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Martinez v. Mason Dixon Lines

April 7, 2010

JOSE MARTINEZ AND OFELIA MARTINEZ, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE MASON DIXON LINES, INC. AND DAVID GONZALEZ SANCHEZ, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This action between plaintiffs Jose and Ofelia Martinez ("Plaintiffs") and defendants Mason Dixon Lines, Inc. ("Mason Dixon") and David Gonzalez Sanchez ("Sanchez") (collectively "Defendants") arises from an October 12, 2007 vehicular accident in Polk County, Texas involving Plaintiffs and Sanchez, a truck driver for Mason Dixon. Currently before the court is Defendants' "Motion to Dismiss Sanchez for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, Motion to Dismiss the Case for Improper Venue, or Alternatively, Motion to Transfer the Case to the Proper Forum in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas" (Dkt. No. 5 ("Defs.' Mot.")). For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

On October 12, 2007, Plaintiffs, who are citizens and residents of Illinois, and Sanchez, a citizen of Florida and a former truck driver for Mason Dixon, which is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Michigan, allegedly were involved in a vehicular accident in Polk County, Texas. As a result of this accident, Plaintiffs originally filed suit against Defendants in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois on September 28, 2009 ("Illinois Action"). On October 7, 2009, Plaintiffs also filed a lawsuit based on the same October 12, 2007 incident against only Sanchez in the 411th District Court of Polk County, Texas ("Texas Action"). Sanchez removed the Texas Action to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas on the basis of diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 on November 2, 2009. On November 5, 2009, Defendants removed the Illinois Action to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois also based upon diversity of citizenship. Defendants then filed their "Motion to Dismiss Sanchez for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, Motion to Dismiss the Case for Improper Venue, or Alternatively, Motion to Transfer the Case to the Proper Forum in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas" (Dkt. No. 5), which is currently before this court.*fn1 For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion is denied.

ANALYSIS

I. Personal Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs bear the burden of proving that this court has personal jurisdiction over Sanchez. Cent. States S.E. & S.W. Areas Pension Fund v. Phencorp Reinsurance Co., Inc., 440 F.3d 870, 875 (7th Cir. 2006). In ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the court can consider affidavits and other written materials submitted by the parties and "must resolve all factual disputes in the plaintiff's favor." See GMAC Real Estate, L.L.C. v. Canyonside Realty, Inc., 2005 WL 1463498, at *2 (N.D. Ill. June 15, 2005) (citing Softee Mfg., L.L.C. v. Mazner, No. 03 C 3367, 2003 WL 23521295, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 18, 2003)).

"A federal district court in Illinois has personal jurisdiction over a party involved in a diversity action only if Illinois courts would have personal jurisdiction." Michael J. Neuman & Assocs. v. Florabelle Flowers, Inc., 15 F.3d 721, 724 (7th Cir. 1994). The Illinois long-arm statute authorizes courts to exercise personal jurisdiction "on any . . . basis now or hereafter permitted by the Illinois Constitution and the Constitution of the United States." 735 ILCS 5/2-209(c). Because the Seventh Circuit has "yet to find any 'operative difference between the limits imposed by the Illinois Constitution and the federal limitations on personal jurisdiction,'" Kinslow v. Pullara, 538 F.3d 687, 691 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Hyatt Int'l Corp. v. Coco, 302 F.3d 707, 715 (7th Cir. 2002)),the court "may collapse the personal jurisdiction analysis under Illinois law into the constitutional inquiry." Id.

To exercise personal jurisdiction consistent with the federal due process clause, "the defendant must have minimum contacts with the forum state 'such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" Hyatt Int'l, 302 F.3d at 716 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). "[T]he defendant must have 'purposefully established minimum contacts within the forum State' before personal jurisdiction will be found to be reasonable and fair." Id. (quoting Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 476 (1985)). The minimum contacts must demonstrate that the "defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State," Burger King, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (quoting Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958)), such that it "should reasonably anticipate being haled into court" in the forum State. Id. at 474 (quoting World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980)).

Personal jurisdiction over a defendant is based on either (1) general jurisdiction or (2) specific jurisdiction. Cent. States, 440 F.3d at 875. In this case, Plaintiffs argue that Sanchez is subject to suit in Illinois based on general jurisdiction. (See Dkt. No. 18 ("Pls.' Resp.") at 5.) "General jurisdiction . . . is permitted only where the defendant conducts continuous and systematic general business within the forum state." GCIU-Employer Ret. Fund v. Goldfarb Corp., 565 F.3d 1018, 1023 (7th Cir. 2009).

Plaintiffs argue that Sanchez's recent contacts with Illinois are sufficient to exercise general jurisdiction over him. The court agrees. Based on Sanchez's deposition testimony, although he never traveled to Illinois before the October 12, 2007 accident at issue, since the accident Sanchez has been to Illinois approximately fifteen to twenty times as a truck driver for Dynasty Grogan Logistics ("Dynasty"), where he has worked for the last year and half. (Sanchez Dep. 16:20-17:5; 20:10-15; 21:19-24, Jan. 4, 2010 (attached as Ex. A. to Pls.' Resp.).) Sanchez admitted that his trips to Illinois, though not occurring on set days, are "pretty much" a regular run or route. (Id. at 21:19-22:11.) During those trips to Illinois, Sanchez picks up products for Dynasty in both Manteno, Illinois and Edwardsville, Illinois, and transports these Illinois products to either Florida or Georgia. (Id. at 21:25-22:18.) Sanchez also testified that as a driver for Dynasty he had "driven through" Illinois "about three or four times" en route to other destinations. (Id. at 22:19-23:10.)

This court appreciates that in Obermeyer v. Gilliland, 873 F. Supp. 153 (C.D. Ill. 1995) (Mills, J.), the court declined to exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant truck driver, finding that his "frequent[] drives into Illinois [were] not sufficient to justify subjugating him to the power of Illinois Courts for suits not arising from his work in Illinois." Id. at 158. The record in Obermeyer, however, did not indicate how often the defendant driver had traveled to Illinois before the underlying accident or whether he continued to make the trip when the court addressed the personal jurisdiction issue. Id. at 157.

This court also recognizes that in Simpson v. Quality Oil Co., 723 F. Supp. 382 (S.D. Ind. 1989) (Tinder, J.), the court found that Indiana lacked personal jurisdiction over a defendant truck driver whose only contact with the forum state was "his occasional presence in the state as a result of his delivery of fuel into Indiana." Id. at 390. Notably Simpson, similar to Obermeyer, did not discuss the actual frequency of the driver's contacts with Indiana or indicate if his trips to the state, like Sanchez's, were part of his regular business routine.

Under the facts of this case, this court is more persuaded by the reasoning in Carter v. Massey, 436 F. Supp. 29 (D. Md. 1977), which exercised personal jurisdiction over a defendant truck driver who traveled to Maryland "frequently, on a regular basis, in a purposeful way, and in a manner integral to [his] . . . business[] of . . . truck driver." Id. at 33-34. Similarly here, Sanchez, by his own admission, has "pretty much" a regular route into Illinois for his current employer, Dynasty. The court, therefore, finds that Sanchez purposefully travels into Illinois as part of his business as a truck driver. Based on these "continuous and systematic general business contacts" with Illinois, haling Sanchez into an Illinois court to defend himself in this action would not "offend traditional ...


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