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Edwards v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

March 6, 2019

MARTHA EDWARDS PLAINTIFF
v.
WAL-MART STORES, INC. DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          DEBRA M. BROWN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This personal injury action is before the Court on the defendant's motion to dismiss. Doc. #4.

         I Procedural History

         On July 6, 2018, Martha Edwards filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Doc. #1. In her complaint, Edwards alleges that in July of 2015, she slipped and fell on a puddle while shopping at a Wal-Mart store in Helena, Arkansas, that she suffered injuries, and that the injuries were due to the defendant's negligence. Id. at 2-4.

         On August 6, 2018, the Clerk of the Court issued a notice stating “that the court file does not show that a summons has been served … ” on Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Doc. #2. Two days later, a summons was issued. Doc. #3. On August 28, 2018, the defendant filed a motion seeking dismissal for (1) lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2);[1] (2) improper venue under Rule 12(b)(3); (3) insufficient process under Rule 12(b)(4); (4) insufficient service of process under Rule 12(b)(5); and (5) under Rule 12(b)(7), failure to join a party as required by Rule 19. Doc. #4. Edwards responded in opposition to the motion to dismiss on September 25, 2018.[2] Doc. #8.[3] The defendant replied on October 3, 2018.[4] Doc. #10.

         On October 10, 2018, this Court, noting that the case appeared to involve events in a different state, issued an order to show cause why this case should not be transferred to the Eastern District of Arkansas. Doc. #11. Edwards timely responded to the show cause order on October 17, 2018. Doc. #12. On October 30, 2018, the defendant filed a supplement to its motion to dismiss to address a service of process attempt made after the motion to dismiss was filed.[5] Doc. #15. Edwards responded to the supplement on November 12, 2018. Doc. #17.

         On November 25, 2018, Edwards filed a motion to amend her complaint to add Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P. and Walmart, Inc. as defendants in this action. Doc. #18. In her motion, Edwards argued that the additions are proper because (1) Wal-Mart Stores East “may be the owner of the subject store involved in this matter;” and (2) Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the defendant, recently changed its legal name to Walmart, Inc. Id. at 1. The defendant filed a response stating it did not object to the requested amendment but that because “Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. should be dismissed from this matter, … WalMart, Inc. would be an improper party.” Doc. #19 at 1. On December 4, 2018, United States Magistrate Judge Roy Percy denied Edwards' motion to amend because Edwards failed to submit a proposed amended complaint, as required by this Court's Local Rules. Doc. #20.

         II Analysis

         Where, as here, a defendant raises the threshold defenses of personal jurisdiction (or the related issues of sufficiency and service of process)[6] and venue, “[t]he question of personal jurisdiction, which goes to the court's power to exercise control over the parties, is typically decided in advance of venue, which is primarily a matter of choosing a convenient forum.” Leroy v. Great W. United Corp., 443 U.S. 173, 180 (1979). However, “when there is a sound prudential justification for doing so, … a court may reverse the normal order of considering personal jurisdiction and venue.” Id. When the inappropriateness of venue is clear, there exists a sound prudential justification for considering venue before personal jurisdiction. See id. at 181 (“We find it appropriate to pretermit the constitutional issue in this case because it is so clear that venue was improper either under § 27 of the 1934 Act or under § 1391(b) of the Judicial Code.”). While the Court is unconvinced about the appropriateness of venue in this case it concludes, for the reasons stated in Edwards' response to the show cause order, [7] that such appropriateness is not so clear as to reverse the preferred order of analysis. Accordingly, the Court will first consider the defendant's argument regarding personal jurisdiction.

         A personal jurisdiction inquiry requires a two-part analysis. ITL Int'l, Inc. v. Constenla, S.A., 669 F.3d 493, 496 (5th Cir. 2012). First, the court must ask whether the defendant is amenable to suit under the relevant state's long-arm statute. Id. at 496-97. If the long-arm statute is satisfied, the court must ask “whether personal jurisdiction over th[e] dispute comports with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Id. at 497.

         Under the Due Process clause, personal jurisdiction “may be general or specific.” In re DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., Pinnacle Hip Implant Prod. Liab. Litig, 888 F.3d 753, 778 (5th Cir. 2018). General jurisdiction requires “continuous and systematic forum contacts and allows for jurisdiction over all claims against the defendant, no matter their connection to the forum.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Specific jurisdiction, in contrast, requires only that the defendant have “purposefully direct[ed] his activities toward the state” and that the plaintiff's claim “arises out of or is related to the defendant's forum contacts.” Id. (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

         When a defendant moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2), the “plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction, but need only present prima facie evidence.” Patterson v. Aker Sols. Inc., 826 F.3d 231, 233 (5th Cir. 2016). To determine whether a plaintiff has made a prima facie case, the court “must accept the plaintiff's uncontroverted allegations, and resolve in his favor all conflicts between the facts contained in the parties' affidavits and other documentation.” Id. (alteration omitted). “[A]llegations in a … brief or legal memorandum are insufficient, even under the relatively relaxed prima facie standard, to establish jurisdictional facts.” Barrett v. Lombardi, 239 F.3d 23, 27 (1st Cir. 2001).

         In its initial memorandum brief, the defendant contends:

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has no responsibility or liability for the allegations of Plaintiff in her Complaint because Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has no involvement, operation or control over the subject premises where the Plaintiff's slip and fall incident took place. In fact, the legal entity that operated the subject department store in West Helena, Arkansas, is Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P. That limited partnership is found under the laws of the State of Delaware with its principal place of business in the State of Arkansas … Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is a Delaware corporation with its ...

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