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MORRIS v. HELTON

November 18, 2005.

LARRY MORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
RALPH HELTON, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DONALD WILKERSON, Magistrate Judge

ORDER

This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Discovery on Issue of Personal Jurisdiction filed by the Plaintiff, Larry Morris, on October 26, 2005 (Doc. 24). The motion is DENIED. BACKGROUND

The Plaintiff seeks to conduct discovery in order to respond to a motion to dismiss in which the Defendants assert that this Court does not have personal jurisdiction over the Defendants. On November 4, 2005, this Court conducted a telephonic conference on the motion and the anticipated discovery that the Plaintiff wished to pursue. At that conference, the Court required the Plaintiff to fax his discovery requests and the Defendant to fax their objections. This matter was then set for a telephonic discovery dispute conference to occur on November 16, 2005. At the November 4, 2005 conference, however, the Defendants raised the issue of whether the Plaintiff has some initial burden prior to a Court Order mandating that they respond to discovery concerning personal jurisdiction. At the time, the Court indicated that no such burden existed and that the Court had the jurisdiction to determine whether there was jurisdiction and that mandating discovery on the issue was a logical extension.

  Upon further reflection, this Court re-evaluated that assessment in an order dated November 8, 2005. That order indicated that the Plaintiff must meet a prima facie burden prior to subjecting the Defendants to discovery in this matter. This conclusion was based, primarily, on Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund v. Reimer Express World Corporation, 230 F.3d 934 (7th Cir. 2000). This Court further set this matter for an in-court hearing on the Plaintiff's motion on November 16, 2005. The parties were instructed to supplement their briefs and address the Plaintiff's burden prior to the discovery being conducted. The Plaintiff and Defendants also were instructed to submit to chambers their discovery requests and objections, respectively.*fn1

  On November 15, 2005, the Plaintiff, in lieu of supplementing his brief, filed a "Response to this Court's November 8, 2005 order concerning Plaintiff's motion for personal jurisdiction discovery." In this response, the Plaintiff first argued that District Judge Michael J. Reagan already had mandated that discovery take place in an order which extended the time in which the Plaintiff had to respond to the Defendants' pending motion to dismiss (Doc. 30). Second, the Plaintiff argued that state law governed whether or not they may conduct discovery. Third, the Plaintiff took exception to this Court's reliance on Central States. This Court construed this "response" as a motion for reconsideration — which was denied by an order dated November 15, 2005 (Doc.35). In the Defendants' supplemental brief, they argued that the Plaintiff has only offered speculation in support of his request for discovery (Doc. 36).

  At the hearing, held on November 16, 2005, the parties made various arguments. The Plaintiff also submitted two exhibits: the first is an affidavit signed by the Plaintiff, Larry Morris, and dated November 16, 2005; the second exhibit is a draft second amended complaint. Prior to the hearing, the Defendant, Robin Lynne, Inc., further indicated that it was adopting the arguments and objections made by the other Defendants, Ralph Helton and MJH Hauling, Inc.

  DISCUSSION

  Governing Law

  The Plaintiff made a brief argument that this issue is governed by Illinois state law. Specifically, the Plaintiff pointed to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 201(l) which states that: "(1) While a motion filed under section 2-301 of the Code of Civil Procedure is pending, a party may obtain discovery only on the issue of the court's jurisdiction over the person of the defendant. . . ." This Rule refers to Illinois Code of Civil Procedure 5/2-301 which provides that, prior to the filing of a responsive pleading, a party may file a motion objecting to the Court's exercise of personal jurisdiction. 735 ILL. COMP. STAT. 5/2-301(a). The Plaintiff asserted that this is a substantive rule of law and therefore governs this diversity action. This argument is without merit. Discovery in federal court is governed by the Federal Rules and law. The Plaintiff advocates a position without the benefit of any citation to authority.*fn2 The issue of whether this Court will permit discovery is left to the discretion of this Court and is not mandated by rules that govern the Illinois Courts.

  Judge Reagan's November 2, 2005 Order

  The Plaintiff next argues that Judge Reagan already has allowed for discovery to take place. The Plaintiff relies on the following order: ORDER granting 23 Motion to Stay: The Court GRANTS Plaintiff Morris' motion to stay briefing (Doc. 23), will permit a 60-day stay of the briefing period, and thus EXTENDS to JANUARY 3, 2006 the deadline by which Plaintiff must file his response to Defendants' pending motions (Docs. 14 and 19). The Court intends to rule on those motions immediately thereafter and will permit no further extensions of the briefing deadline. Until the Court has determined (via resolution of the pending motions) whether it can exercise personal jurisdiction herein, no dispositive motions can be ruled on, and none should be filed. Signed by Judge Michael J. Reagan on 11/2/05.

 This order does not mention discovery nor did Judge Reagan rule on the Plaintiff's separately filed motion to conduct discovery. As such, this argument is also without merit.

  The Plaintiff's burden

  In Central States, the Seventh Circuit had occasion to determine whether discovery was appropriate in a similar situation to the one presented before this Court. The Plaintiff in Central States sought to conduct discovery in order to determine whether the Court had personal jurisdiction over Canadian companies. In upholding the District Court's denial of the proposed discovery, the Court of Appeals stated:
At a minimum, the plaintiff must establish a colorable or prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction before discovery should be permitted. Foreign nationals usually should not be subjected to extensive discovery in order to determine whether personal jurisdiction over them exists. We review the district court's denial of discovery on this issue for abuse of discretion.
Id. 230 F.3d at 947 (citations omitted).
The Court of Appeals specifically highlighted that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the discovery requests were irrelevant and that requiring "burdensome, wide-ranging discovery against defendants from a foreign nation" in order to determine relevant contacts with the forum state "is not appropriate at a stage where the district court is trying to determine whether it has any power over the defendants." Id. at 947. Of course, the defendants here are not, presumably, wholly foreign corporations. However, the principle would still apply: this Court will not mandate potentially expensive and protracted discovery without a prima facie showing that personal jurisdiction exists. As Judge Cosbey has noted:
A plaintiff must make a threshold or prima facie showing with some competent evidence demonstrating that personal jurisdiction might exist over a defendant in order to be entitled to jurisdictional discovery. . . . This standard is quite low, but a plaintiff's discovery request will nevertheless be denied if it is only based upon "bare," "attenuated," or "unsupported" assertions of personal jurisdiction, or when a plaintiff's claim appears to be "clearly frivolous."
Andersen v. Sportmart, Inc., 179 F.R.D. 236, 241-242 (N.D. Ind. 1998) (citations omitted).
See Ellis v. Fortune Seas, LTD, 175 F.R.D. 308, 312 (S.D. Ind. 1997); See also Carefirst of Maryland, Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Centers, Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 402 (4th Cir. 2003) ("When a plaintiff offers only speculation or conclusory assertions about contacts with a forum state, a court is within its discretion in denying jurisdictional discovery." ...

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