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American Commercial Barge Line LLC v. Anthony

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

September 20, 2019

AMERICAN COMMERCIAL BARGE LINE LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
DEVIN ANTHONY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS MOTION TO DISMISS GRANTING THE PARTIES’ ANCILLARY MOTIONS, AND DENYING PLAINTIFFS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMNT

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6) by Defendant Devin Anthony (“Anthony”) (Filing No. 17) and a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff American Commercial Barge Line LLC (“ACBL”), (Filing No. 20). Also pending are numerous ancillary Motions filed by both Anthony ACBL to supplement the record concerning the Motion to Dismiss. (Filing No. 29; Filing No. 33; Filing No. 35; Filing No. 37; Filing No. 40; Filing No. 41). ACBL initiated this action seeking a declaratory judgment from the Court as to the merits of a forum selection clause contained in a document entitled “Attending Physician Statement of Functionality” that was signed by Anthony on September 21, 2017. Anthony responded to this lawsuit by filing a Motion to Dismiss, and ACBL replied and filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Court grants Anthony’s Motion to Dismiss and grants the parties’ ancillary Motions to supplement the record concerning the Motion to Dismiss. The Court denies as moot, ACBL’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         ACBL is a Delaware limited liability company with its principal place of business located in Jeffersonville, Indiana. As its name suggests, American Commercial Barge Line LLC, provides commercial inland barge transportation solutions for various industries. Anthony lives in Waggaman, Louisiana, and is a citizen of Louisiana. He began employment as a deckhand with ACBL in July 2016. On August 20, 2017, while working as a deckhand, Anthony was walking down an empty barge in order to release a coupling when he slipped on some pebbles and fell from the empty barge to the deck of a loaded barge. This fall resulted in Anthony sustaining bodily injuries (Filing No. 1 at 1–2).

         “As a result of his employment with ACBL, following his alleged injury Anthony became eligible to receive pay continuance benefits while on approved medical leave.” Id. at 2. “In order to enjoy the benefit of post-injury pay continuance benefits, ACBL sent Anthony a form titled ‘Attending Physician’s Statement of Functionality, ’ which also requested that he authorize his chosen treating physician to complete a form seeking medical information relating to his diagnosis, treatment, prognosis and working restrictions.” Id.

         On September 21, 2017, Anthony was presented with and signed the “Attending Physician’s Statement of Functionality, ” authorizing his treating physician to complete the enclosed form. Id. The caption of the form states: “**This form must be completed to receive disability pay.” Id. The form also contained a forum selection clause that read:

I fully authorize release of information on this form by the below named physician for the purpose of claim processing. I agree to fully cooperate and participate in all medically directed treatment, as necessary. Failure to do so could result in loss of the pay continuance benefit offered to me by ACBL. I further agree that in the event I file a claim or lawsuit against ACBL relating to the pay continuance program and/or the incident giving rise to the illness and/or injury that is the subject of my leave of absence from work, such suit will only be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, New Albany Division and I will make no effort to have such lawsuit or claim transferred or moved to any other court.

(Filing No. 1-1 at 2.) (emphasis added).

         In October 2017, because he was concerned about his injury and his rights to short-term and long-term disability benefits, Anthony retained counsel. His counsel began communicating with ACBL, its attorneys, and its insurance claims handler regarding Anthony’s injury and his entitlement to benefits. During their communications, the forum selection clause contained within the medical release authorization form was raised. The parties began arguing over the applicability and validity of the forum selection clause (Filing No. 25 at 15–17).

         In “an e-mail dated April 3, 2018, the attorney representing Anthony disputed the validity and/or enforceability of the forum selection clause at issue, and indicated that if ACBL continued to take the position that the subject clause is enforceable, Anthony ‘would need to file a lawsuit soon.’” (Filing No. 1 at 3.)

         Two weeks later, on April 17, 2018, ACBL filed a Complaint initiating this action. ACBL seeks a declaratory judgment regarding “the rights and obligations of the parties under that certain Attending Physician’s Statement of Functionality, . . . which contained a forum selection clause.” Id. at 1. The Complaint concludes,

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff American Commercial Barge Line LLC prays for judgment in its favor declaring that the forum selection clause contained in the Attending Physician’s Statement of Functionality, which was signed by Defendant Devin Anthony post-injury, be deemed valid and enforceable, and for all general and equitable relief to which ACBL may be shown entitled.

Id. at 3–4.

         Rather than answer the Complaint, Anthony filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over him, and additionally, the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. ACBL responded to the Motion to Dismiss and on the same day filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, asserting that the undisputed facts show it is entitled to judgment on the validity of the forum selection clause.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) allows a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint where there is a “lack of personal jurisdiction” over the defendant. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). When deciding a 12(b)(2) motion, the Court accepts the factual allegations in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff if they weigh on the issue of personal jurisdiction. Int’l Medical Group, Inc. v. American Arbitration Ass’n, 149 F.Supp.2d 615, 623 (S.D. Ind. 2001). But where a complaint consists of conclusory allegations unsupported by factual assertions, the complaint fails even under the liberal standard of Rule 12(b). Id.

         When considering a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the Court examines the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the lawsuit. Id. The complaint does not need to include factual allegations concerning personal jurisdiction, but if the defendant moves to dismiss the action under Rule 12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating the existence of personal jurisdiction. Purdue Research Found. v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, S.A., 338 F.3d 773, 782 (7th Cir. 2003). The Court may consider affidavits and all other documentary evidence that have been filed, and any conflicts must be resolved in favor of the plaintiff as the non-moving party. Int’l Medical Group, 149 F.Supp.2d at 623.

         The level of the plaintiff’s burden to show personal jurisdiction depends on whether an evidentiary hearing has been held. Purdue Research, 338 F.3d at 782. Where a hearing has been conducted, the plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that personal jurisdiction exists. Id. Where no hearing is conducted and the motion to dismiss is decided solely on written materials, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case that personal jurisdiction exists. Id.

         “If jurisdiction is exercised on the basis of a federal statute that does not authorize nationwide service of process, the law requires a federal district court to determine if a court of the state in which it sits would have personal jurisdiction.”[1]Annie Oakley Enters. v. Sunset Tan Corporate & Consulting, LLC, 703 F.Supp.2d 881, 886 (N.D. Ind. 2010) (citing United States v. Martinez De Ortiz, 910 F.2d 376, 381 (7th Cir. 1990)). Indiana Trial Rule 4.4(A), Indiana’s long-arm statute, governs personal jurisdiction in Indiana. “Although Rule 4.4(A) enumerates eight bases for the assertion of jurisdiction on the basis of a defendant’s actions, the rule also includes a provision that ‘a court of this state may exercise jurisdiction on any basis not inconsistent with the Constitutions of this state or the United States.’” ...


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