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Hajicek v. Werner Enterprises

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

October 19, 2017

DEBRA HAJICEK as Personal Representative of the Estate of Ronald Ruiz, Deceased, Plaintiff,
WERNER ENTERPRISES, et al., Defendants.


          Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court sua sponte. On November 9, 2016, Plaintiff, Debra Hajicek as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Ronald Ruiz, Deceased, filed a Complaint in St. Joseph County Circuit Court against Defendants, Werner Enterprises, Inc. (“Werner”) and Stanley Polk. On December 2016, Werner filed a Notice of Removal alleging subject matter jurisdiction conferred by diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. On February 9, 2017, Plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint against both Werner and Polk. However, on May 31, 2017, this Court granted Plaintiff's motion for voluntary dismissal of Werner leaving Stanley Polk, proceeding pro se, as the only defendant in this action.

         Review of Werner's Notice of Removal and Plaintiff's operative First Amended Complaint reveals jurisdictional issues that must be addressed, including the remaining parties' diversity of citizenship, the Court's authority to exercise personal jurisdiction over Defendant Polk, and the proper venue for this case.

         I. Relevant Background

         This case arises following the death of Ronald Ruiz, a truck driver employed by non-party Drivers Management, LLC (“Drivers”). Defendant Werner retained Drivers to train its employee-Defendant Polk-as a truck driver. Drivers appointed Ruiz as Polk's trainer. As part of Polk's training, Ruiz and Polk ended up on an interstate highway in Bell County, Texas south of Salado on August 27, 2015. Late that night, Polk stabbed Ruiz who died from his injuries. Polk is now incarcerated in Bell County, Texas as the result of his criminal conviction related to the events of August 27, 2015.

         In its Notice of Removal, Werner alleged “upon information and belief” that Ruiz, the decedent, “was a resident and citizen of the State of Indiana at the time of the incident.”[1] [DE 1 at 1, ¶ 2]. Werner further asserted that complete diversity exists based on Ruiz's citizenship in Indiana, Werner's citizenship in Nebraska, and Polk's citizenship in Nevada. In her First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff does not explicitly allege complete diversity. However, Plaintiff notes that Ruiz “was a resident of St. Joseph County, Indiana” [DE 16 at 1, ¶ 1]; Werner “was a Nebraska corporation doing business in Indiana” ‘DE 16 at 1, ¶ 3]; and Polk “was a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada” [DE 16 at 1, ¶ 4].

         II. Diversity of Citizenship

         “The existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction in a case removed from state court must be assessed as of the time of removal.” In re Fedex Ground Package Sys., Inc. Employment Practices Litig., No. 3:05-MD-527RM, 2010 WL 583915, at *2 (N.D. Ind. Feb. 11, 2010) (citing Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co., 472 F.3d 506, 510-511 (7th Cir.2006)). “[T]he party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of demonstrating its existence.” Hart v. FedEx Ground Package System Inc., 457 F.3d 675, 679 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 104 (1998)).

         Here, Werner's Notice of Removal is inadequate for purposes of establishing diversity jurisdiction. While Werner adequately alleged the citizenship of itself and Polk, its allegation of Ruiz's citizenship “upon information and belief” is insufficient to establish jurisdiction. “Allegations of federal subject matter jurisdiction may not be made on the basis of information and belief, only personal knowledge.” Yount v. Shashek, No. Civ. 06-753-GPM, 2006 WL 4017975, at *10 n.1 (S.D. Ill.Dec. 7, 2006) (citing Am.'s Best Inns, Inc. v. Best Inns of Abilene, L.P., 980 F.2d 1072, 1074 (7th Cir. 1992)).[2]

         II. Personal Jurisdiction over Defendant Polk

         “In order for a district court to bind an individual, the court must have personal jurisdiction over that individual.” Brook v. McCormley, __ F.3d __, __, 2017 WL 4531687, at *1 (7th Cir. Oct. 11, 2017) (citing Ins. Corp. of Ir., Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 701 (1982)). “The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction.” Id. (citing Cent. States, Se. & Sw. Areas Pension Fund v. Reimer Express World Corp., 230 F.3d 934, 939 (7th Cir. 2000)).

         A federal district court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant if a court of general jurisdiction of the state in which it sits would have such jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A). This Court, sitting in Indiana, turns to the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure, which provide for personal jurisdiction “on any basis not inconsistent with the Constitutions of this state or the United States.” Ind. R. Tr. P. 4.4(A). Thus, Indiana permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction to the full extent permitted by the Due Process clause of the United States Constitution. See LinkAmerica Corp. v. Albert, 857 N.E.2d 961, 967 (Ind. 2006).

         To exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant under the Due Process clause, the defendant must have “certain minimum contacts with [Indiana] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Int'l Shoe Co. v. Wash., 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1946) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1940)). The defendant “should reasonably anticipate being haled into court [in Indiana], ” World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980), if he “purposefully avails [himself] of the privilege of conducting activities within [the state], ” Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958). The two forms of personal jurisdiction that a court may exercise over a non-resident defendant are “specific” and “general” jurisdiction. See Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408 (1984).

         “A defendant is subject to general jurisdiction when it has ‘continuous and systematic general business contacts' with the forum state.” uBID, Inc. v.GoDaddy Group, Inc., 623 F.3d 421, 425-26 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 415-16). In this case, the exercise of general jurisdiction would be appropriate if Polk's contacts with Indiana were “so extensive to be tantamount to [Polk] being constructively present in the state to such a degree that it would be fundamentally fair to require [him] to answer in an Indiana court in any litigation arising out of any transaction or occurrence taking place anywhere in the world.” Purdue Research Found. v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, S.A., 338 F.3d 773, 787 (7th Cir. 2003). Plaintiff has not demonstrated that ...

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