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Baker v. Puckett

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

September 16, 2019

CHRISTOPHER BAKER
v.
TIM PUCKETT, ET AL.

          Nowak Judge

          MEMORANDUM ADOPTING IN PART REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          AMOS L. MAZZANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Came on for consideration the report of the United States Magistrate Judge in this action, this matter having been heretofore referred to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636. On June 14, 2019, the report of the Magistrate Judge (Dkt. #84) was entered containing proposed findings of fact and recommendations that Defendant Kevin Ward's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction (Dkt. #24) be granted. Having received the report of the Magistrate Judge, having considered Plaintiff's Objection (Dkt. #90), Deputy Ward's Response (Dkt. #94), and having conducted a de novo review, the Court is of the opinion that the Magistrate Judge's report should be adopted in part.

         RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         On August 20, 2018, Plaintiff filed suit, asserting violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681, against Defendants Experian Information Solutions, Inc., Tim Puckett, an employee at Experian, and Deputy Kevin L. Ward of the Canadian County Oklahoma Sheriff's Office (Dkt. #1). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Experian and Puckett breached the FCRA by providing information about Plaintiff's credit to Deputy Ward. This information led to criminal charges against Plaintiff, to which Plaintiff pleaded guilty. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that Deputy Ward is “a Canadian County Oklahoma law enforcement officer” who prepared “a deficient search warrant [resulting in criminal charges against Plaintiff]. . . in Canadian County Oklahoma” based on “false and misleading information obtained from [Tim Puckett] from Experian Information Solutions of Allen[, ] Texas” (Dkt. #1 at p. 7). Plaintiff asserts that “Kevin Ward is alleged to be in willful violation of 15 U.S.C.A. § 1681q, also coded as a criminal offense under Title 18, for obtaining information from a credit reporting agency under false pretenses, for an impermissible purpose, and further, absent a justified court order” (Dkt. #1 at p. 2). On November 21, 2018, Deputy Ward filed his Motion to Dismiss, asserting the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over him (Dkt. #24).

         On June 16, 2019, the Magistrate Judge entered a report and recommendation, recommending that Deputy Ward's Motion to Dismiss be granted and Plaintiff's claims against Deputy Ward be dismissed without prejudice (Dkt. #84). On June 27, 2019, Plaintiff filed his “Objection to Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge on Defendant Ward's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, ” asserting that “Plaintiff is not objecting to the entire analysis of the Magistrate Judge, but rather the omission of the issue of transfer, and other omitted considerations with respect to jurisdiction” (Dkt. #90 at p. 9). Deputy Ward filed a Response to Plaintiff's Objection on July 10, 2019 (Dkt. #94).

         OBJECTIONS TO REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         A party who files timely written objections to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation is entitled to a de novo review of those findings or recommendations to which the party specifically objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2)-(3).

         The report recommending dismissal of Plaintiff's claims against Deputy Ward for lack of personal jurisdiction found that: (1) because Deputy Ward is a citizen of Oklahoma (not Texas), the Court may not exercise general personal jurisdiction over Deputy Ward; and (2) Deputy Ward is not subject to specific jurisdiction because Defendant Ward's communications with Tim Puckett do not indicate that he purposely availed himself of the privileges of conducting activities in Texas and instead, the record in this matter clearly shows that Defendant's Ward's complained-of action(s) took place in Oklahoma for the furtherance of an Oklahoma investigation involving criminal activities that took place in Oklahoma. Plaintiff asserts two objections to the report recommending dismissal of his claims against Deputy Ward. First, Plaintiff objects that the report failed to address certain considerations in its discussion of personal jurisdiction, namely that “the facts of this case encompass very unique circumstances that are potentially allowing an out of state sheriff's deputy to willfully violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act to investigate a potential state crime absent any judicial action such as a court order or subpoena” (Dkt. #90 at p. 1). Second, Plaintiff objects that the Magistrate Judge should have recommended transfer (rather than dismissal) of his claims to the Western District of Oklahoma. The Court addresses each objection in turn.

         Personal Jurisdiction

         Plaintiff asserts that the report incorrectly assessed whether Deputy Ward is subject to the Court's exercise of personal jurisdiction. As to general jurisdiction, Plaintiff asserts that he “does object to the statement that the Plaintiff must establish that Defendant Ward be ‘at home' in Texas” because modern technology “[obviates] the need for physical presence in the State” (Dkt. #90 at 4) (emphasis in original). As to specific jurisdiction, Plaintiff argues that without Deputy Ward's contact with Puckett in Texas, “the State's entire case in chief in Oklahoma is nonexistent” and Deputy Ward's “search warrant affidavit. . . was based solely on his communications with Tim Puckett” (Dkt. #90 at p. 4) (emphasis in original).

         General Jurisdiction - “At Home” in Texas

         Concerning whether Deputy Ward is subject to the Court's general personal jurisdiction, Plaintiff argues:

Although territorial presence frequently will enhance a potential defendant's affiliation with a State and possibly reinforce foreseeability of suit being filed there, it is an inescapable fact of modem commercial life and communication across state lines thus obviating the need for physical presence in the State. Accordingly, the minimum contacts required to establish general jurisdiction are more extensive in quality and nature than those needed for specific jurisdiction. If this is the case, the Plaintiff cannot see how the nature of Defendant Ward's communications with Tim Puckett and Experian are not extensive and serious in nature, as it was nothing less than an extensive and detailed financial probe into the Plaintiff's entire financial life for an ...

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