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Thomas v. Dykstra

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division

February 14, 2018

William J. Thomas, Plaintiff,
Christine M. Dykstra, et al., Defendants.




         This action was removed from state court (Doc.1). Pending before this Court are Defendants Christine and Steven Dykstra's Motions to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction under Federal Civil Rule 12 (b)(2) (Docs. 3, 4). Plaintiff William Thomas filed a Combined Opposition (Doc. 7). The Dykstras filed separate Replies (Docs. 8, 9), and a joint Surreply (Doc. 11). After an evidentiary hearing, this matter is now decisional.

         Background Facts

         The facts of this case are somewhat unique: Thomas is the father of Christine Dykstra, and the father-in-law of Steven Dykstra. Although there are disputed facts, they primarily relate to liability rather than this Court's personal jurisdiction. Here are the undisputed facts, drawn from the Complaint (Doc. 1-2), the Dykstras' affidavits (Docs. 3-1, 4-1), and the evidentiary hearing (Docs. 10, 13; Hearing Transcript).

         The Dykstras reside in Florida, after moving there in 2015-16 from Texas (Doc. 3-1 at 1; Doc. 4-1 at 1). Neither Defendant has resided or worked in Ohio for over twenty-five years, and their only contact with Ohio during that time was the occasional phone call, e-mail, and visit to Christine's family members (Doc. 3-1 at 1; Doc. 4-1 at 1). The only alleged contacts relevant to this dispute are a few phone calls between Christine and her father, and a few e-mails between Christine and her sisters (Doc.1-2 at ¶¶ 2-5; Doc. 3-1 at 1-2).

         In late 2015, Christine reached out to her father about relocating to Florida due to concerns about her mother's health and his ability to care for her without assistance (Doc.1-2 at ¶¶ 2-3; Doc. 3-1 at 1). Christine made the call after she and her sisters discussed their concerns about their parents and possible care arrangements, ultimately agreeing that the best option was to propose they join Christine and her family in Florida (Doc. 3-1 at 1). During the call with her father, Christine allegedly promised to help care for her parents and build her father a woodworking shop once he arrived in Florida (Doc.1-2 at ¶¶ 4-5). In exchange, her parents would contribute to the purchase of the Florida home from the sale proceeds of their Ohio home (id. at ¶ 5; Doc. 3-1 at 1). There is no allegation that Steven participated in these discussions, other than generally agreeing that his wife's parents could move in with his family.

         Three weeks later, Thomas called Christine to inform her he had decided to make the move (Doc. 3-1 at 1). In early 2016, he sold his Ohio home and most of his personal belongings without any input from his children and, in fact, contrary to Christine's suggestion that he wait until her family completed their move to Florida to avoid having to relocate twice (Doc.1-2 at ¶ 6; Doc. 3-1 at 1-2). Thomas and his wife then joined Christine in Texas before all parties moved to Florida (Doc.1-2 at ¶ 7; Doc. 3-1 at 2).

         Although the exact details are unclear, at some point Christine and her father opened a joint bank account. Steven was not named on the account (Doc.1-2 at ¶ 5; Doc. 13-1 at 1). The Complaint alleges Christine requested an account be opened “to help with the expense of housing her parents” (Doc.1-2 at ¶ 5), while Christine says the account was created because her father did not want to continue writing checks or tracking his bills (Doc. 3-1 at 2). Regardless of its exact intended purpose, the account was clearly opened in Texas (id. at 2; Doc. 13-1 at 1), and money was not withdrawn from it until after Thomas resided in Texas (see Doc. 13-1; Tr. at 5-7). Eventually, $109, 674.05 from this account was transferred to the Sun Trust Bank to help purchase the Florida home (Doc 1-2 at ¶ 8; Tr. at 3).

         All parties agree their relationship declined after the parties resided together in Florida (Doc 1-2 at ¶ 9; Doc. 3-1 at 2). As promised, Thomas was provided a residence with his woodworking shop (Doc. 3-1 at 2). The parties dispute why, and upon whose insistence, Thomas left Florida. Unbeknownst to his daughter or son-in-law, Thomas returned to Ohio and then filed this lawsuit (id. at 2-3). Thomas claims unjust enrichment and promissory estoppel. He does not allege fraud or misrepresentation.

         Standard of Review

         Thomas carries the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction is proper “over each defendant independently.” Days Inns Worldwide, Inc. v. Patel, 445 F.3d 899, 904 (6th Cir. 2006). Thomas has not submitted his own affidavit, but relies on the allegations in the Complaint, the Dykstras' affidavits, and bank records provided at this Court's request.

         The exact burden placed on Thomas depends on whether an evidentiary hearing was held. When no evidentiary hearing is held, only a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction is required, and the pleadings and affidavits are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Neogen Corp. v. Neo Gen Screening, Inc., 282 F.3d 883, 887 (6th Cir. 2002). But when an evidentiary hearing is held, the plaintiff must establish jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Youn v. Track, Inc., 324 F.3d 409, 417 (6th Cir. 2003). This Court heard arguments and ...

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