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Bulkley & Associates, LLC v. Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board of State of California

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

June 7, 2019

BULKLEY & ASSOCIATES, LLC
v.
OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH APPEALS BOARD OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA ET AL.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMOS L. MAZZANT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Amended Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction (Dkt. #12). Plaintiff, in turn, argues that a California statute waives personal jurisdiction over the California public entities it has sued in Texas-a novel argument courts have yet to address. After careful consideration, the motion will be granted.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Bulkley & Associates, LLC is a Texas limited liability company that transports refrigerated goods. This can require travelling across state lines. At some point, a Bulkley delivery driver fell out of the back of his truck while driving through Salinas, California. This incident prompted the State of California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (the “Division”) to issue three citations against Bulkley for “(a) fail[ing] to timely report the injury to [the appropriate California agency]; (b) fail[ing] to develop and implement an ‘Injury and Illness Prevention Program;' and (c) fail[ing] to require what California believes is appropriate foot protection for drivers working at customer locations and climbing in and out of refrigerated trailers” (Dkt. #9 at p. 5).

         Bulkley appealed the citations to the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board of the State of California (the “Appeals Board”). Bulkley argued that the Agency “lacked jurisdiction over Bulkley, both as a matter of California statutory law and federal constitutional law, ” since Bulkley “is not an employer of the State of California, is engaged in interstate commerce, and does not have a place of business in the State of California” (Dkt. #9 at p. 7). But the Appeals Board disagreed and “refused to set these citations aside” (Dkt. #9 at p. 8).

         Bulkley subsequently filed a writ of mandamus in the District Court of Hopkins County, Texas 62nd Judicial District (the “Hopkins County District Court”) seeking to overturn the Appeals Board decision. The Division and the Agency (collectively, the “California Public Entities”) subsequently removed the case to this Court, and now move to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. They note that this lawsuit concerns public agencies in California issuing citations for the violation of California law after a Bulkley delivery driver was injured on the job while in California.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) requires a court to dismiss a claim if the court does not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). After a non-resident defendant files a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, it is the plaintiff's burden to establish that in personam jurisdiction exists. Bullion v. Gillespie, 895 F.2d 213, 217 (5th Cir. 1990) (citing WNS, Inc. v. Farrow, 884 F.2d 200, 202 (5th Cir. 1989)).

         To satisfy that burden, the party seeking to invoke the court's jurisdiction must “present sufficient facts as to make out only a prima facie case supporting jurisdiction” if a court rules on a motion without an evidentiary hearing. Alpine View Co. v. Atlas Copco AB, 205 F.3d 208, 215 (5th Cir. 2000). When considering the motion to dismiss, “[a]llegations in [a] plaintiff's complaint are taken as true except to the extent that they are contradicted by defendant's affidavits.” Int'l Truck & Engine Corp. v. Quintana, 259 F.Supp.2d 553, 557 (N.D. Tex. 2003) (citing Wyatt v. Kaplan, 686 F.2d 276, 282-83 n.13 (5th Cir. 1982)); accord Black v. Acme Mkts., Inc., 564 F.2d 681, 683 n.3 (5th Cir. 1977). Further, “[a]ny genuine, material conflicts between the facts established by the parties' affidavits and other evidence are resolved in favor of plaintiff for the purposes of determining whether a prima facie case exists.” Id. (citing Jones v. Petty-Ray Geophysical Geosource, Inc., 954 F.2d 161, 1067 (5th Cir. 1992)). However, if a court holds an evidentiary hearing, a plaintiff “must establish jurisdiction by a preponderance of the admissible evidence.” In re Chinese Manufactured Drywall Prods. Liab. Lit., 742 F.3d 576, 585 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Walk Haydel & Assocs., Inc. v. Coastal Power Prod. Co., 517 F.3d 235, 241-42 (5th Cir. 2008)).

         DISCUSSION

         The Parties dispute whether personal jurisdiction exists over this case either based on the California Public Entities' minimum contacts with Texas or pursuant to California Labor Code § 6627, which directs those challenging an Appeals Board decision to file a writ of mandate in “the superior court of the county in which he resides.” Cal. Labor Code § 6627.

         I. The California Statute

         Bulkley insists that this Court has personal jurisdiction over the California Public Entities pursuant to California Labor Code § 6627-irrespective of whether minimum contacts exists. See Travelers Indem. Co. v. Calvert Fire Ins. Co., 798 F.2d 826, 834 (5th Cir. 1986) (explaining that “parties can waive lack of personal jurisdiction”). Section 6627 allows:

Any person affected by an order or decision of the appeals board [to] . . . apply to the superior court of the county in which he resides, for a writ of mandate, for the purpose of inquiring into and determining ...

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