COSTA et al v. MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC. et al
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION RE: DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS FOR IMPROPER VENUE, OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, TO TRANSFER VENUE TO THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA (DOC. NO.4). SIGNED BY HONORABLE JUAN R. SANCHEZ ON 12/10/2012. 12/11/2012 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(kk, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
GEORGIANNE COSTA, et al.
MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC., et al. :
Juan R. Sánchez, J.
December 10, 2012
Plaintiffs Georgianne and Frank Costa bring this personal injury action against Defendants
Marriott International, Inc., Marriott Ownership Resorts, Inc., and Marriott Ownership Resorts, Inc.
d/b/a Marriott Vacation Club International. Defendants asks this Court to dismiss this action for
improper venue pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) or, in the alternative, to transfer
this action to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1406 because all of the events giving rise to this action occurred in Florida and the only
relationship Pennsylvania has with this action is that Plaintiffs reside here. Plaintiffs concede all of
the events at issue occurred in Florida, but assert venue is nevertheless proper in this District and the
interests of fairness and convenience weigh strongly against transfer. For the following reasons,
Defendants’ motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to transfer this action will be granted inasmuch
as this case will be transferred to the Middle District of Florida.
On or about April 29, 2010, Georgianne Costa was a hotel guest at Marriott’s Crystal Shores
resort in Marco Island, Collier County, Florida. Costa alleges “the lanai/balcony located in [her]
room was unreasonably dangerous in that it was moist, slick and/or wet and/or had a tendency to
become moist, slick and/or wet during the evening causing the lanai/balcony to become extremely
slippery.” Compl. ¶ 11. As a result of this condition, Costa alleges she slipped and fell “violently
to the ground” when she walked across the lanai/balcony. Id. ¶ 12. Costa asserts “[D]efendants had
a legal duty to keep the hotel premises free from hazards, and to seek out and remedy dangerous
conditions that existed on the property in order to avoid injuring members of the public invited onto
the Crystal Shores Resort.” Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiffs assert claims of negligence and loss of consortium.
Defendant Marriott Ownership Resorts, Inc., also does business as Marriott Vacation Club
International. DePalma Aff. ¶ 2. These entities are referred to collectively as “MORI.” MORI is
a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Orlando, Florida. Id. ¶ 1; Compl. ¶ 3.
MORI is the developer and seller of timeshare interests at the Crystal Shores resort, and is not
registered to conduct business in Pennsylvania. DePalma Aff. ¶¶ 3, 9. MORI is not listed in
telephone directories in Pennsylvania and does not operate any resorts, maintain any offices or bank
accounts, pay taxes, or otherwise conduct business in this Commonwealth. DePalma Aff. ¶¶ 8, 1015. None of the officers, directors, agents or employees acting on behalf of MORI are located in this
Commonwealth. Id. ¶ 16.
Defendant Marriott International, Inc. is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of
business in Bethesda, Maryland. Id. ¶ 2. At the time of the incident, Marriott International, Inc. was
the parent corporation of Marriott Ownership Resorts, Inc. and Marriott Ownership Resorts, Inc.
d/b/a Marriott Vacation Club International. Defs.’ Reply Br. 2 & Ex. A, Aff. of Patricia DePalma,
¶ 4. Marriott International, Inc. is “registered/authorized to transact business in Pennsylvania.”
Compl. ¶ 2.
Pursuant to the general venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), venue of a civil action is proper
(1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents
of the State in which the district is located; (2) a judicial district in which a
substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a
substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated; or (3) if there
is no district in which an action may otherwise be brought as provided in this section,
any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court’s personal
jurisdiction with respect to such action.
Defendants assert venue cannot be established in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania under
§ 1391(b)(1) because none of the defendant entities resides in this Commonwealth. For purposes
of venue, a defendant corporation is “deemed to reside . . . in any judicial district in which such
defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to the civil action in question.”
28 U.S.C. § 1391(c)(2). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k) allows district courts to exercise
personal jurisdiction over a defendant to the extent allowable under the laws of the state in which
the district court sits. In Pennsylvania, a court may exercise jurisdiction over nonresidents to “the
fullest extent allowed under the Constitution of the United States and [jurisdiction] may be based
on the most minimum contact with this Commonwealth.” 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5322(b). The
Constitution permits a court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant that has sufficient
contacts with the forum “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)
(citations omitted). “The nature of these contacts must be such that the defendant should be
Because this Court is transferring this action, the Court need not address Defendants’ motion to
reasonably able to anticipate being haled into court in the forum state.” Provident Nat’l Bank v. Cal.
Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n, 819 F.2d 434, 437 (3d Cir. 1987) (citing World-Wide Volkswagen Corp.
v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980)). Generally, the defendant bears the burden of showing venue
is improper. Myers v. Am. Dental Ass’n, 695 F.2d 716, 724 (3d Cir. 1982). When a motion to
dismiss raises a jurisdictional question, however, the plaintiff must demonstrate the Court has
jurisdiction. Id. at 724 n.10; Provident Nat’l Bank, 819 F.2d at 437. To show sufficient minimum
contacts for personal jurisdiction, a plaintiff must show the cause of action arose out of the
defendant’s specific actions in the forum state (specific jurisdiction) or the defendant has
“continuous and systematic” contacts with the forum state (general jurisdiction). Provident Nat’l
Bank, 819 F.2d at 437 (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414,
In their Complaint and brief in opposition to Defendants’ motion, Plaintiffs argue Defendants
“systematically and continuously transacted business” in Pennsylvania. Yet Plaintiffs have failed
to allege or provide evidence to suggest that Defendants do any business in Pennsylvania, let alone
that their contacts are “systematic and continuous.” MORI is a Delaware corporation; it is not
registered or licensed to do business in Pennsylvania and has no offices or employees in this
Commonwealth; no one in this state can receive service of process on its behalf; and it does not own
property or sell goods in this state. Plaintiffs nevertheless argue this Court has personal jurisdiction
over MORI based solely on the entity’s affiliation with Marriot International, Inc. and the assumption
that because Marriott International, Inc. is a national corporation, all Defendants are subject to
personal jurisdiction here. Indeed, Plaintiffs argue generally “[i]t is . . . hard to imagine corporations
as large as Defendants, that own or operate hotels throughout the United States, do not maintain a
single hotel or office within [this] District,” concluding “[t]hus, it would appear that Defendants are,
in fact, subject to the personal jurisdiction of this Court.” Pls.’ Opp’n 6. Marriott International, Inc.,
however, was merely the parent corporation at the time of the alleged incident and had no
involvement with the development, sales, operation or management of the Crystal Shores resort at
the time of the incident. Defs.’ Reply Br. 2 & DePalma Aff. ¶ 5. Defendants thus assert Marriott
International, Inc. is not even a proper defendant to this action. DePalma Aff. ¶ 6.
Whether Marriott International, Inc. resides in this state for venue purposes is irrelevant in
light of the complete absence of business transactions by MORI in this state. There is nothing in
Plaintiffs’ Complaint or opposition brief to suggest that MORI engaged in any forum-related
activities or that this case arises from or relates to conduct purposefully directed at this forum.
Under the pleading standard set forth by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, Plaintiffs’ conclusory
allegation regarding Defendants’ systematic and continuous transactions of business in Pennsylvania
is insufficient to show they have sufficient minimum contacts with this state for this Court to
exercise personal jurisdiction over them. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009) (stating,
in deciding a motion to dismiss, courts need not accept as true “threadbare recitals of a cause of
action’s elements, supported by mere conclusory statements”). Plaintiffs thus have failed to show
MORI have sufficient contacts with Pennsylvania to establish either specific or general personal
jurisdiction such that these Defendants would reasonably anticipate being haled into court here.
Given Plaintiffs’ failure to meet their burden on the jurisdictional issue, Defendants have shown
MORI does not reside in Pennsylvania for venue purposes. Venue, therefore, does not lie in this
District under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1).
Defendants assert venue in this District also cannot be established under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1391(b)(2) because “none of the events giving rise to Plaintiffs’ claim occurred in the Eastern
District of Pennsylvania.” Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss 4. Pursuant to § 1391(b)(2), venue is proper in
a “judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim
occurred.” To analyze whether events or omissions are substantial, “it is necessary to look at the
nature of the dispute.” Cottman Transmission Sys., Inc. v. Martino, 36 F.3d 291, 295 (3d Cir. 1994).
“Events or omissions that might only have some tangential connection with the dispute in litigation
are not enough.” Id. at 294. The requirement of substantiality “preserve[s] the element of fairness
so that a defendant is not haled into a remote district having no real relationship to the dispute.” Id.
This lawsuit arises out of an accident at Marriott’s Crystal Shores resort in Marco Island,
Florida. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that as a result of the dangerous condition of the lanai/balcony
of the hotel room in which Georgianne Costa was staying, “Costa was caused to slip and fall”
resulting in the injuries about which she complains. In fact, Plaintiffs do not allege that any events
giving rise to this lawsuit took place in this District. Thus, because Plaintiffs concede none of the
events or omissions giving rise to their claims occurred here, venue does not lie in this District
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2).
Defendants next assert this action may not be brought in this District pursuant to § 1391(b)(3)
because the action may be brought in the Middle District of Florida where the Crystal Shores resort
is located and the events giving rise to Plaintiffs’ claims occurred. See § 1391(b)(3) (providing “if
there is no district in which an action may otherwise be brought,” venue is proper in “any judicial
district in which any defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to such
action”); see also Streppone v. Fayette, No. 08-21374, 2008 WL 2262029, at *2 (S.D. Fla. May 30,
2008) (stating Collier County is located in the Middle District of Florida). Because the Middle
District of Florida is an appropriate forum for this action, this section does not apply.
Since venue in this District is improper, this Court must determine whether this case should
be dismissed or, in the alternative, transferred to another judicial district that has personal
jurisdiction over the parties. In federal court, questions concerning proper venue are governed by
28 U.S.C. §§ 1404(a) or 1406. Section 1404(a) governs disputes where both the original and
requested venue are proper, and thus does not apply here,2 while § 1406 applies where the original
venue is improper, and provides for either transfer or dismissal of the case. See 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a)
(stating “[t]he district court of a district in which is filed a case laying venue in the wrong division
or district shall dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district or
division in which it could have been brought”).
This Court sees no reason to dismiss this case, thus forcing Plaintiffs to refile and reserve
Defendants in another district. As stated earlier, the events that led to this lawsuit took place in the
Middle District of Florida. Thus, in the interest of justice, and to spare the litigants unnecessary cost
and effort, Defendants’ motion to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Middle
District of Florida will be granted pursuant to § 1406.
Plaintiffs argue transfer of this matter would be inappropriate as “considerations of convenience
and fairness, including the public and private factors relevant to any transfer inquiry, weigh strongly
against the transfer of this matter to the Middle District of Florida.” Pls.’ Opp’n 1 (relying on 28
U.S.C. § 1404). Plaintiffs emphasize because they reside in this forum, it is their forum of choice,
and at least four witnesses reside within 100 miles of this District, this District is the most
appropriate venue. Id. at 7-13. The number and location of witnesses, however, are not factors to
be considered when determining venue under § 1391(b) and § 1406.
An appropriate order follows.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Juan R. Sánchez
Juan R. Sánchez, J.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?