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Snodgrass v. Berklee College of Music

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

July 2, 2013

ANN SNODGRASS, Plaintiff,
v.
BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, and BOSTON UNIVERSITY, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT M. DOW, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Ann Snodgrass has sued three of her former employers - Berklee College of Music, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston University - for, among other things, sex discrimination and harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e et seq. Defendants have moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction [20]. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss is granted.[1]

I. Background

Because Plaintiff does not allege that the events underlying her claims against Defendants have any relation to Illinois, the Court has no reason to discuss the particulars of her claims in this order. That also means that the sole question presented by Defendants' motion is whether Defendants have contacts with Illinois sufficient to subject them to the general personal jurisdiction of Illinois courts.

Defendants Berklee College of Music, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston University are incorporated in Massachusetts, not Illinois. Defendants are not registered to do business in Illinois, they do not have offices in Illinois, they do not maintain a registered agent for service of process in Illinois, and they do not derive direct income from services rendered in Illinois. They do not have advertising campaigns specifically for Illinois. As nationally-recognized institutions, they naturally enroll Illinois residents, and Defendants represent that, at most, 3.5% of their students are from Illinois. Defendants have some employees with Illinois addresses, but the employees with Illinois addresses who work at Berklee College and M.I.T. do not work from Illinois. Boston University has six employees with Illinois addresses who work from Illinois on a part-time basis as "facilitators" for online classes. In addition, Boston University has an admissions representative in Illinois for approximately 30 days each year.

II. Legal Standard

Rule 12(b)(2) states that an action against a party over whom the Court lacks personal jurisdiction must be dismissed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). Plaintiff has the burden of establishing a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction. See Steel Warehouse of Wisconsin, Inc. v. Leach, 154 F.3d 712, 714 (7th Cir. 1998). When determining whether Plaintiff has met her burden, jurisdictional allegations pleaded in the complaint are accepted as true unless proved otherwise by Defendants' affidavits or exhibits. See Purdue Research Foundation v. Sanofi-Sythelabo, S.A., 338 F.3d 773, 782 (7th Cir. 2003); Travelers Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Interclaim (Bermuda) Ltd., 304 F.Supp.2d 1018, 1021 (N.D. Ill. 2004). In addition, any conflicts in the affidavits regarding relevant facts must be resolved in Plaintiff's favor. See Purdue, 338 F.3d at 782 (citations omitted). But "once the defendant has submitted affidavits or other evidence in opposition to the exercise of jurisdiction, the plaintiff must go beyond the pleadings and submit affirmative evidence supporting the exercise of jurisdiction." Id. at 783.

In a federal question case where a federal statute does not authorize nationwide service of process, a federal court in Illinois will have personal jurisdiction over a defendant only if it is permitted under Illinois' long-arm statute. uBID, Inc. v. GoDaddy Group, Inc., 623 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2010). Thus, courts examine three "distinct obstacles to personal jurisdiction:" (1) state statutory law, (2) state constitutional law, and (3) federal constitutional law. See RAR, Inc. v. Turner Diesel Ltd., 107 F.3d 1272, 1276 (7th Cir. 1997). But because the Illinois long-arm statute authorizes personal jurisdiction to the constitutional limit, the analysis "collapse[s] into two constitutional inquiries - one state and one federal." RAR, 107 F.3d at 1276.

The Seventh Circuit has noted that "there is no operative difference between the limits imposed by the Illinois Constitution and the federal limitations on personal jurisdiction, " Hyatt Int'l Corp. v. Coco, 302 F.3d 707, 715 (7th Cir. 2003), despite a cautionary pronouncement in a 1990 Illinois Supreme Court decision suggesting that the state and federal standards may not be co-extensive. See Rollins v. Elwood, 141 Ill.2d 244, 274-275 (1990); see also Hyatt Int'l, 302 F.3d at 715 (acknowledging Rollins, but noting that even if hypothetically the Illinois state and federal due process standards might diverge, no basis for such a divergence existed in the case before it). In light of the Seventh Circuit's assessment in Hyatt and the absence of post- Rollins guidance from the Illinois courts as to how Illinois and federal law may differ as a practical matter in regard to personal jurisdiction, a single due process inquiry will suffice. See Hyatt, 302 F.3d at 715; Kostal v. Pinkus Dermatopathology Lab., P.C., 357 Ill.App.3d 381, 388 (1st Dist. 2005) (noting that the court had not located any post- Rollins cases finding that federal due process requirements had been met where Illinois due process requirements were not).

The federal test for personal jurisdiction under the Due Process Clause of Fourteenth Amendment authorizes a court to exercise jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant only if the defendant has "certain minimum contacts with [the state] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1940) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1940)). "[I]t is essential in each case that there be some act by which the defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws." Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958). This "purposeful availment" requirement of the minimum contacts standard ensures that a non-resident defendant will not be forced to litigate in a jurisdiction as a result of random contacts with the forum or the unilateral activity of the plaintiff. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474-75 (1985).

In addition, the Supreme Court has distinguished two types of personal jurisdiction: general and specific. Helicopteros Nacionales de Columbia v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414-416 (1984); see also uBID, 623 F.3d at 425-26. General jurisdiction exists where the defendant has "continuous and systematic" contacts with the forum state. Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 416. If such contacts exist, "the court may exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant even in cases that do not arise out of and are not related to the defendant's forum contacts." Hyatt, 302 F.2d at 713. On the other hand, specific jurisdiction is more limited and a plaintiff in such circumstances must show that the alleged controversy between the parties "arise[s] out of" or "relate[s] to" the defendant's forum contacts in addition to establishing that minimum contacts exist. Id.

Finally, even if a court finds that the minimum contacts standard and the specific jurisdiction requirement have been met, the Court must also consider whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction comports with "fair play and substantial justice." Burger King, 471 U.S. at 476 (quoting Int'l Shoe, 326 U.S. at 320). "Thus, courts in appropriate cases' may evaluate the burden on the defendant, ' the forum State's interest in adjudicating the dispute, ' the interstate judicial system's interest in obtaining convenient and effective relief, ' the interstate judicial system's interest in obtaining the most efficient resolution of controversies, ' and the shared interest of the several States in furthering fundamental substantive social policies.'" Burger King, 471 U.S. at 477 (quoting World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 292 (1980)). These considerations are sometimes used to establish the reasonableness of jurisdiction in lieu of a strong showing of minimum contacts. Burger King, 471 U.S. at 477 (citing Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 465 U.S. 770, 780 (1984)).

III. Analysis

As mentioned above, Plaintiff does not allege that her claims relate to or arise out of Defendants' conduct in Illinois, and in response to Defendants' motion Plaintiff does not argue that the Court may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over any Defendant. See uBID, 623 F.3d at 426 ("a defendant's contacts with a state will often support [specific personal] jurisdiction for a claim that is sufficiently related to the defendant's activities in the ...


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