Ison et al v. Manzola et al
ORDER denying 3 Motion to Dismiss without prejudice. Signed by Judge D. P. Marshall Jr. on 11/3/11. (kpr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
JOHN ISON; REBECCA ISON; CENTRAL
ARKANSAS MARINE, LLC d/b/a GREERS
FERRY LAKE MARINE & ATV; and
CHOCTOW MARINA, LLC
MICHAEL MANZOLA d/b/a MANZOLA
CONSTRUCTION afk/a MANZOLA
CARPENTRY; and JEANNINE MANZOLA
d/b/a MANZOLA CONSTRUCTION afk/a
1. The Isons and Manzolas are family members in a dispute about a
condominium attached to the Manzolas' Massachusetts home. Mrs. Ison is
Mrs. Manzola's mother; Mr. Ison is her step-father; Mr. Manzola is a
contractor. According to the Isons, during a 2006 visit to their Arkansas
home, the parties made a contract that Mr. Manzola would build the Isons a
condo attached to the Manzolas' home for $120,000.00. Checks to Manzola
Construction totaling that amount are attached to the complaint. By 2010, the
condo had been built (mostly) but the parties fell out. The Isons want their
money back, either on their contract (or one implied by law) or on a
conversion theory. The Manzolas say there was no contract and the checks
were gifts. Forum questions need deciding. Does the Court have personal
jurisdiction over the Manzolas? And even if that power exists, is Arkansas a
proper and convenient venue?
2. The Court denies the Manzolas' illotion to dismiss for want of
jurisdiction. The Isons have made a prima facie showing that the Manzolas
have sufficient minimum contacts with Arkansas to support this Court having
power over them in this family dispute. Epps v. Stewart Information Services
Corp., 327 F.3d 642, 647 (8th Cir. 2003). The Court has not held an evidentiary
hearing, and relies instead on the complaint and the parties' dueling
affidavits. The Court must look at the facts in the light most favorable to the
Isons and resolve all factual conflicts in their favor. Epps, 327 F.3d at 646-47.
The Isons' contract and quasi-contract claims are the hub of the case.
Arkansas's long-arm statute, ARK. CODE ANN. § 16-4-101, extends as far as the
Due Process Clause allows. Dever v. Hentzen Coatings, Inc., 380 F.3d 1070,1073
(8th Cir. 2004). So the familiar issue is the Manzolas' contacts with Arkansas.
Dever, 380 F.3d at 1073-74. The Isons made a run at establishing general
personal jurisdiction because Mr. Manzola discussed doing building projects
in Arkansas with other family members. Nothing ever came of these
discussions. And these contacts are thin, not doing business continuously and
systemically in Arkansas. No general personal jurisdiction over the Manzolas
exists. Dever, 380 F.3d at 1074.
But resolving the disputed facts in the 1sons' favor at this preliminary
stage, specific personal jurisdiction exists over the Manzolas in the condo
dispute. Mr. Manzola proposed the project in Arkansas during a 2006 visit.
He and Mr. 1son planned the condo here. And the parties came to terms on the
construction details and the price. For two years or so the parties talked by
telephone and emailed between Arkansas and Massachusetts about the
construction work. All of this was purposeful availment by Manzola of doing
business with Arkansas residents. Dever, 380 F.3d at 1073.
As a matter of performance, the Manzolas are right that their (disputed)
obligations were to build the condo in Massachusetts and make it available
exclusively to their in-laws. The 1sons, for their part, performed in Arkansas
by writing checks on their Jacksonville bank account and mailing them to the
Manzolas. The place a contract is made, though a weighty consideration, is
not determinative; adding in the parties' course of dealing and the place of
performance, the balance tips for Arkansas. K- V Pharmaceutical Co. v. J Uriach
& CIA, S.A., 648 F.3d 588, 593-94 (8th Cir. 2011).
The Court has considered all the relevant factors, giving emphasis to the
nature, quality, and quantity of the Manzolas' contacts with Arkansas and the
direct line between those contacts and this dispute. Dever, 380 F.3d at 1073-74.
The Isons have made a prima facie showing that the Manzolas' contacts with
Arkansas were sufficient. The Manzolas could reasonably have anticipated
having to appear in an Arkansas court about the condo contract. Notions of
fair play and substantial justice are not offended by that event coming to pass.
3. The Manzolas' alternative motion to dismiss based on improper
venue fails too.
[A] substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to
the claims occurred" in Arkansas and in Massachusetls. 28 U.S.C. § 1391 (a)(2).
Whether the parties made a contract will turn on what started here and ended
there. Mr. Manzola's proposal, their initial discussions, their deal (or lack of
one) - all these events occurred in Arkansas. Mr. Manzola's work, the parties'
falling out, and the alleged conversion all occurred in Massachusetts. The
condo is there. Venue is thus proper in either place. Ibid.
Exercising discretion informed by the record as a whole, the Court also
declines the Manzolas' alternative request to transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404.
Again, this case is about whether the Isons and Manzolas made a contract or
the law should imply one to prevent unjust enrichment. Those questions will
not be answered by subcontractors or building inspectors. They will be
answered by the parties and their extended family. Most of these people are
in Arkansas. Whatever the venue, some of the parties and witnesses will be
inconvenienced. There will be less inconvenience, as best the Court can tell at
this point, by leaving the case here. The interests of justice do not weigh for
a transfer either: the Isons' choice of forum is entitled to weight; Arkansas law
seems applicable to the contract and quasi-contract claims, while
Massachusetts law seems applicable on conversion; and the Manzolas have
not demonstrated a financial inability to litigate in Arkansas. The case will
probably cost both sides about the same wherever the Court.
* * *
Motion, Document No.3, denied without prejudice.
D.P. Marshall Jr.
United States District Judge
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