McQueen v. Huddleston and Huddleston
-CLERK TO FOLLOW UP---DECISION AND ORDER denying the portion of Defendant's 13 submission designated as a Motion to Dismiss. The portion of Item 13 designated as an "Answer" shall be considered the operative responsive pleading. A Scheduling Telephone Conference will be held on 7/16/2014 at 1:45 p.m. The parties are directed to comply with the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. 26 prior to the Scheduling Conference. Signed by Hon. John T. Curtin on 4/30/2014. (JEC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
LEE HUDDLESTON d/b/a
HUDDLESTON AND HUDDLESTON
ATTORNEYS AT LAW,
In this action, filed in March 2013, plaintiff Donald McQueen seeks relief pursuant
to various provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C.
§§ 1692 et seq., against attorney Lee Huddleston, doing business as Huddleston and
Huddleston, Attorneys at Law, based on allegations involving defendant’s attempts to
collect on a debt that plaintiff contends was satisfied in 2006. See Item 1. In lieu of
answering the complaint, defendant–appearing pro se–moved to dismiss the complaint on
various grounds, including improper venue, lack of personal jurisdiction, insufficient
process, insufficient service, and failure to join a necessary party. Item 6.
By order entered October 10, 2013 (Item 11), this court denied defendant’s motion
to dismiss in its entirety, and granted plaintiff’s cross-motion for leave to amend the
complaint in order to name the proper defendant.
McQueen v. Huddleston and
Huddleston, 2013 WL 5592804 (W.D.N.Y. Oct. 10, 2013). The court directed plaintiff to
file the amended complaint within thirty days, and directed defendant to file a responsive
pleading in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See id. at *6.
Plaintiff filed the amended complaint on November 11, 2013 (Item 12).
December 5, 2013 (three days after the due date for filing a responsive pleading; see Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(a)(1)(A)(i) (“A defendant must serve an answer … within 21 days after being
served with the summons and complaint ….”)), defendant filed a singular document entitled
“Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction and Answer” consisting
of an unsworn statement of “the correct facts” based on knowledge and information “from
speaking with those who are directly involved with the collection efforts” (Item 13, p. 1); a
loosely-constructed memorandum of law pertaining to the requirements for exercising
personal jurisdiction over a defendant (id. at 3-5); and an answer to the amended
complaint (id. at 5-6). Notwithstanding both the untimely filing and the procedurally
improper hybrid composition of this document, see Rule 7 of the Local Rules of Civil
Procedure for the Western District of New York (requiring separate notice of motion,
memorandum of law, and affidavit), the court has considered the matters set forth therein,
and rules as follows.
To the extent the document purports to present a motion to dismiss the amended
complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, the motion is denied. It is the plaintiff’s burden
to establish that the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Robinson v.
Overseas Military Sales Corp., 21 F.3d 502, 507 (2d Cir. 1994). Prior to discovery, plaintiff
satisfies this burden by “ ‘pleading in good faith, legally sufficient allegations of
jurisdiction.’ ” Dorchester Financial Securities, Inc. v. Banco BRJ, S.A., 722 F.3d 81, 84
(2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Ball v. Metallurgie Hoboken–Overpelt, S.A., 902 F.2d 194, 197 (2d
Cir. 1990). At this point, “the plaintiff need persuade the court only that its factual
allegations constitute a prima facie showing of jurisdiction.” Ball, 902 F.2d at 197; see also
Weinar v. Lex, 2014 WL 325698, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 23, 2014). This showing may be
made through affidavits and supporting materials “containing an averment of facts that, if
credited, would suffice to establish jurisdiction over the defendant.” S. New Eng. Tel. Co.
v. Global NAPs Inc., 624 F.3d 123, 138 (2d Cir. 2010); see also AEP–PRI Inc. v. Galtronics
Corp. Ltd., 2013 WL 4400833, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 13, 2013).
“Personal jurisdiction of a federal court over a non-resident defendant is governed
by the law of the state in which the court sits—subject, of course, to certain constitutional
limitations of due process.” Robinson v. Overseas Military Sales Corp., 21 F.3d 502, 510
(2d Cir.1994), quoted in Zywinski v. Alsenas, 2007 WL 1791224, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. June 19,
2007). The court therefore must first examine if the exercise of jurisdiction over defendant
Huddleston, a resident of Kentucky, is appropriate under New York's long-arm statute, N.Y.
Civ. Prac. L. & R. (“C.P.L.R.”) § 302(a), which authorizes the exercise of personal
jurisdiction over non-domiciliaries in certain circumstances. See e.g., Bensusan Rest.
Corp. v. King, 126 F.3d 25, 27 (2d Cir. 1997); Whitaker v. American Telecasting, Inc., 261
F.3d 196, 208 (2d Cir. 2001). If personal jurisdiction is authorized under C.P.L.R. § 302(a),
the court must then determine if the exercise of jurisdiction complies with the requirements
of due process. See Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Robertson–Ceco Corp., 84 F.3d 560, 567
(2d Cir.), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1006 (1996); Zywinski, 2007 WL 1791224, at *2.
Plaintiff relies on C.P.L.R. § 302(a)(1), which provides:
(a) Acts which are the basis of jurisdiction. As to a cause of action arising
from any of the acts enumerated in this section, a court may exercise
personal jurisdiction over any non-domiciliary, or his executor or
administrator, who in person or through an agent:
1. transacts any business within the state or contracts anywhere to supply
goods or services in the state ….
C.P.L.R. § 302(a)(1).
As explained by the New York Court of Appeals, C.P.L.R.
§ 302(a)(1) “is a ‘single act statute’ and proof of one transaction in New York is sufficient
to invoke jurisdiction, even though the defendant never enters New York, so long as the
defendant's activities here were purposeful and there is a substantial relationship between
the transaction and the claim asserted.” Kreutter v. McFadden, 71 N.Y.2d 460, 467 (1988);
see also Weiss v. Barc, Inc., 2013 WL 2355509, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. May 29, 2013) (“[T]he
transaction must be such that the defendant purposefully availed himself of the privilege
of conducting activities in New York, thereby invoking the benefits and protections of New
York law.”) (citing Best Van Lines Inc., 490 F.3d 239, 253–54 (2d Cir. 2007)).
Under this standard, and based on the factual allegations and averments in the
pleadings and submissions in the record so far, the court finds that plaintiff has made a
sufficient prima facie showing to authorize the exercise of personal jurisdiction over
defendant pursuant to C.P.L.R. § 302(a)(1). Plaintiff alleges that, following his default on
a debt he owed to CitiFinancial, an entity known as “CSGA, LLC” acquired the debt and
obtained a judgment against plaintiff, and plaintiff satisfied the judgment in March 2006.
See Item 12, ¶¶ 9-13. The materials submitted to the court further reflect that, on April 21,
2009, defendant sent a letter from his law office in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to plaintiff at
his address in Medina, New York, advising that defendant had been hired to collect the
outstanding balance and interest still due on the judgment entered on plaintiff’s debt to
CityFinancial, and that the letter was being sent as an attempt to execute the judgment.
See Item 9-2, p. 1. On April 22, 2009, defendant called plaintiff and left a message on his
telephone answering machine in connection with this collection effort. See Item 6, p. 2.
Plaintiff claims that defendant contacted him again in early 2012 regarding the debt,
prompting plaintiff to file a consumer complaint with the New York State Attorney General's
Office in February 2012. Defendant responded to the consumer complaint, stating that he
had closed the collection account upon learning that the judgment had been satisfied (see
Item 7, p. 5). Plaintiff claims that, contrary to defendant’s representations to the Attorney
General, defendant continued his collection efforts, including leaving a voicemail message
on March 27, 2012, in which defendant indicated that a lawsuit had been filed against
plaintiff and that other legal actions were being taken to execute on the judgment. See
Item 12, ¶¶ 15–23.
Considering the totality of these circumstances, the court finds that defendant
purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting activities within New York by
sending a collection letter into the state, thereby initiating contact with plaintiff, and by
making at least two telephone calls to plaintiff and leaving voicemails related to his debt
collection efforts. These activities demonstrate a substantial, direct relationship between
defendant’s collection transactions within the state and the claims asserted by plaintiff in
this action, sufficient to authorize the court’s exercise of long-arm jurisdiction under
C.P.L.R. § 302(a)(1). See, e.g., Fava v. RRI, Inc., 1997 WL 205336 (N.D.N.Y. Apr. 24,
1997) (finding personal jurisdiction appropriate under C.P.L.R. § 302(a)(1) for an FDCPA
claim where defendant purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities
within New York by (1) initiating contact with the plaintiff; (2) sending a collection notice into
the state; (3) sending two faxes related to its collection efforts into the state; and (4)
making at least five phone calls related to its collection effort into the state); see also Sluys
v. Hand, 831 F. Supp. 321, 324 (S.D.N.Y. 1993) (same where defendant, a lawyer in
Indiana, sent the plaintiff a single collection letter, with a copy to the plaintiff’s employer,
“causing consequences in New York in connection with efforts to collect the alleged debt.”);
Sisler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2003 WL 23508105, at *1 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 24, 2003)
(finding personal jurisdiction appropriate under C.P.L.R. § 302(a)(1) where debt collection
letters defendant sent into state gave rise to FDCPA claim; citing with approval Sluys); cf.
Silva v. Jason Head, PLC, 2010 WL 4593704, at *3 (N.D.Cal. Nov. 4, 2010) (finding
personal jurisdiction over nonresident attorney/debt collector appropriate under California
law based on single voicemail giving rise to FDCPA claim); Maloon v. Schwartz, Zweban
& Slingbaum, L.L.P., 399 F. Supp. 2d 1108, 1111-13 (D.Haw. 2005) (finding personal
jurisdiction over nonresident debt collector appropriate under Hawaii law based on single
collection letter giving rise to FDCPA claim).
The second part of the personal jurisdiction inquiry assesses whether the court's
assertion of jurisdiction under the long-arm statute comports with the requirements of due
process. See Metropolitan Life, 84 F.3d at 567. As explained by the Second Circuit:
The due process test for personal jurisdiction has two related components:
the “minimum contacts” inquiry and the “reasonableness” inquiry. The court
must first determine whether the defendant has sufficient contacts with the
forum state to justify the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction.
The second stage of the due process inquiry asks whether the
assertion of personal jurisdiction comports with “traditional notions of fair play
and substantial justice”—that is, whether it is reasonable under the
circumstances of the particular case.
Id. (citing International Shoe Company v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)).
With regard to the “minimum contacts” component, the courts make a distinction
between “specific” jurisdiction and “general” jurisdiction. Specific jurisdiction exists when
the court exercises personal jurisdiction over a defendant “in a suit arising out of or related
to the defendant's contacts with the forum .…” Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A.
v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 n.8 (1984), quoted in Metropolitan Life, 84 F.3d at 568. General
jurisdiction, on the other hand “is based on the defendant's general business contacts with
the forum state and permits a court to exercise its power in a case where the subject
matter of the suit is unrelated to those contacts …,” and the courts “impose a more
stringent minimum contacts test, requiring the plaintiff to demonstrate the defendant's
‘continuous and systematic general business contacts.’ ” Metropolitan Life, 84 F.3d at 568
(quoting Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 416). Because this lawsuit arises out of defendant's
contacts with the forum state in connection with his debt collection activities, the test for
minimum contacts is less stringent, and is satisfied by the contacts described above. Cf.
Fava, 1997 WL 205336, at *3 (minimum contacts satisfied in FDCPA suit arising out of
defendant’s debt collection activity within the state, including sending a debt collection
notice and two faxes, and making five phone calls) (citing McGee v. International Life Ins.
Co., 355 U.S. 220, 223 (1957) (contacts sufficient where insurance contract delivered in
state, insured mailed premiums from forum state, and insured was a resident of forum
state when he died); Sluys, 831 F. Supp. at 323–24 (non-resident defendant's mailing of
two debt collection letters into New York subjected him to personal jurisdiction)).
In assessing the reasonableness of the exercise of jurisdiction in a particular case,
the court must consider:
… the burden on the defendant, the interests of the forum State, and the
plaintiff's interest in obtaining relief. It must also weigh in its determination
“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.”
Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Superior Court, 480 U.S. 102, 113–14 (1987) (quoting
World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 292 (1980)). “On the other
hand, where a defendant who purposefully has directed his activities at forum residents
seeks to defeat jurisdiction, he must present a compelling case that the presence of some
other considerations would render jurisdiction unreasonable.” Burger King Corp. v.
Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 477 (1985).
In this case, as discussed above, plaintiff’s prima facie showing has convinced the
court that defendant purposefully directed his debt collection activities at a resident of this
forum “such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there …,”
World-Wide Volkswagen, 444 U.S. at 297, and defendant has identified no compelling
factor that makes the exercise of personal jurisdiction in this matter unreasonable. As
persuasively explained by the district court in Sluys:
Where an alleged debtor is located in a jurisdiction and receives documents
from a person purporting to be a debt collector located elsewhere, and the
transmittal of those documents is claimed to have violated the [FDCPA], suits
may be brought where the debtor … receive[s] the communications.
Otherwise, one could invoke the protection of distance and send violative
letters with relative impunity, at least so far as less well-funded parties are
Sluys, 831 F. Supp. at 324.
Accordingly, the court finds that the pleadings, affirmations, and supporting
materials on file constitute a sufficient averment of credible facts to establish that the
exercise of personal jurisdiction over defendant in this FDCPA action is authorized under
C.P.L.R. § 302(a)(1), and complies with the requirements of due process.
For the foregoing reasons, that portion of defendant’s submission entered on
December 5, 2013 (Item 13) designated as a motion to dismiss for lack of personal
jurisdiction is denied.
That portion of Item 13 designated as the “Answer” to the amended complaint shall
be considered the operative responsive pleading in the case.
A scheduling conference will be held by telephone on Wednesday, July 16, 2014
at 1:45 p.m.
The court will initiate the call.
PRIOR TO THE SCHEDULING
CONFERENCE, THE PARTIES ARE DIRECTED TO COMPLY WITH
REQUIREMENTS OF RULE 26 OF THE FEDERAL RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE. This
means that, at a minimum, (1) the parties are to have exchanged initial disclosures as
required by Rule 26(a)(1); (2) the parties are to have met or conferred, as required under
Rule 26(f); and (3) the parties are to have submitted a proposed discovery plan to the court
at least 7 days prior to the scheduling conference as also required by Rule 26(f).
\s\ John T. Curtin
JOHN T. CURTIN
United States District Judge
Dated: April 30, 2014
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