Wright v. Suntrust Bank et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting Defendants Teresa Pike and Christina Lee Byrd's 2 MOTION to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction. Signed by Judge David A. Faber on 5/20/2011. (cc: counsel of record) (mjp)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
LACY WRIGHT, JR.,
CIVIL ACTION NO.: 1:11-cv-00041
SUNTRUST BANK, et al.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is the motion to dismiss for lack of
personal jurisdiction of defendants Teresa Pike and Christina Lee
Byrd (Doc. # 2).
For reasons more fully explained herein, the
defendants’ motion is GRANTED.
I. Factual and Procedural History
Plaintiff, Lacy Wright, Jr. (“Wright”), brought this action
against defendants SunTrust Bank, Teresa Pike and Christina Lee
Byrd (collectively “defendants”) on December 17, 2010 in the
Circuit Court of Mercer County, West Virginia.
principal place of business is in Atlanta, Georgia; both Byrd and
Pike are residents of Montgomery County, Virginia; and Wright is
a resident of McDowell County, West Virginia.
There is complete
diversity of citizenship between the parties.
SunTrust branches in which Wright sought to do business are
located in Fairlawn, Virginia, and Radford, Virginia.
This case centers on a series of events related to Wright’s
transacting banking business with SunTrust on behalf of his
Defendants Pike and Byrd are both SunTrust
Wright alleges that he gave the defendants a valid
power of attorney, permitting him to handle his mother’s banking
Wright alleges that the defendants lost that power of
attorney, and he consequently furnished them with a new copy.
According to Wright, he gave defendants at least two more copies
of the power of attorney.
Nonetheless, on November 6, 2010, when Wright attempted to
transact business for his elderly mother, defendants informed him
that they did not have a valid power of attorney on file.
lists in his complaint a handful of occasions after November 6,
2010, on which he experienced further difficulties handling his
mother’s affairs despite the existence of the allegedly valid
power of attorney.
Specifically, with respect to the individual defendants,
Wright avers that Christina Lee Byrd (“Byrd”) told him that he
“could not conduct business at that [SunTrust] branch (Fairlawn
Branch), because his mother’s Power of Attorney was at the
SunTrust Kent Street location. . . .”
then alleges that Teresa Pike (“Pike”), who is SunTrust Bank’s
employee and Branch Manager at the Kent Street SunTrust branch,
told him that he “could not transact banking business for his
mother. . . .”
In so doing, Wright argues, Pike “wrongfully
and negligently refus[ed] to honor a legally valid power of
attorney and continu[ed] a pattern and course of negligent and
wrongful conduct and breach[ed] numerous duties to the
Id. at 6.
Wright also claims that Byrd and Pike
unreasonably allowed financial transactions to close on his
mother’s account, even though Wright had previously warned them
of his belief that his mother might fall victim to financial
abuse and fraud by undisclosed third parties.
general damages in the amount of $75,000, plus punitive damages
for defendants’ conduct.
On January 18, 2011, defendants removed the case to this
court, invoking diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
On the same day, defendants Pike and Byrd filed the instant
motion, alleging lack of personal jurisdiction.
II. Standard of Review
Plaintiff bears the burden of proving personal jurisdiction
by a preponderance of the evidence.
Work While U-Wait, Inc. v.
TELeasy Corp., No. 2:07-266, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79023, at *4
(S.D.W. Va. Oct. 24, 2007).
“When the court addresses the
question on the basis only of motion papers, supporting legal
memoranda and the relevant allegations of a complaint, the burden
on the plaintiff is simply to make a prima facie showing of a
sufficient jurisdictional basis in order to survive the
(4th Cir. 1989).
Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676
“In considering a challenge on such a record,
the court must construe all relevant pleading allegations in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff, assume credibility, and
draw the most favorable inferences for the existence of
In all, there is a "very low threshold
showing necessary to establish a prima facie case of personal
jurisdiction" in West Virginia.
Vass v. Volvo Trucks N. Am.,
Inc., 304 F. Supp. 2d 851, 855 (S.D.W. Va. 2004).
“Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(1)(A) provides a
federal court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant
in the manner provided by state law.”
Id. at 853 (citing
Carefirst of Md., Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334
F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003)).
“For a district court to assert
personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, two
conditions must be satisfied: (1) the exercise of jurisdiction
must be authorized under the state's long-arm statute; and (2)
Where there is a factual dispute with respect to personal
jurisdiction, the district court may hold an evidentiary hearing,
or it may defer a ruling until trial, when more evidence on the
issue becomes available. Stand Energy Corp. v. Columbia Gas
Transmission Corp., No. 2:04:0867, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20866,
at *8 (S.D.W. Va. Aug. 8, 2005). In the instant case, there is
no factual dispute between the parties, as defendants do not
challenge the basis that plaintiff lays for personal jurisdiction
over defendants. The only dispute between the parties is whether
those facts, as stated by plaintiff, are legally sufficient to
establish personal jurisdiction over the individual defendants.
the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with the due process
requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Carefirst, 334 F.3d at 396).
Id. at 854 (citing
“As the Fourth Circuit recognized,
‘because the West Virginia long-arm statute is coextensive with
the full reach of due process, it is unnecessary [...] to go
through the normal two-step formula for determining the existence
of personal jurisdiction.
Rather the statutory inquiry
necessarily merges with the Constitutional inquiry.’"
(citing Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Rapid Am. Corp. (In re Celotex
Corp.), 124 F.3d 619, 627-28 (4th Cir. 1997)).
“To satisfy constitutional due process, the defendant must
have sufficient minimum contacts with West Virginia so that
requiring it to defend its interests here would not ‘offend
traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.’"
Id. (citing International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310,
“Those minimum contacts necessary to confer
jurisdiction are limited to those activities by which a person
‘purposely avails itself of the privilege of conducting
activities within the forum state.’”
Id. (citing Hanson v.
Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958)); see also In re Celotex, 124
F.3d at 628 (the minimum contacts must be "purposeful").
Vass court explained,
This occurs where the contacts "proximately
result from actions by the defendant himself
that create a 'substantial connection' with
the forum state," Burger King Corp. v.
Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475, 85 L. Ed. 2d
528, 105 S. Ct. 2174 (1985)(emphasis in
original), or where the defendant's efforts
are "purposefully directed" at the state.
Id. at 476.
Vass, 304 F. Supp. 2d, at 854.
Additionally, courts have
distinguished between two different types of personal
jurisdiction, general and specific:
Where a nonresident defendant has made
continuous and systematic contacts with the
forum state, a court may exert general
personal jurisdiction over him without regard
to the contacts surrounding the transaction
in question. Diamond Healthcare of Ohio,
Inc. v. Humility of Mary Health Partners, 229
F.3d 448, 450 (4th Cir. 2000). "In the
absence of continuous and systematic
contacts, a court may still exercise specific
personal jurisdiction when the contacts
relate to the cause of action and create a
substantial connection with the forum state."
Work While U-Wait, Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79023, at *7-8.
As Wright has not argued the existence of specific personal
jurisdiction, the court will consider only what is required to
show general personal jurisdiction.
“General personal jurisdiction [...] requires ‘continuous
and systematic’ contacts with the forum state, such that a
defendant may be sued in that state for any reason, regardless of
where the relevant conduct occurred.”
CFA Inst. v. Inst. of
Chartered Fin. Analysts of India, 551 F.3d 285, 292 (4th Cir.
Crucially, “the threshold level of minimum contacts to
confer general jurisdiction is significantly higher than for
ESAB Group v. Centricut, Inc., 126 F.3d
617, 623 (4th Cir. 1997); see also Nichols v. G. D. Searle & Co.,
991 F.2d 1195, 1199 (4th Cir. 1993) ("Only when the ‘continuous
corporate operation within a state [is] thought so substantial
and of such a nature as to justify suit against it on causes of
action arising from dealings entirely distinct from those
activities' may a court assert general jurisdiction over a
corporate defendant.") (citing Int'l Shoe Co. v. Wash., 326 U.S.
310, 318 (U.S. 1945).
While there is no hard-and-fast rule for determining when a
defendant’s contacts with the forum state reach the level
necessary to justify a finding of general personal jurisdiction,
there are certain indicia which courts look to in making their
These indicia include: (a) whether the defendant has
any physical presence in the forum state, see Centricut, 126
F.3d, at 624; (b) the proportion of defendant’s total business
activities that is conducted in the forum state, see id.; (c) the
extent to which advertising or solicitation of business is
directed specifically at particular individuals, or whether it is
of a more general nature, see Boone v. Sulphur Creek Resort,
Inc., 749 F. Supp. 195, 199 (S.D. Ind. 1990) and; (d) the extent
to which the non-resident defendant created long-term business
relationships with resident customers of the forum state, see
Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc., 566 F.3d 324, 335 (3d Cir.
2009); see also Roberts v. Synergistic Int'l, LLC, 676 F. Supp.
2d 934, 942 (E.D. Cal. 2009) (“Longevity, continuity, volume,
economic impact, physical presence, and integration into the
state's regulatory or economic markets are among the indicia of
such a presence.”).
As a general guiding principle, the Fourth
Circuit has emphasized the importance of the "quality and nature
of the contacts in evaluating whether they meet the minimum
Consulting Eng'rs Corp. v. Geometric
Ltd., 561 F.3d 273, 279 (4th Cir. 2009).
As a general rule,
A court may not exercise jurisdiction over
individual officers or employees of a
corporation merely on the basis of contacts
sufficient to justify the exercise of
personal jurisdiction over the corporation.
The contacts made by each officer or employee
must be judged separately from those of the
corporation as an entity. Their status as
officers or employees does not provide an
automatic shield for their activities nor
does it provide an automatic basis for the
assertion of personal jurisdiction.
16-108 Moore's Federal Practice - Civil § 108.42; see also
Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783, 790 (1984) (“Petitioners are
correct that their contacts with California are not to be judged
according to their employer's activities there [...] Each
defendant's contacts with the forum State must be assessed
Williams Elec. Co. v. Honeywell, Inc., No. 87-
3235, 1988 U.S. App. LEXIS 19543, at *4 (11th Cir. Aug. 15, 1988)
(“the critical inquiry is whether the individual defendant can
incur personal liability for his acts in the forum”);
Plumbing Supply v. Standard of Lynn, 880 F. Supp. 743, 750 (C.D.
Cal. 1995) (rejecting the notion that a court has personal
jurisdiction over an individual employee simply because the court
has jurisdiction over the individual’s employer corporation).
such, whether the court has personal jurisdiction over defendants
Pike and Byrd is an independent question from whether the court
has personal jurisdiction over defendant SunTrust Bank.2
The court notes, as an initial matter, that Wright failed to
plead any facts supporting personal jurisdiction in his
Instead, Wright’s arguments in favor of personal
jurisdiction all appear in his response to defendants’ instant
In his Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants’ Motion to
Dismiss, Wright states that
Defendants, upon information, conducted
banking affairs with residents and businesses
in West Virginia via correspondence,
including, but not limited to telephone
calls, letters, emails, facsimile, and the
internet to West Virginia residents,
potential SunTrust customers, and SunTrust
Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, p. 3.
SunTrust Bank has consented to personal jurisdiction in
West Virginia. Defendants’ Reply Brief, p. 3.
Wright’s above-quoted language indicates that he is
asserting a theory of general, rather than specific personal
He does not suggest that the court’s jurisdiction
is based on the contacts, in Virginia, that Wright had with Byrd
and Pike in the two SunTrust branches.
On its face, the above-
quoted language suggests that defendants contacted a variety of
different customers, using different methods, in order to
transact banking business.
Defendants do not dispute these
assertions in their reply brief.
Instead, they argue that
“simply making a telephone call or sending an email to the forum
state does not create minimum contacts sufficient to create
Defendants’ Reply Brief, p. 2.
As this court has previously noted, "the threshold level of
minimum contacts to confer general jurisdiction is significantly
higher than for specific jurisdiction."
Centricut, 126 F.3d, at
The court finds that plaintiff’s factual assertions do not
establish that the court has general personal jurisdiction over
the individual defendants in this case.
Plaintiff has failed to show that the defendants’ contacts
with West Virginia were “continuous and systematic.”
U-Wait, Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79023, at *7-8.
alleges that Pike and Byrd communicated with potential and
existing SunTrust customers in West Virginia on more than one
occasion, he provides no further evidence to show the frequency
of these contacts, or the number of customers that the individual
defendants communicated with.
In the absence of such evidence,
the court is left without any basis to conclude whether the
contacts were in fact continuous and systematic, or whether they
merely occurred on a handful of occasions.
Furthermore, in the absence of more detailed submissions,
the court has no way to determine the “quality and nature” of
Consulting Eng'rs Corp., 561 F.3d, at 279.
Without knowing the type of information exchanged in the
communications between the individual defendants and SunTrust
customers, the court cannot weigh the economic impact of those
contacts, and thereby determine how substantial those contacts
with the forum state really were.
See Roberts, 676 F. Supp. 2d,
Plaintiff’s assertion that “defendants conducted banking
affairs” via, among others, telephone, mail and the internet,
simply fails to provide any guidance as to the nature of those
Absent from Wright’s assertions are additional facts which
courts often look to as indicia of continuous and systematic
See, e.g., Roberts, 676 F. Supp. 2d, at 942.
Wright makes no mention of Byrd and Pike ever having traveled to
As such, there is no evidence that the individual
defendants had any physical contacts with the forum state.
Second, Wright has also failed to show the proportion of their
total work that the individual defendants’ communications with
West Virginia customers constituted.
Without such a showing,
there is nothing to indicate the volume of the individual
defendants’ activity related to West Virginia.
Finally, to the
extent that Wright alleges the individual defendants to have
engaged in solicitation of future customers, Wright gives no
indication whether those solicitations were personally directed,
or general in nature.
Wright has failed to show continuous and systematic contacts
on the part of the individual defendants with the State of West
Virginia that would rise to the level required for a finding of
general personal jurisdiction.
Accordingly, the court GRANTS
defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction
as to defendants Pike and Byrd.
The Clerk is directed to forward a copy of this Memorandum
Opinion and Order to all counsel of record.
It is SO ORDERED this 20th day of May, 2011.
David A. Faber
Senior United States District Judge
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