Bidner v. Community Health Systems Inc et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Karon O Bowdre on 1/23/2017. (AVC)
2017 Jan-23 PM 12:48
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
COMMUNITY HEALTH SYSTEMS,
INC., et al.,
This case centers on Plaintiff’s allegations that in the course of her employment at Trinity
Medical Center she was sexually harassed, discriminated against, and otherwise harmed in
violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Alabama law. Ms. Bidner originally
named as Defendants Community Health Systems, Inc. (CHSI) and CHS Health Services, LLC,
later dismissing CHS Health Services, LLC and adding Affinity Hospital, LLC. See (docs. 6–9).
CHSI asserts, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2), that it does not belong in this suit, and this matter is
before the court on CHSI’s “Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction.” (Doc. 12).
Plaintiff filed a Response, (doc. 18), and CHSI filed a Reply. (Doc. 21).
CHSI challenges this court’s personal jurisdiction over it primarily via the affidavits of
Ben Fordham. (Doc. 12-1, Doc. 21-1). CHSI also submits several opinions where courts have
found that they lacked personal jurisdiction over CHSI. (Docs. 12-2 through 12-8, Docs. 21-11
through 21-14, Docs. 21-16 through 21-17, Doc. 23). In support of her position that the court has
jurisdiction over CHSI, Ms. Bidner presents CHSI’s 2015 10-K form and a page from the
www.chs.net website listing CHSI’s subsidiary hospitals in Alabama. (Docs. 18-1 and 18-2).
CHSI additionally submits the “Legal Information” page from the chs.net website (doc. 21-2) and
a Certificate of Need filed by Affinity Hospital. (Docs. 21-3 through 21-10).
The court largely relies on Mr. Fordham’s affidavits for the following statement of facts,
but notes where Ms. Bidner disputes Mr. Fordham’s assertions.
From 2008 to 2014,1 Mrs. Bidner worked for Affinity Hospital, LLC, which at the time of
her employment did business as Trinity Medical Center. In October 2015, Trinity altered its
name to Grandview Medical Center and changed its location. For the sake of convenience, the
court will refer to the hospital in question as “the Hospital” or “Affinity.”
Mr. Fordham asserts that CHSI is a publicly-traded Delaware holding company with its
principal place of business in Franklin, Tennessee. He explains CHSI’s corporate structure as
follows: (1) CHSI owns, through subsidiaries, 159 hospitals nationwide; (2) CHSI does not
directly own Affinity Hospital, LLC, nor does it directly own Grandview Medical Center nor do
business as Grandview Medical Center; (3) CHSI does indirectly own Affinity Hospital, LLC,
d/b/a Grandview Medical Center, with seven entities in the ownership chain separating CHSI and
Affinity. When Affinity did business as Trinity, six separate entities existed in the ownership
chain between CHSI and Affinity. Mr. Fordham avers that CHSI does not operate any of its
Specifically, Mr. Fordham asserts that at all relevant times, CHSI did not control the
Hospital’s day-to-day operations or direct the actions of its directors or executives; did not
exercise authority over employment issues at the Hospital or disputes concerning Hospital staff
Alleged in Ms. Bidner’s Complaint and not disputed by CHSI.
and never required the Hospital to adopt bylaws or any policies and procedures governing
employment, including the Hospital’s sexual harassment policy. CHSI did not employ Hospital
staff or control the number of Hospital staff, never exercised control over the manner in which
Hospital employees performed their duties, and never paid Hospital employees. CHSI did not
employ Ms. Bidner or her supervisors and was not responsible for any employment decisions
regarding Ms. Bidner.
CHSI did not enter into any partnership, joint venture, or joint enterprise with the
Hospital and did not enter into an agreement with the Hospital to share in its operation or to
combine money, property or time in the conduct of a business deal. CHSI maintained its own
separate accounting records. Patients paid the Hospital and not CHSI, and the Hospital
maintained its own banking relationships. CHSI and the Hospital held independent Board
meetings and maintained their Board minutes and records separately. The membership of the
Boards did not overlap.
Mr. Fordham further declares that the Hospital was not designated as an agent for CHSI.
He states that CHSI has not transacted or registered to do business in Alabama, has not appointed
an agent for service of process in Alabama, and has no office, place of business, real property,
clients, or employees in Alabama. Mr. Fordham asserts that CHSI has not advertised, marketed,
or offered services for sale in Alabama, nor has CHSI consented to jurisdiction in Alabama.
Ms. Bidner disputes that CHSI is merely a holding company and contends that CHSI does
own outright and operate its subsidiary hospitals and maintains corporate and hospital
employees. She argues that CHSI previously consented to jurisdiction as a defendant in Alabama
This court adopts much of the following reasoning from its memorandum opinion
deciding CHSI’s 12(b)(2) motion in In re Community Health Systems, Inc., MDL 2595, No. 15cv-00222-KOB (Sept. 12, 2016), ECF No. 144.
A Rule 12(b)(2) motion attacks the court’s jurisdiction over the defendant’s person. The
court has federal question subject matter jurisdiction over this action. Title VII does not include a
service of process provision, so Alabama’s long-arm statute serves as the basis for this court’s
exercise of personal jurisdiction over Defendants. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq.; ALA. R. CIV.
P. 4.2(b); Sculptchair, Inc. v. Century Arts, Ltd. (citing Cable/Home Commc’n Corp. v. Network
Productions, Inc., 902 F.2d 829, 855 (11th Cir. 1990)) (“When jurisdiction is based on a federal
question arising under a statute that is silent regarding service of process, Rule 4(e) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure directs us to look to the state long-arm statute in order to determine the
existence of personal jurisdiction.”).
A two-prong test determines whether a state court may exercise personal jurisdiction over
a nonresident defendant: first, the long-arm statute of the state where the case was filed must
allow for jurisdiction; second, “sufficient minimum contacts [must] exist to satisfy the Due
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment so that ‘maintenance of the suit does not offend
traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.’” Madara v. Hall, 916 F.2d 1510, 1514
(11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Int’l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). Alabama’s
long-arm statute is coextensive with the Due Process Clause, so the court need only undertake
the sufficient minimum contacts inquiry. See Ex parte Alamo Title Co., 128 So. 3d 700, 709
(Ala. 2013) (quoting Ex parte DBI, Inc., 23 So. 3d 635, 643 (Ala. 2009)).
Sufficient minimum contacts are present where a defendant has engaged in “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.” Burger King Corp. v.
Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985) (internal quotations omitted) (quoting Hanson v. Denckla,
357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958)). Depending on the kind of purposeful availment present, a court may
possess specific or general personal jurisdiction. The court exercises specific personal
jurisdiction “[w]hen a controversy is related to or ‘arises out of’ a defendant’s contacts with the
forum,” creating a “‘relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation.’”
Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 & n.8 (1984) (quoting
Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186, 204 (1977)). In contrast, the court may exercise general
personal jurisdiction over any claim against a defendant whose “affiliations with the State are so
‘continuous and systematic’ as to render them essentially at home in the forum State.” Daimler
AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746, 754 (2014) (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v.
Brown, 131 S. Ct. 2846, 2851 (2011)).
When a court decides a personal jurisdiction challenge based on briefs and accompanying
evidence, but without holding a discretionary evidentiary hearing, a plaintiff must make a prima
facie case of jurisdiction. See Madara, 916 F.2d at 1514 (citing Morris v. SSE, Inc., 843 F.2d
489, 492 (11th Cir. 1988)). “A prima facie case is established if the plaintiff presents enough
evidence to withstand a motion for directed verdict.” Id. (citing Morris, 843 F.2d at 492).
Sufficient evidence to defeat a directed verdict is “substantial evidence opposed to the motion
such that reasonable people, in the exercise of impartial judgment, might reach differing
conclusions.” Hipp v. Liberty Nat. Life Ins. Co., 252 F.3d 1208, 1230 (11th Cir. 2001) (internal
quotations omitted) (quoting Carter v. City of Miami, 870 F.2d 578, 581 (11th Cir. 1989)).
In this case, CHSI has submitted affidavits and other materials in support of its motion;
therefore, “the burden traditionally shifts back to the plaintiff to produce evidence supporting
jurisdiction unless those affidavits contain only conclusory assertions that the defendant is not
subject to jurisdiction.” See Meier ex rel. Meier v. Sun Int’l Hotels, Ltd., 288 F.3d 1264, 1269
(11th Cir. 2002) (citing Posner v. Essex Ins. Co., 178 F.3d 1209, 1215 (11th Cir. 1999)). The
court draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id. (citing Madara, 916 F.2d at
1514). Otherwise, where, as here, a motion to dismiss presents a factual challenge to the court’s
jurisdiction, “the trial court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of
its power to hear the case.” Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (internal
quotations omitted) (quoting Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 412 (5th Cir. 1981), cert.
denied, 454 U.S. 396 (1981)).
General Personal Jurisdiction
Plaintiff’s Response asserts only general personal jurisdiction, arguing that CHSI does
business in Alabama by operating the hospitals it owns in the state, including Affinity. Plaintiff’s
position boils down to an agency argument and so the court will address it as such. However, the
court notes that CHSI has presented evidence that it in no way operated or directed the operations
of the specific Hospital in question. Ms. Bidner has not attempted to dispute CHSI’s specific
arguments that it did not exercise authority over employment at the Hospital and did not control
the manner in which employees, including her supervisors, performed their duties. Thus, the
court FINDS that, absent a showing that CHSI and Affinity operated as a single legal entity,
Plaintiff has not met her burden to show that CHSI is subject to suit in Alabama.
CHSI has presented evidence establishing that CHSI is a holding company with no
employees, a corporate entity separate and distinct from the Hospital. Mr. Fordham’s first
affidavit states that CHSI is a parent company that does not directly own Affinity. “It is well
established that as long as a parent and a subsidiary are separate and distinct corporate entities,
the presence of one in a forum state may not be attributed to the other.” Consolidated Dev. Corp.
v. Sherritt, Inc., 216 F. 3d 1286, 1293 (11th Cir. 2000) (citing Cannon Mfg. Co. v. Cudahy
Packing Co., 267 U.S. 333, 337 (1925)); see also Ex parte Unitrin, Inc., 920 So. 2d 557, 561
(Ala. 2005) (“Doing business through a wholly owned subsidiary does not, in and of itself,
constitute doing business by the parent corporation.”). Therefore, the relationship of parent and
subsidiary alone does not confer personal jurisdiction upon this court over CHSI itself.
Plaintiff appears to argue that personal jurisdiction should attach to CHSI based on the
business activities and actions of its subsidiaries because those subsidiaries function as agents of
CHSI. Ms. Bidner describes CHSI’s subsidiaries as “closely controlled affiliates” and asserts that
“CHSI has conducted substantial business in Alabama and derived revenue and benefit from such
operations.” (Doc. 21 at 4, 5). But this characterization begs the question. To determine whether
the activities of a subsidiary confer jurisdiction over a parent company through an agency
relationship, the court examines whether the subsidiary is merely conducting the business of the
parent company, making the entities’ distinct corporate identities a mere formality. See Meier,
288 F.3d at 1274–75.
Plaintiff bases her agency argument in part upon a page on the www.chs.net website that
lists CHSI’s indirectly owned hospitals in Alabama. Language at the bottom of that page reads:
The terms “CHS” or the “Company” as used in this website refer to
Community Health Systems, Inc. and its affiliates, unless otherwise
stated or indicated by context. The term “facilities” refers to entities
owned or operated by subsidiaries or affiliates of Community Health
Systems, Inc. References herein to “CHS employees” or to “our
employees” refer to employees of affiliates of CHS Inc.
Plaintiff apparently reads this page as acknowledging that CHSI and its subsidiaries function as
one collective and integrated entity.
However, Mr. Fordham’s second affidavit states that CHSPSC, LLC2—not CHSI—owns
and operates the website. The “Legal Information” page of the chs.net website, attached as an
exhibit to Mr. Fordham’s second affidavit, confirms this ownership and also clarifies that the
website’s use of plural pronouns is for the sake of clarity and does not indicate legal
consolidation of CHSI and its indirectly owned subsidiaries.3 Plaintiffs bear the burden of
Mr. Fordham’s affidavits explain that CHSPSC, LLC is another indirectly owned
subsidiary of CHSI that provides consulting services to CHSI. (Doc. 12-1 at 1, Doc. 21-1 at 1).
The Legal Information section specifies that CHSI “is a holding company and does not
engage in any business other than those activities associated with being a publicly traded (NYSE:
CYH) stock company, such as listing agreements with the New York Stock Exchange (‘NYSE’)
and registration and compliance with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (‘SEC’).
CHSPSC, LLC provides management services to Community Health Systems, Inc., including
assisting it with its compliance obligations with both the NYSE and the SEC. Both of these
institutions require that public companies maintain information on an internet website that is
accessible to shareholders; this website fulfills those obligations. The information contained in
the website must be consistent with the official filings with the regulatory institutions. Integral to
those requirements is that information be presented in a consolidated fashion and include
statements and operating results for Community Health Systems, Inc. and its subsidiaries taken
as a whole. Statements that include the words ‘we,’ ‘us,’ ‘our,’ ‘the Company,’ and similar
inclusive words are intended to be summary information about the consolidation of Community
Health Systems, Inc., and its subsidiaries taken as a whole, and are not intended to bind or imply
that the actions of one legal entity should be attributed to the actions of another legal entity (such
as Community Health Systems, Inc.). In its registered filings with the SEC, Community Health
Systems, Inc. is required to adhere to the SEC’s principles of ‘plain English’ and avoid the use of
defined terms, jargon, and parenthetical exculpatory statements; for ease of reading, Community
Health Systems, Inc. and CHSPSC, LLC adhere to those principles throughout this website.
rebutting this evidence, but they have failed to do so.
This court FINDS that the list of CHSI’s subsidiary hospitals on a website owned and
operated by CHSPSC, LLC, a separate entity from CHSI, fails to support a finding that CHSI has
purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities with Alabama. Alternatively,
the court FINDS that the language on the website owned and operated by CHSPSC, LLC,
including but not limited to the language in the section “Legal Information,” fails to establish an
agency relationship between CHSI and Affinity, and otherwise fails to establish CHSI’s
minimum contacts with Alabama. Instead, the court FINDS that the language on the website
establishes that CHSI is a separate legal entity from Affinity.
Plaintiff also relies on similar inclusive, collective language in CHSI’s 2015 Form 10-K4
filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). However, the Form
10-K clarifies the use of that inclusive, collective phrasing by explaining that such phrasing is
meant to adhere to the SEC’s principles of plain English for ease of reading, but is not meant to
Each hospital affiliated with Community Health Systems, Inc. and CHSPSC, LLC is owned (or
leased) and operated by a separate and distinct legal entity. Each such legal entity is responsible
for the healthcare services delivered at its respective facility, employs its own management and
other personnel, and grants medical staff privileges and credentials to its own, separate medical
staff.” (Doc. 21-2 at 1).
Form 10-K is an annual report that the SEC requires companies to file and that gives a
comprehensive summary of a company’s financial performance. The Form 10-K upon which the
Plaintiffs rely contains the following language: “Throughout this Form 10-K, we refer to
Community Health Systems, Inc., or the Parent Company, and its consolidated subsidiaries in a
simplified manner and on a collective basis, using words like ‘we,’ ‘our,’ ‘us’ and the
‘Company.’ This drafting style is suggested by the Securities and Exchange Commission, or
SEC, and is not meant to indicate that the publicly-traded Parent Company or any particular
subsidiary of the Parent Company owns or operates any asset, business or property. The
hospitals, operations and businesses described in this filing are owned and operated, and
management services provided, by distinct and indirect subsidiaries of Community Health
Systems, Inc.” (Doc. 18-1 at 4).
indicate that CHSI operates Affinity or to attribute to CHSI the acts of its subsidiaries. The court
FINDS that the language in these SEC filings fails to establish an agency relationship between
CHSI and Affinity and that such language otherwise fails to establish CHSI’s minimum contacts
with Alabama. Plaintiff bears the burden of rebutting that evidence from the declaration, and the
court FINDS that she has failed to do so.
Plaintiff additionally alleges, based on statements in the 10-K, that CHSI filed for and
received a Certificate of Need (CON) from the Alabama Certificate of Need Review Board and
defended that CON in Alabama courts, spending upwards of $100 million on constructing a new
hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. CHSI has submitted excerpts from the CON in question
showing that it was filed by Affinity, not CHSI (docs. 21-3 to 21-10), and that CHSI was
dismissed from the lawsuit related to that CON because the court lacked personal jurisdiction
over CHSI. (Doc. 21-11). Thus, the court FINDS that the CON does not provide grounds for this
court to exercise jurisdiction over CHSI.
Ms. Bidner also argues, based on a list of CHSI subsidiary hospitals in the 10-K, that
CHSI “own[s] outright” eight of the ten hospitals it operates in Alabama and has entered into
leasehold agreements in Alabama. Ms. Bidner also relies upon language in the 10-K’s
“Acquisitions and Divestitures” section to assert that CHSI has profited from the sale of a
hospital in Alabama. The court FINDS that language from the 10-K, for the reasons discussed
above, is insufficient to rebut the statements in Mr. Fordham’s second affidavit that CHSI neither
directly owns nor leases any hospitals in Alabama5 and has never received any direct cash
Mr. Fordham’s second affidavit includes a list of CHSI’s seven subsidiary hospitals in
Alabama and the number of entities between each hospital and CHSI; the numbers range from
three to nine.
receipts from any of its subsidiary hospitals. Accord Ergo Licensing, LLC v. Cardinal Health,
Inc., 2009 WL 2021926 (D. Me. 2009) (quoting World–Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444
U.S. 286, 299 (1980) (“[F]inancial benefits accruing to a corporate parent from a subsidiary’s
relationship to the forum state will not support the exercise of jurisdiction over the parent in that
forum if the parent does not itself have a ‘constitutionally cognizable contact’ with that forum
Finally, Plaintiff asserts, again based on language in the 10-K, that CHSI’s corporate
compliance program and statement that it has “137,000 employees” indicate that CHSI does have
employees and is not merely a holding company. Setting aside the question of whether these
employees could establish minimum contacts with Alabama, CHSI admits that it maintains a
corporate compliance program required of all publicly-traded companies.6 Mr. Fordham’s second
affidavit explains that the members of CHSI’s compliance committee are CHSPSC employees
and affirms that CHSI itself has no employees. Moreover, as the 10-K explains, the use of plural
pronouns in the context of the 10-K does not establish that CHSI and its subsidiaries operate as a
collective unit. The court FINDS that Plaintiff has not met her burden to rebut this evidence and
that the corporate compliance program and total employee number do not establish sufficient
minimum contacts with Alabama for this court to exercise jurisdiction over CHSI.
Having found that no sufficient minimum contacts exist to satisfy the Due Process
Clause, this court does not reach the question of whether the exercise of jurisdiction would
Section 303A.10 of the NYSE Listed Company Manual provides: “Listed companies
must adopt and disclose a code of conduct and ethics for directors, officers and employees, and
promptly disclose any waivers of the code for directors or executive officers.” (2017),
“‘offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.’” Madara, 916 F.2d at 1514
(quoting Int’l Shoe, 326 U.S. at 316).
The court FINDS that the Plaintiffs have failed to establish that Affinity is an agent of
CHSI for the purpose of establishing CHSI’s minimum contacts with Alabama. The court
FINDS that the Plaintiffs have established neither general personal jurisdiction nor specific
personal jurisdiction over CHSI in Alabama. Accordingly, the court GRANTS CHSI’s motion to
dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court will enter a separate order consistent with this
DONE this the 23rd day of January, 2017.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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