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Zara v. Devry Education Group Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 14, 2017

ANTHONY ZARA, Plaintiff,
v.
DEVRY EDUCATION GROUP, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Andrea R. Wood Judge

         Plaintiff Anthony Zara alleges that while he was a student at the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (“Ross”) on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, his ex-girlfriend, Defendant Alexa Ferrari, falsely accused him of abuse. Zara claims that he was arrested, jailed, and expelled from school as a result. He further claims that because of its bias against males the school failed to give him a fair hearing as required by its own disciplinary procedures. Zara has brought this lawsuit to assert claims for discrimination, breach of contract, and negligence against Ross; claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress against Ross, its corporate parents, and Ferrari; and a claim for tortious interference with contract against Ferrari. Now before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by Ferrari (Dkt. No. 17) and by Ross and its corporate affiliates (Dkt. No. 20). For the reasons detailed below, the motions are granted.

         BACKGROUND

         As alleged in his complaint, Zara became involved in a romantic relationship with Ferrari while both were students at Ross on the island of St. Kitts. (Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5-6, Dkt. No. 47.) The two lived together during part of that relationship. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 13-20.) After their relationship ended, according to Zara, Ferrari falsely reported to both St. Kitts police and Ross that he had engaged in disruptive, abusive, and threatening behavior towards her. (Id. ¶¶ 29, 43, 68.) Zara claims that as a result of Ferrari's false reports, he was attacked, arrested, and jailed by St. Kitts police. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 32, 34.) Ross thereafter suspended and then expelled Zara without first following the fair notice and hearing procedures mandated by its own policies. (Id. ¶¶ 43, 61-64, 68.) Zara alleges that Ross failed to give him a fair hearing because of its bias against males in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681. He also asserts claims against Ross for common law breach of contract and negligence. Against Ferrari, Zara seeks relief for alleged tortious interference with his contractual relationship with Ross. And against all of the defendants, including Ross's direct and indirect corporate parents, DeVry Medical International, Inc. and DeVry Education Group, Inc., he has brought claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         Now before the Court are two motions to dismiss Zara's claims. Ferrari seeks to dismiss Zara's claims against her pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), arguing that this Court does not have personal jurisdiction over her. Meanwhile, Ross and the DeVry companies (together, “the Ross Defendants”) invoke Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6), asserting multiple grounds for dismissal: that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Ross, that Title IX is inapplicable to Ross's operations in St. Kitts, that Zara's complaint raises no factual allegations against the DeVry Defendants, and that this District is an inconvenient forum for his claims.

         DISCUSSION

         In Sinochem International Co. Ltd. v. Malaysia International Shipping Corp., the Supreme Court provided guidance as to the appropriate order for addressing alternative arguments for dismissal based on lack of jurisdiction and improper forum:

If . . . a court can readily determine that it lacks jurisdiction over the cause or the defendant, the proper course would be to dismiss on that ground. In the mine run of cases, jurisdiction “will involve no arduous inquiry” and both judicial economy and the consideration ordinarily accorded the plaintiff's choice of forum “should impel the federal court to dispose of [those] issue[s] first.” But where subject-matter or personal jurisdiction is difficult to determine, and forum non conveniens considerations weigh heavily in favor of dismissal, the court properly takes the less burdensome course.

549 U.S. 422, 436 (2007) (quoting Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1999)). The lack of personal jurisdiction over Ferrari is readily determined. Thus, this Court's analysis begins there.

         I. Personal Jurisdiction over Ferrari

         The plaintiff has the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction and, where the issue is raised by a motion to dismiss and decided on the basis of written materials rather than after an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdictional facts. Tamburo v. Dworkin, 601 F.3d 693, 700 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Purdue Research Found. v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, S.A., 338 F.3d 773, 782 (7th Cir. 2003)).

         In the absence of a federal statute or rule establishing a basis for jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction over a defendant is governed by the law of the forum state. Id. at 700. Zara asserts no federal basis for jurisdiction over Ferrari, and so this Court must determine whether an Illinois court could exercise such jurisdiction. Citadel Grp. Ltd. v. Washington Reg'l Med. Ctr., 536 F.3d 757, 760 (7th Cir. 2008). Illinois's long-arm jurisdiction statute construes a long list of actions as demonstrating submission to the jurisdiction of its courts, including the transaction of business within the state, the commission of a tort within the state, the making of a contract substantially within the state, or being present within the state when served. See 735 ILCS 5/2-209. Zara does not allege that Ferrari committed any of these acts.

         The long-arm statute also includes a catch-all provision that permits the exercise of jurisdiction “on any other basis now or hereafter permitted by the Illinois Constitution and the Constitution of the United States.” 735 ILCS 5/2-209(c). The Seventh Circuit has found no operative difference between the Illinois and federal constitutions for purposes of jurisdictional analysis and accordingly has held that catch-all jurisdiction may be exercised over a defendant in this District only if that exercise is consistent with the U.S. Constitution's Due Process Clause. Illinois v. Hemi Grp. LLC, 622 F.3d 754, 756-57 (7th Cir. 2010); Citadel Group, 536 F.3d at 761. The Due Process Clause permits the exercise of jurisdiction over a defendant only if she has had sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state such that she “should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.” Tamburo, 601 F.3d at 701 (citing Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474 (1985)). A defendant's contacts may subject her to the forum's jurisdiction generally or in specific relation to the activities at issue. Id. at 701-02.

         Ferrari has had no contact with Illinois sufficient to subject her to the jurisdiction of a court in this state-in either the general or the specific sense. According to her unrebutted declaration, Ferrari lives on St. Kitts while attending school at Ross, lives in Tennessee otherwise, and has never lived in or traveled to Illinois, transacted business here, or owned real or personal property here. (Ferrari Decl. ¶¶ 3-9, Dkt. No. 19.) Her only communication with anyone in Illinois regarding ...


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