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Richter v. Carnival Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

November 12, 2019

SUE RICHTER, Plaintiff,
CARNIVAL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.


          David C. Godbey United States District Judge

         This Order addresses Defendants Roger Frizzell's and Carnival Corporation's (“Carnival”) motions to dismiss [15], [16]. For the following reasons, the Court grants Frizzell's and Carnival's motions to dismiss and grants Plaintiff Sue Richter leave to replead her complaint against Carnival.

         I. Origins of the Dispute

         Richter filed suit against Carnival and Carnival's Chief Marketing Officer, Frizzell, because Richter claims that they stole her idea to create a reality television show showcasing customers vacationing on Carnival cruises. Pl.'s Original Compl. ¶ 9 [1]. Richter states she worked at a public relations firm, where she began working with Frizzell and Carnival. Id. ¶ 18. During this time, Richter claims she became aware of Carnival's public relation needs, and to increase Carnival's positive brand awareness, Richter alleges she developed a concept to create a reality show following families vacationing on Carnival cruises. Id. ¶ 19-20. Richter states she shared the idea with Frizzell, and Carnival sent her a letter of intent to continue the project. Id. ¶ 22-23. Several years later, Carnival informed Richter that it was not interested in producing her show. Id. ¶ 26. Yet, Richter claims Carnival ultimately produced a reality television show, just like the concept she developed. Id. ¶ 27.

         Richter alleges six claims against Carnival and Frizzell. Id. ¶ 7. Carnival and Frizzell each filed motions to dismiss. Frizzell claims Richter failed to create a prima facie case for personal jurisdiction, and Carnival argues Richter failed to sufficiently plead each cause of action.

         II. The Court Does Not Have Personal Jurisdiction Over Frizzell

         The Court dismisses Frizzell because the Court does not have general or specific personal jurisdiction over him.

         A. Personal Jurisdiction Legal Standard

         A nonresident defendant is subject to the jurisdiction of a federal court sitting in diversity if (1) the forum state's long-arm statute confers personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and (2) exercise of personal jurisdiction by the forum state is consistent with due process under the United States Constitution. Ruston Gas Turbines, Inc. v. Donaldson Co., Inc., 9 F.3d 415, 418 (5th Cir. 1993). The Texas Long Arm Statute confers jurisdiction to the limits of the Constitution. Id.; see also Hall v. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A., 638 S.W.2d 870, 872 (Tex. 1982), rev'd on other grounds, 466 U.S. 408 (1984). “Because the Texas Long Arm Statute is coextensive with the confines of due process, questions of personal jurisdiction in Texas are generally analyzed entirely within the framework of the Constitutional constraints of Due Process.” Religious Tech. Ctr. v. Liebreich, 339 F.3d 369, 373 (5th Cir. 2003); see also Gessmann v. Stephens, 51 S.W.3d 329, 335 (Tex. App. - Tyler 2001, no pet.).

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment limits the reach of a state court's-and thus a federal court's-jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant. See Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186, 207 (1977). Specifically, due process requires that two elements be satisfied. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474, 476 (1985). First, the nonresident must have purposefully established “minimum contacts” in the forum state such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court in the forum state. Id. at 474. Second, the exercise of personal jurisdiction must “comport with ‘fair play and substantial justice.'” Id. at 476 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 320 (1945)). The minimum contacts analysis required by due process ensures that individuals have a “fair warning that a particular activity may subject [them] to the jurisdiction of a foreign sovereign.” Id. at 472 (alteration in original) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         Minimum contacts can create either general personal jurisdiction or specific personal jurisdiction. Lewis v. Fresne, 252 F.3d 352, 358 (5th Cir. 2001). General jurisdiction exists where the claim is unrelated to the nonresident's contacts with the forum, but where those contacts are “continuous and systematic.” Revell v. Lidov, 317 F.3d 467, 470 (5th Cir. 2002). Specific jurisdiction, on the other hand, exists if (1) the cause of action is related to, or arises from, the defendant's contacts with the forum, and (2) those contacts meet the due process standard. See Holt Oil & Gas Corp. v. Harvey, 801 F.2d 773, 777 (5th Cir. 1986). Under either a general or specific jurisdiction analysis, however, “the constitutional touchstone remains whether the defendant purposefully established ‘minimum contacts' in the forum State.” Burger King Corp., 471 U.S. at 474.

         “In evaluating a nonresident's contacts with the forum, we must determine whether the nonresident has purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, thus invoking the benefits and protection of its laws.” Holt Oil & Gas Corp., 801 F.2d at 777. A court must consider the totality of the circumstances of a case when making the purposeful-availment inquiry, as “no single factor, particularly the number of contacts, is determinative.” Stuart v. Spademan, 772 F.2d 1185, 1192 (5th Cir. 1985). “[W]hether the minimum contacts are sufficient to justify subjection of the non-resident to suit in the forum is determined not on a mechanical and quantitative test, but rather under the particular facts upon the quality and nature of the activity with relation to the forum state.” Miss. Interstate Express, Inc. v. Transpo, Inc., 681 F.2d 1003, 1006 (5th Cir. 1982).

         The plaintiff, as the party seeking to invoke the Court's power, bears the burden of establishing the Court's jurisdiction over a foreign defendant. See Pervasive Software Inc. v. Lexware GmbH & Co. KG, 688 F.3d 214, 219 (5th Cir. 2012). The plaintiff must plead enough facts to establish a prima facie case that the Court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Fielding v. Hubert Burda Media, Inc., 415 F.3d 419, 424 (5th Cir. 2005). If a district court, as here, decides a motion to dismiss without holding an evidentiary hearing, a prima facie case suffices to establish jurisdiction. See Wilson v. Belin, 20 F.3d 644, 648 (5th Cir. 1994) (internal quotations and citations omitted). A court must take all uncontroverted allegations in the complaint as true, and it must resolve all factual conflicts in favor of the plaintiff. Pervasive Software Inc., 688 F.3d at 219-20. In deciding the motion, the Court may consider “affidavits, interrogatories, depositions, oral testimony, or any combination of the recognized methods of discovery.” Quick Techs., Inc. v. Sage Grp. PLC, 313 F.3d 338, 344 (5th Cir. 2002) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         B. The Court Does Not Have General Jurisdiction Over Frizzell

         As a threshold matter, the Court lacks general jurisdiction over Frizzell. Richter alleges that Frizzell is domiciled in Oklahoma, not Texas. Pl.'s Original Compl. ¶ 6 [1]. Richter alleges that Frizzell has “minimum contacts” with Texas and that Frizzell has “purposefully availed” himself of the privileges of conducting business in Texas because Frizzell regularly conducts business in Texas. Id. ¶ 2. But Richter's assertions are nothing more than conclusory allegations that Frizzell engaged in regular, Texas-specific business conduct. The Court finds these allegations are not enough to establish a prima facie case for general personal jurisdiction because Richter failed to establish that Frizzell has “continuous and systematic” contacts with Texas.

         C. The Court Does Not Have Specific Jurisdiction Over Frizzell

         Likewise, the Court lacks specific jurisdiction over Frizzell. The Fifth Circuit applies a three-step inquiry to determine if a ...

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