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Bernier v. Easter Sales New Hampshire, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

August 6, 2015



Indira Talwani United States District Judge

I. Introduction

In November 2014, Gamelin Bernier (“Bernier”) filed a complaint against his employer, Easter Seals of New Hampshire, Inc. (“Easter Seals”), claiming that Easter Seals engaged in discriminatory hiring practices and, after Bernier complained about those practices, retaliated against him. Easter Seals filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction [#9], and Bernier filed a Motion to Keep Case in Massachusetts [#6]. The court issued an Order to Show Cause [#13], finding that venue was improper in Massachusetts and providing both parties an opportunity to show cause why the case should not be transferred to the District of New Hampshire. In response, Easter Seals filed a Motion to Show Cause [#15], arguing that transfer was not in the interest of justice. Bernier filed a Response to Order to Show Cause [#16] reiterating his argument in favor of keeping the case in Massachusetts, but asserting that he would litigate this case in New Hampshire if transfer was required.

As set forth below, the court finds that it lacks personal jurisdiction over Easter Seals and that venue in improper in Massachusetts, but that transfer rather than dismissal is in the interest of justice. Accordingly, Bernier’s Motion to Keep Case in Massachusetts [#6] is DENIED; Easter Seals’ Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction [#9] is ALLOWED only insofar as it seeks a finding that this court lacks personal jurisdiction over Easter Seals and is DENIED insofar as it seeks dismissal of the case; and Easter Seals’ Motion to Show Cause [#15] is DENIED.

II. Discussion

A. Personal Jurisdiction

A plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the court’s personal jurisdiction over defendants. See, e.g., Daynard v. Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, P.A., 290 F.3d 42, 50 (1st Cir. 2002). Absent an evidentiary hearing, the court uses the “‘prima facie’ standard” to determine if jurisdiction is appropriate. See United States v. Swiss Am. Bank, Ltd., 274 F.3d 610, 618 (1st Cir. 2001). This test asks whether “the plaintiff has proffered evidence that, if credited, is enough to support findings of all facts essential to personal jurisdiction.” See Boit v. Gar-Tec Prods., Inc., 967 F.2d 671, 675 (1st Cir. 1992). “The ‘plaintiff must go beyond the pleadings’” and support its jurisdictional allegations with “affirmative proof.” Id. (quoting Chlebda v. H.E. Fortna & Bro., Inc., 609 F.2d 1022, 1024 (1st Cir. 1979)).

An exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant must comply with both the forum’s statutory limitations and the due process requirements of the U.S. Constitution. See, e.g., id. (quoting U.S.S. Yachts, Inc. v. Ocean Yachts, Inc., 894 F.2d 9, 11 (1st Cir. 1990)). Because the Massachusetts long-arm statute is at least coterminous with the constitutional limits on jurisdiction, see “Automatic” Sprinkler Corp. of Am. v. Seneca Foods Corp., 280 N.E.2d 423, 424 (Mass. 1972), however, this court may “sidestep the statutory inquiry and proceed directly to the constitutional analysis, ” Daynard, 290 F.3d at 52.

“A district court may exercise authority over a defendant by virtue of either general or specific jurisdiction.” Mass. Sch. of Law at Andover, Inc. v. Am. Bar Ass’n, 142 F.3d 26, 34 (1st Cir. 1998). Because Bernier’s papers do not make clear which theory of jurisdiction he seeks to apply to Easter Seals, the court considers both.

1. Specific Jurisdiction

Specific jurisdiction requires that the defendant have “minimum 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. State of Wash., Office of Unemployment Compensation & Placement, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In determining whether specific jurisdiction exists, the court first asks whether there is “a demonstrable nexus between a plaintiff’s claims and a defendant’s forum-based activities, such as when the litigation itself is founded directly on those activities.” Mass. Sch. of Law at Andover, 142 F.3d at 34; see also Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472-73 (1985) (quoting Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 (1984)).

Bernier asserts that Easter Seals receives funding from the Boston Public Schools, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families to provide services to Massachusetts children. See Mot. Keep Case Mass. [#6]. Bernier further asserts that “Easter Seals . . . [has] an operating license from the state of Massachusetts[, ] . . . [which] allows Easter Seals to provide services to residents from the state of Massachusetts at the N.H. facility.” Resp. Order Show Cause [#16].

Bernier does not provide the court with evidence of these alleged contacts and has not filed an affidavit or verified pleading. See Boit, 967 F.2d at 675 (requiring a plaintiff to “go beyond the pleadings” and support his jurisdictional allegations with specific evidence). Nonetheless, cognizant of Bernier’s pro se status, the court considers whether jurisdiction could be satisfied if Bernier’s allegations were taken as true.

Bernier’s claims relate to employment discrimination and retaliation. Bernier alleges that Easter Seals is a New Hampshire corporation and that, as an Easter Seals employee, Bernier completed his job duties in New Hampshire. Bernier further alleges he should have been promoted to a job based in New Hampshire and that Easter Seals’ retaliatory acts occurred in New Hampshire. In short, none of Easter Seals’ alleged discriminatory acts occurred in or relate to Massachusetts. Easter Seals’ receipt of funding and an operating license from Massachusetts ...

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