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Howard Industries, Inc. v. Ridgeway

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

June 29, 2015

HOWARD INDUSTRIES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
TERRY RIDGEWAY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

For the reasons below, the Court grants Inline's Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 10].

I. BACKGROUND

Defendants Terry Ridgeway ("Ridgeway") and Beth Ezell ("Ezell") worked for Plaintiff Howard Industries, Inc. ("Howard"). See Compl., ECF No. 1-2. While employed by Howard, Ridgeway and Ezell each signed a Confidentiality, Non-Disclosure, and Non-Competition Agreement. Id. After they stopped working for Howard, they accepted jobs with co-defendant Inline Electric Supply Company, Inc. ("Inline"). Id.

On February 26, 2015, Howard filed suit against Defendants in the Chancery Court for the First Judicial District of Jones County, Mississippi. Id. Howard seeks monetary and injunctive relief against Ridgeway and Ezell for their alleged violations of the Mississippi Uniform Trade Secrets Act, violations of the noncompete contracts, and intentional interference with Howard's contractual and business relationships. Id. Additionally, Howard seeks monetary and injunctive relief against Inline for its alleged conspiracy with Ridgeway and Ezell, and interference with their non-compete contracts. Id.

On March 27, 2015, Inline removed the case to this Court. See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. It then filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2). See Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 10.

II. DISCUSSION

"A federal court sitting in diversity may exercise personal jurisdiction only to the extent permitted [in] a state court under state law." Paz v. Brush Engineered Materials, Inc., 445 F.3d 809, 812 (5th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). "The court may only exercise jurisdiction if: (1) the state's long-arm statute applies, as interpreted by the state's courts, and (2) if due process is satisfied under the 14th Amendment to the federal Constitution." Id. (citing Alfred v. Moore & Peterson, 117 F.3d 278 (5th Cir. 1997)). "When a nonresident defendant moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the district court's jurisdiction over the nonresident.... A plaintiff satisfies this burden by presenting a prima facie case for personal jurisdiction." Unified Brands, Inc. v. Teders, 866 F.Supp.2d 572, 577 (S.D.Miss. 2012) (citations omitted). "The district court is not obligated to consult only the assertions in the plaintiff's complaint.... Rather, the district court may consider the contents of the record at the time of the motion, including affidavits...." Paz, 445 F.3d at 812 (citations omitted). But "uncontroverted allegations in the plaintiff's complaint must be accepted as true, and all disputed facts must be construed in the plaintiff's favor." Blacklidge Emulsions, Inc. v. Blankenship, No. 1:13-CV-293, 2013 WL 6492876, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Dec. 10, 2013) (citations omitted).

A. Long-Arm Statute

"Mississippi's long-arm statute provides the courts shall have jurisdiction over a nonresident who: (1) makes a contract with a resident of this state to be performed in whole or in part by any party in this state, (2) commits a tort in whole or in part in this state against a resident or nonresident, or (3) does any business or performs any character of work or service in this state." Smith v. Antler Insanity, LLC, 58 F.Supp. 3d 716, 720 (S.D.Miss. 2014) (citing Miss. Code Ann. ยง 13-3-57 (1991)) (punctuation omitted).

Plaintiff argues Inline is subject to personal jurisdiction under the tort prong of Mississippi's long-arm statute. See Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 19.

When personal jurisdiction is predicated on the commission of a tort... [t]he plaintiff must not only show that a tort has occurred.... The plaintiff must also make a prima facie showing that the tort occurred within Mississippi. Mississippi courts do not require that the action giving rise to the tort actually occur in Mississippi in order for a tort to be committed in state. Further, a tort is committed in Mississippi when the injury results in this State. This is true because an injury is necessary to complete a tort.... [T]he consequences stemming from the actual tort injury do not confer personal jurisdiction at the site or site where such consequences happen to occur. However, the result is different when the damages are an element of the tort.

Smith, 58 F.Supp. 3d at 720 (citations and punctuation omitted).

Plaintiff alleges Inline tortiously interfered with the non-compete contracts signed by Ridgeway and Ezell by requiring "Ridgeway and Ezell to violate and breach the terms" of the agreements ...


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