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Inc. v. Patel

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

July 27, 2018



          Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge.

         In this diversity action, Plaintiff 1st Bank Card Services, Inc. (“Plaintiff”) brings suit against Defendants Zalak Patel (“Patel”) and Monali Shah (“Shah”) (together, “Defendants”) for breach of contract, tortious interference, defamation per se, and conversion arising out of Plaintiff's employment of Defendants. Currently before the Court is Defendants' amended motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, and improper venue [8]. For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion [8] is granted. Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction.


         I. Background

         For purposes of the instant motion, the Court accepts as true the factual allegations relevant to jurisdiction made in Plaintiff's complaint [1-1], and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor. Cent. States, Se. & Sw. Area Pension Fund v. Phencorp Reinsurance Co., Inc., 440 F.3d 870, 878 (7th Cir. 2006). The Court also takes into consideration any “affidavits or other evidence in opposition to or in support of its exercise of jurisdiction.” Livingston v. Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., 293 F.Supp.3d 760, 764 (N.D. Ill. 2018). The Court resolves in Plaintiff's favor any disputes concerning relevant facts presented in the record. Purdue Research Found. v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, S.A., 338 F.3d 773, 782 (7th Cir. 2003).

         The complaint alleges that Defendants were employed by Plaintiff as managers of one of Plaintiff's satellite offices until 2016. The complaint does not identify the location of the satellite office. Defendants state in their affidavits, however, that the satellite office was in New York, New York and that Plaintiff hired them to conduct business and establish a client base in New York City. According to their affidavits, Defendants were domiciled in New Jersey and performed all work duties in New York City while they were employed by Plaintiff.

         According to the complaint, Plaintiff and each Defendant entered into a Non-Circumvention Agreement and a Confidentiality Agreement (together, the “Agreements”) as a condition of employment.[1] In the Non-Circumvention Agreement, each Defendant agreed “not to circumvent, avoid, or bypass [Plaintiff] either directly or indirectly, nor to avoid payment of fees or any compensations and commission or otherwise benefit either financially or otherwise with regard to the introduction of any contacts including but not limited to its assigns 1st Bank Card Services.” [1-1] at 4. In the Confidentiality Agreements, each Defendant agreed not to disclose any information that he learned in confidence during his employment and agreed to return all confidential information. The complaint alleges that the Agreements were executed in Cook County, Illinois, which is also Plaintiff's headquarters. However, in their affidavits, Defendants deny signing any contracts in Illinois. Plaintiff does not submit its own affidavit.

         Defendants allegedly breached the Agreements when they resigned from Plaintiff's employment in 2016. In particular, Defendants allegedly canceled the accounts of Plaintiff's customers using fraudulent cancellation letters and took the accounts to their new employment. Defendants also allegedly extracted all of Plaintiff's data, transferred it to their personal flash drives, and destroyed the hard disks in Plaintiff's computer system. Further, Defendants allegedly wrongfully obtained and stole Plaintiff's confidential information, including customer lists, contract terms, methods of operations, marketing plans, software specifications, software code, and financial information. In addition, Defendants allegedly provided false information to Plaintiff's clients, including that Plaintiff was bankrupt and closing. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants actions have caused it to lose customer accounts with a value of over $1.1 million. Based on these facts, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendants in Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court for breach of contract, tortious interference, defamation per se, and conversion.

         Defendants removed this case to federal court. Defendants now move to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue, and failure to state a claim. Defendants have submitted affidavits denying any connection to Illinois other than attending one “meet and greet” session with Plaintiff. Plaintiff has not submitted any affidavits or evidence concerning Defendants' or this dispute's connection with Illinois.

         II. Personal Jurisdiction

         A complaint need not allege personal jurisdiction, but once a defendant moves to dismiss on that ground, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that jurisdiction is proper. Purdue, 338 F.3d at 782. When a defendant submits affidavits opposing jurisdiction or contradicting the plaintiff's allegations, the plaintiff is required to go beyond the pleadings and submit affirmative evidence supporting the exercise of jurisdiction. Id. at 783. Where, as here, the defendant moves to dismiss a complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction “based on the submission of written materials, without the benefit of an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff need only make out a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction.” GCIU-Employer Ret. Fund v. Goldfarb Corp., 565 F.3d 1018, 1023 (7th Cir. 2009). “[U]nder the prima facie standard, the plaintiff is entitled to have any conflicts in the affidavits (or supporting materials) resolved in its favor.” Purdue, 338 F.3d at 783.

         Plaintiff's claims arise under Illinois common law. There is no federal statute authorizing nationwide service of process in such cases. Thus, this Court sitting in Illinois may exercise jurisdiction over Defendants only if authorized both by the United States Constitution and Illinois law. be2 LLC v. Ivanov, 642 F.3d 555, 558 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A); Tamburo v. Dworkin, 601 F.3d 693, 700 (7th Cir. 2010)). The Illinois long-arm statute “permits its courts to exercise personal jurisdiction on any basis permitted by the constitutions of both Illinois and the United States.” be2 LLC, 642 F.3d at 558; see 735 ILCS 5/2-209(c). Thus “the state statutory and federal constitutional inquiries merge.” Tamburo, 601 F.3d at 700.

         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 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1940)). In other words, “it 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). The requirement that a defendant have “minimum contacts” with the forum ensures that a nonresident defendant will not be forced to litigate in a jurisdiction as a result of “random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts” with the forum or the unilateral activity of the plaintiff; the defendant “should reasonably anticipate being haled into court” there. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474-75 (1985).

         “Personal jurisdiction can be either general or specific, depending on the extent of the defendant's contacts with the forum state.” uBID, Inc. v. GoDaddy Grp., Inc., 623 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2010). In this case, Plaintiff asserts only specific personal jurisdiction. See [16-1] at 7. To establish specific personal jurisdiction, Plaintiff must show that its claims against Defendants “arise out of [Defendants'] constitutionally sufficient contacts with the state.” uBid, 623 F.3d at 425. Whether specific personal jurisdiction over a defendant exists depends on “‘the relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation.'” Walden v. Fiore, 571 U.S. 277, 284 (2014) (quoting Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 465 U.S. 770, 775 (1984)). Specific personal jurisdiction exists only if “the defendant's suit-related conduct *** create[s] a substantial connection with the forum State.” Id. The “three essential requirements” for establishing specific personal jurisdiction are: “(1) the defendant must have purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting business in the forum state or purposefully directed ...

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