2014) (citing Int'l Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 317); see Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc., 566 F.3d 324, 334 (3d Cir. 2009) Choice correctly argues that it is not subject to either. General jurisdiction requires only continuous and systematic contacts, and exists in 5 Case 2:22-cv-00873-EP-MAH Document 22 Filed 09/19/22 Page 6 of 11 PageID: 143 substantial and of such a nature as to justify suit against it on causes of action arising from dealings Id. (quoting Int'l Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 318). Specific Id. Choice first argues that there is no general jurisdiction. To establish general jurisdiction, a plaintiff must show that the quality and nature of a defendant co in the forum state ... i.e. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 131 Id. 137. , can general jurisdiction be found. BNSF Ry. Co. v. Tyrrell, 137 S. Ct. 1549, 1558 (2017) (citing Perkins v. Benguet Consol. Mining Co., 342 U.S. 437 (1952) (finding general jurisdiction in Ohio where war had forced the defendant corporation owner to temporarily relocate the enterprise from the Philippines to Ohio)). This is not, as Plaintiff argues, The Complaint acknowledges that . ¶ 1. Plaintiff also does not dispute that Choice is incorporated in Delaware. Choice Br. 13. The Complaint does allege that Choice including in Newark In opposition, Plaintiff also argues that hotels, employs numerous workers working at those hotels, 6 presumably maintains New Jersey Case 2:22-cv-00873-EP-MAH Document 22 Filed 09/19/22 Page 7 of 11 PageID: 144 bank accounts and files state taxes here, and maintains a Trenton with at least a dozen employees. Pl. Br. 17-18. As Choice argues, however, this is not sufficient to establish general jurisdiction even far more substantial business activity has been rejected as insufficient. BNSF Ry. Co., 137 S. Ct. at 1559 (holding that over 2,000 miles of railroad track and more than 2,000 employees in Montana Plaintiff allege that Choice is Nor, as Choice also argues, does more active in New Jersey than in other states. Chavez v. Dole Food Co., 796 F.3d 261, 270 (3d Cir. 2015), vacated on other grounds (Sept. 22, 2015) (en banc). Plaintiff also argues courts, between 2005 and 2021. Pl. Br., Exh. A. As Choice notes in opposition, however, the judgments cited by Plaintiff involved nor could the Court locate any for the proposition that pursuing unrelated actions in a state as a plaintiff establishes general jurisdiction there as a defendant. Choice Reply 9. In the alternative, Plaintiff urges the Court to find specific jurisdiction based on the underlying events. Analyzing specific jurisdiction requires: (1) that efully , Burger King, 471 U.S. at 472; (2) that plaintiff , Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 414; and (3) the consideration of additional factors to ensure that the assertion of jurisdiction otherwise , Burger King, 471 U.S. at 476 (quoting Int'l Shoe, 326 U.S. at 320). Specific jurisdiction is evaluated on a claim-by-claim basis. Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 296 (3d Cir. 2007). 7 Case 2:22-cv-00873-EP-MAH Document 22 Filed 09/19/22 Page 8 of 11 PageID: 145 here. Pl. Br. 19. Specifically, fourteen Choice ; Plaintiff conducted most business from his home office in Rockaway, New Jersey; previous portfolio included Choice franchise owners in Princeton, New Jersey, with whom he had lunch in Princeton; portfolio included current and potential New Jersey franchisors. Id. 19-20; Pl. Exh. B.; Pl. Decl. ¶¶ 3-4. Choice argues that the Court cannot consider these facts, and disputes their accuracy. on the Trenton location of the New Jersey Department of the Treasury, Division of Taxation). When evaluating a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, courts may consider facts outside of the complaint. Patterson by Patterson v. F.B.I., 893 F.2d 595, 603-04 (3d Cir.1990). Even considering those facts, however, they do not justify the exercise of specific jurisdiction. 2 of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its Isaacs v. Arizona Bd. of Regents Burger King, 471 U.S. at 475. underlying controversy, principally, an activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Jud. Dist. Ct., 141 S. Ct. 1017, 1025 (2021) (emphasis added)). 2 Because the Court accepts the allegations, it need not consider alternative, for limited jurisdictional discovery. 8 Case 2:22-cv-00873-EP-MAH Document 22 Filed 09/19/22 Page 9 of 11 PageID: 146 -resident has contracted with a resident of the forum state is not, by Mellon Bank (East) PSFS, Nat. Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir. 1992); see Magill v. Elysian Glob. Corp., No. intiff's physical location in New Jersey is the only factor that connects this dispute to New Jersey. Plaintiff s claims against defendants would be identical if he lived anywhere else in the world distinguishing Chadwick v. St. James Smokehouse, Inc., 2015 WL 1399121, at *1 (D.N.J. 2015) (finding that defendants continuously relied upon the plaintiff to perform essential business functions from a New Jersey office, offered to purchase and ship office equipment to plaintiff in New Jersey, engaged in continuous business and email interactions for almost two years, and that New jersey had an interest in protecting its consumers from the allegedly mislabeled fish that defendants sold in New Jersey.) Recall marital and/or familial discrimination based on his termination from a Maryland job. Or as Choice accurately summarizes, Plaintiff was allegedly terminated from a Maryland-based position, by Choice employees outside of New Jersey, because he would not move his family to Maryland Choice Reply 12. Indeed, while this motion was pending, Plaintiff filed a state administrative civil rights claim in Maryland. DE 12. There is, in other words, little this forum, and therefore no basis for this Court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction. Having declined jurisdiction, there remain two additional considerations. First, dismissal 9 Case 2:22-cv-00873-EP-MAH Document 22 Filed 09/19/22 Page 10 of 11 PageID: 147 regarding dismissal of the Complaint for failure to state a claim. The Court will therefore deny rejudice, reserving it for the proper forum. The second consideration is that forum. Based on the dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction, this Court must determine whether dismissal or transfer is appropriate. This issue is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1 See Chavez v. Dole Food Company, Inc., 836 F.3d 205, 224 (3d Cir. 2016). That provision states: [Where a] court finds that there is a want of jurisdiction, the court shall, if it is in the interest of justice, transfer such action or appeal to any other such court ... in which the action or appeal could have been brought at the time it was filed or noticed, and the action or appeal shall proceed as if it had been filed in or noticed for the court to which it is transferred on the date upon which it was actually filed in or noticed for the court from which it is transferred. 28 U.S.C. § 1631. Here, Plaintiff requested transfer to the District of Maryland principal place of business, jurisdiction. Pl. Br. 23. arguments regarding the applicability of Maryland law, transfer to the District of Maryland is appropriate.3 IV. CONCLUSION on is GRANTED IN PART. This Court declines to exercise personal jurisdiction and will transfer the matter to the District of Maryland. The remainder of the motion is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. An appropriate order follows. Dated: September 19, 2022 ___________________ Evelyn Padin, U.S.D.J. 3 Rockville, Maryland is the Montgomery County seat, and therefore the Court will direct transfer to the Southern Division in Greenbelt, Maryland. 10 Case 2:22-cv-00873-EP-MAH Document 22 Filed 09/19/22 Page 11 of 11 PageID: 148 11