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Jeffers v. Houpt

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

June 12, 2018




         Before the Court is defendants David Houpt and Steven Houpt's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction and Improper Venue. [DE 6.] The defendants, who are proceeding in this case pro se, have moved to dismiss this action, claiming that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them and that venue is improper. In the alternative, they ask that this case be transferred to the district court in Florida, where both of them reside. In reviewing the defendants' motions I am cognizant of the fact that “[a] document filed pro se is to be liberally construed.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Nevertheless, despite being given ample opportunity to present evidence in support of their position, the defendants have simply ignored orders of the court. For this and other reasons, I will deny their motion.


         Janice Jeffers is a resident of Elkhart, Indiana. While vacationing in Florida, she agreed to loan money to David Houpt, her then son-in-law, and Steven Houpt. Both of the Houpts reside in Florida. According to Jeffers, both of the defendants knew at the time that Jeffers resided in Indiana. [DE 1 at 1 ¶¶1, 5.] The Houpts had first reached out to Jeffers to engage in this transaction while Jeffers was in Indiana. [DE 7 at 7.]

         On January 27, 2010, Jeffers and the Houpts executed a promissory note totaling $500, 000 in which the Houpts agreed to make payments to Jeffers commencing on April 1, 2010 and each month thereafter, until the debt was paid in full, at an interest rate of 7.42%. [DE 1 at 2 ¶¶7, 9.] The promissory note was signed by the Houpts, and notarized, in Florida. [DE 1-1 at 1-2.] There is no information before me as to where Jeffers was when this happened, since she doesn't appear to have signed the promissory note. [DE 1-1.]

         Upon execution of the promissory note, Jeffers contacted her financial institution in Elkhart, Indiana and wired the funds to the Houpts in Florida from her Indiana bank account. [DE 1 at 2 ¶8.] The Houpts made a few payments on the loan to Jeffers' bank account in Indiana. [DE 7 at 8.] However, after making some payments, the Houpts defaulted, failing to make payments as outlined in the promissory note. [DE 1 at 2 ¶11.] Notwithstanding their failure to make payments, the Houpts continued to make oral promises to Jeffers that they would make good on the promissory note, and they promised to repay the loan with interest. [DE 1 at 2 ¶12.] Jeffers was residing, and located, in Indiana when these representations were made to her. [DE 1 at 2 ¶¶12, 23; DE 7 at 2-3.]

         On September 22, 2017, Jeffers filed suit alleging that the Houpts breached the contract and committed fraud. [DE 1.] In response, the Houpts filed a motion to dismiss on October 18, 2017. [DE 6.] They argued that this Court has no personal jurisdiction over them because all of the events surrounding the promissory note occurred in Florida, not Indiana. [DE 6.] Importantly, the Houpts failed to provide any evidence in the form of affidavits or otherwise to support their position.

         After the motion to dismiss was fully briefed, I reviewed the parties' arguments regarding personal jurisdiction. I found the Houpts' position to be a potentially meritorious one, but it was not supported by any evidence. So I decided to afford the Houpts 14 days to supplement their motion with evidence. [DE 14.] They did not do so. In yet another attempt at fleshing out whether I have personal jurisdiction in this case, I set a hearing in which I told the parties that I wanted to discuss the issue of personal jurisdiction. [DE 16.] Neither of the Houpts bothered to show up.


         Once the defendant moves to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating the existence of jurisdiction. Purdue Research Found. v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, S.A., 338 F.3d 773, 782 (7th Cir. 2003). Without an evidentiary hearing on the issue, the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing that the defendants are subject to personal jurisdiction.[1] Id. To determine whether exercising personal jurisdiction is proper, a court may receive and weigh affidavits prior to trial on the merits. Nelson by Carson v. Park Indus., Inc., 717 F.2d 1120, 1123 (7th Cir. 1983). I must accept as true all well-pleaded facts alleged unless controverted by affidavit. Purdue Research Found., 338 F.3d at 783-84. The plaintiff is entitled to have any conflicts in the affidavits (or supporting materials) resolved in her favor. Id. at 783.

         The Houpts argue that there is no personal jurisdiction here and, without any evidence or affidavits, have made unsupported statements claiming that the only connection Indiana has to this case is that the funds were wired to them from Jeffers' bank in Indiana. In response, Jeffers adds that the Houpts also made promises to pay Jeffers back while she was in Indiana and also made payments to the Indiana bank. Additionally, she notes that both of the Houpts were aware that Jeffers was an Indiana resident, and they reached out to her while she was in Indiana in hopes that she would lend them money. She further observes that all of harm that she suffered was experienced in Indiana, where she has been deprived of more than $500, 000 to which she is entitled.

         A district court sitting in diversity has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant only if a court of the state in which it sits would have jurisdiction. Id. at 779. Thus, the crucial question here is: would a court in Indiana have jurisdiction over the Houpts? To answer this question, I look to Indiana's long-arm statute, Indiana Trial Rule 4.4(A). That provision provides for eight bases for asserting jurisdiction. Relevant for our purposes, the long-arm statute adds that “a court of this state may exercise jurisdiction on any basis not inconsistent with the Constitutions of this state or the United States.” Ind. Trial Rule 4.4(A). The Indiana Supreme Court has held that “Indiana's long-arm provision ‘reduce[s] analysis of personal jurisdiction to the issue of whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction is consistent with the Federal Due Process Clause.'” Adv. Tactical Ordnance Sys., 751 F.3d at 800 (quoting LinkAmerica Corp. v. Cox, 857 N.E.2d 961, 967 (Ind. 2006)).

         I proceed then to the question of whether my exercise of personal jurisdiction would be inconsistent with the federal constitution. There are two types of personal jurisdiction: general and specific. However, general personal jurisdiction is appropriate only where the defendant can be said to be “at home.” Adv. Tactical Ordnance Sys., 751 F.3d at 800. There appears to be no dispute that the Houpts are not “at home” in Indiana. Therefore, I confine my discussion to the law governing specific jurisdiction.

         A defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction in a particular state only if the defendant had “certain minimum contacts with it such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1940)). It is unconstitutional to force a defendant to appear in a distant court unless it has done something that should make it “reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.” Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474 (1985) (quoting World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 295 (1980)). In other ...

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