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GC Services LP v. Little

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

June 27, 2019

GC SERVICES LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, a Delaware limited partnership, Plaintiff,
DENISE LITTLE, an individual, Defendant.


          Lee H. Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge

         GC Services Limited Partnership sued Denise Little, seeking an order compelling arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1, et seq., and a stay of all claims in Little's state-court suit against GC Services in Missouri. (Docket Entry No. 1). Little moves to dismiss, GC Services responded, Little replied, and GC Services surreplied. (Docket Entry Nos. 9, 11, 12, 15).[1] Based on the complaint; the motion, response, reply, and surreply; the record; and the applicable law, the court denies Little's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue, and failure to state a claim. The reason for this ruling is explained below.

         I. Background

         Little applied to work for GC Services, a call-center management company, in February 2017. (Docket Entry No. 1 at ¶ 15; Docket Entry No. 11 at 2). GC Services alleges that on February 26, during the application process, Little electronically signed an Arbitration Agreement, which a GC Services agent signed the next day. (Id. at ¶ 15). The Agreement stated:

All Disputes Must be Arbitrated. It is the intent of the parties hereto that all legally cognizable disputes between them that cannot be resolved to the parties' satisfaction through use of the Company's personnel policies, must be resolved by final and binding arbitration. Claims subject to arbitration include all legally cognizable claims in the broadest context and include, but are not limited to, any dispute about the interpretation, applicability, validity, existence, enforcement, or extent of arbitrability of or under this Agreement, and any claim arising under federal, state, or local statute, regulation, or ordinance, any alleged contract, or under the common law. This includes, by way of non-exhaustive illustration only, any claim of employment discrimination in any alleged form . . . or any other claim, whether contractual, common-law, statutory, or regulatory arising out of, or in any way related to, Individual's application for employment with and/or employment with Company, the termination thereof, this Agreement, or any other matter incident or in any manner related thereto.

(Docket Entry No. 1 at ¶ 15; Docket Entry No.1-1 at 2). The Agreement allowed suits “to compel or in aid of arbitration, ” but these suits could be “brought solely and only in the state or federal courts located in Houston, Harris County, Texas.” (Docket Entry No. 1 at ¶ 17; Docket Entry No. 1-1 at 3). The Agreement also stated that:

the parties agree to the exercise of personal jurisdiction over them, waive any contest to the exercise of such jurisdiction, waive any right to seek dismissal based on jurisdictional or venue grounds or transfer any action filed in the state or federal courts located in Houston, Harris County, Texas, and waive the right to oppose or contest any motion to dismiss or transfer any action either party may file in any other court.

(Docket Entry No. 1 at ¶ 3; Docket Entry No. 1-1 at 3).

         In February 2019, Little sued GC Services in Missouri state court, alleging violations of the Missouri Human Rights Act based on sex and racial discrimination. (Docket Entry No. 1 at ¶¶ 5, 19; Docket Entry No. 1-2). GC Services alleges that its counsel told Little that she had to arbitrate her claims, but that Little refused to do so. (Docket Entry No. 1 at ¶ 20). In April 2019, GC Services sued Little in this court, seeking an order requiring Little to arbitrate the issues presented in her Missouri state-court litigation and staying the Missouri state court proceedings until the parties complete arbitration in accordance with the Agreement. (Id. at ¶ 21).

         Little moves to dismiss this suit for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that she did not sign the Arbitration Agreement and that requiring her to defend the case in this District would result in extreme inconvenience and unfairness. (Docket Entry Nos. 9, 10). She also seeks dismissal based on improper venue and failure to state a claim, arguing that this court should dismiss GC Services's claim for an injunction staying her Missouri state-court litigation because the Anti-Injunction Act prevents this court from granting that relief. (Id.).

         II. Personal Jurisdiction

         A. The Legal Standard

         A federal court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant if the long-arm statute of the forum state confers personal jurisdiction over that defendant and exercising jurisdiction is consistent with due process. McFadin v. Gerber, 587 F.3d 753, 759 (5th Cir. 2009); see Delgado v. Reef Resort Ltd., 364 F.3d 642, 644 (5th Cir. 2004). Because the Texas long-arm statute confers jurisdiction to the limits of due process, “the two-step inquiry collapses into one federal due process analysis.” Johnston v. Multidata Sys. Int'l Corp., 523 F.3d 602, 609 (5th Cir. 2008).

         Federal due process permits personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant with “minimum contacts” with the forum state, subject to the limit of not offending “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Id. The extent of the contacts determines whether the court's jurisdiction is specific or general. Lewis v. Fresne, 252 F.3d 352, 358 (5th Cir. 2001). A court has general jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant “to hear any and all claims” if that defendant's contacts with the state are so “‘continuous and systematic' as to render [that defendant] essentially at home in the forum.” Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 122 (2014) (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011)). “The ‘continuous and systematic contact test is a difficult one to meet, requiring extensive contacts between a defendant and a forum.'” Johnston, 523 F.3d at 609 (quoting Submersible Sys., Inc. v. Perforadora Cent., S.A., 249 F.3d 413, 419 (5th Cir. 2001)).

         “In contrast to general, all-purpose jurisdiction, specific jurisdiction is confined to adjudication of ‘issues deriving from, or connected with, the very controversy that establishes jurisdiction.'” Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 919 (citations omitted). A court asks “whether there was ‘some act by which the defendant purposefully avail[ed] itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum [s]tate, thus invoking the benefits and protection of its laws.'” Id. at 924 (quoting Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958)). Specific jurisdiction exists “when a nonresident defendant ‘has purposefully directed its activities at the forum state and the litigation results from alleged injuries that arise out of or relate to those activities.'” Walk Haydel & Assocs., Inc. v. Coastal Power Prod. Co., 517 F.3d 235, 243 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Panda v. Brandywine Corp. v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 253 F.3d 865 (5th Cir. 2001)). Although the defendant's contacts with the forum must be “more than random, fortuitous, or attenuated, or . . . the unilateral activity of another party or third person, ” Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985), even “isolated or sporadic contacts” can support specific jurisdiction “so long as the plaintiff's claim relates to or arises out of those contacts, ” ITL Int'l, Inc. v. Constenla, S.A., 669 F.3d 493, 498-99 (5th Cir. 2012) (quotation omitted).

         Under Rule 12(b)(2), “[w]hen the district court rules on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction ‘without an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff may bear his burden by presenting a prima facie case that personal jurisdiction is proper.'” Quick Techs., Inc. v. Sage Grp. PLC, 313 F.3d 338, 343 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting Wilson v. Belin, 20 F.3d 644, 648 (5th Cir. 1994)). “Proof by a preponderance of the evidence is not required.” Johnston, 523 F.3d at 609 (citing Bullion v. Gillespie, 895 F.2d 213, 217 (5th Cir. 1990)). In deciding whether personal jurisdiction exists, “[t]he district court may receive ‘any combination of the recognized methods of discovery,' including affidavits, interrogatories, and depositions to assist in the jurisdictional analysis.” Little v. SKF Serige AB, No. 13-1760, 2014 WL 710941, at *3 (S.D. Tex. Feb. 24, 2014) (quoting Walk Haydel, 517 F.3d at 241). “[U]ncontroverted allegations in the plaintiff's complaint must be taken as true, and conflicts between the facts contained in the parties' affidavits must be resolved in the plaintiff's favor for purposes of determining whether a prima facie case for personal jurisdiction exists.” Johnston, 523 F.3d at 609 (quotations omitted). But the district court is not required “to credit conclusory allegations, even if uncontroverted.” Panda Brandwine Corp. v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 253 F.3d 865, 869 (5th Cir. 2001).

         B. ...

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