United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton
JOSEPH P. STEHLE, et al., Plaintiffs,
VENTURE LOGISTICS, LLC, et al., Defendants.
ENTRY AND ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, DEFENDANT VENTURE
LOGISTICS, LLC'S MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT AND TRANSFER
VENUE (DOC. 16) AND TRANSFERRING THE CASE TO THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF
M. ROSE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss Complaint and
Transfer Venue (Doc. 16) (the “Motion”), filed by
Defendant Venture Logistics, LLC (“Venture”),
pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2),
12(b)(3), and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1404(a) and
1406(a). Plaintiffs filed a Response to the Motion
(Doc. 22) (the “Response”), and Venture filed a
Reply in support of the Motion (Doc. 27) (the
“Reply”). The Motion is fully briefed and ripe
for review. (Docs. 16, 22, 27.) For the reasons
discussed below, the Court GRANTS, IN PART, the Motion and
TRANSFERS this case to the United States District Court for
the Southern District of Indiana.
case arises from the tragic death of Joseph P. Stehle
(“Stehle”) that occurred following a traffic
accident. Venture is in the business of short haul regional
trucking delivery services. It serves customers in every
state except Alaska and Hawaii. Venture is an Indiana Limited
Liability Company, formed in Indiana, with its principal
place of business located at 1101 Harding Court,
alleged in the Complaint, on or about June 9, 2018, Stehle
was driving a vehicle eastbound on Interstate 70 approaching
mile marker 110 in Wilkinson, Indiana (within Hancock County)
when it was struck in the rear by a tractor trailer driven by
defendant Sean P. Kelley (“Kelley”), one of
Venture's truck drivers. The tractor trailer drove up and
on top of the vehicle driven by Stehle, allegedly crushing
him and causing his death. Plaintiffs allege that, at the
time of the collision, the vehicle driven by Stehle was
covered by a policy of insurance issued by defendant American
Guarantee and Liability Insurance Company (“American
allege that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over
this case on diversity grounds pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1332. Plaintiffs allege that venue is appropriate in this
Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2) and (d) and
Fed.R.Civ.P. 4. All of the Plaintiffs are alleged to be
residents of Ohio. The Complaint alleges that Kelley is a
resident of Indiana. It indicates an address in Illinois for
American Guarantee. As referenced above, Venture is an
Indiana Limited Liability Company with its principal place of
business in Indiana. Venture has a registered agent in Ohio;
it selected a nationwide company authorized by the Federal
Motor Carriers Act to designate agents for service of process
in all states in which it operates in order to ensure
compliance with that Act.
on an affidavit submitted to the Court from Jeff Davis,
Venture's Executive Vice President, Venture conducts
relatively limited business in Ohio. In 2018, Venture logged
6% of its total driven miles, nationwide, within the State of
Ohio. That same year, 5.6% of its total business profits were
derived from the State of Ohio. Venture does not operate any
terminals within Ohio, does not have any offices located
within Ohio, and only 20 of its approximately 900 total
drivers are dedicated to serving Ohio customers.
Venture's Ohio drivers make up 2.2% of its total fleet of
drivers; Kelley is not one of Venture's Ohio drivers.
Davis testified in his affidavit that Kelley operated out of
Venture's Indianapolis, Indiana terminal and that, upon
information and belief, Kelly began his route in Brazil,
Indiana on the day of the incident. A bill of lading
indicates that, during the time of the incident, Kelley was
transporting baled waste to a Kentucky customer. Again, the
incident took place in Indiana while both Kelley and Stehle
were driving eastbound (therefore toward Ohio) on Interstate
70. Kelley's driver's logs do not show that Kelley
ever entered the State of Ohio on the date of the incident.
Mr. Davis testified that, upon information and belief,
Venture has never been served at its Ohio registered agent
other than in the present lawsuit.
filed the Complaint on June 7, 2019. (Doc. 1.) It contains
ten causes of action, titled: Negligence; Negligence Per
Se; Wrongful Death; Survivorship; Loss of Consortium;
Negligent/Intentional Emotional Distress; Claim Against
Defendant American Guarantee; Uninsured Motorists/Declaratory
Judgment Against Defendant American Guarantee; Negligent
Hiring/Entrustment/Supervision; and Punitive Damages.
American Guarantee filed its Answer to the Complaint on
August 8, 2019 (Doc. 11), and Kelley filed his Answer to the
Complaint on October 29, 2019 (Doc. 24).
briefing on the Motion raises three main issues.
First, whether Venture consented to personal
jurisdiction in Ohio. Second, if the Court
determines that Venture has not consented to personal
jurisdiction in Ohio, whether this Court otherwise has
personal jurisdiction over Venture. Third, whether
the claims against all or some of the defendants may and
should be transferred to the United States District Court for
the Southern District of Indiana.
moves to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(2) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the basis that this Court
lacks personal jurisdiction over it. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 12(b)(2). Plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing,
through specific facts, that personal jurisdiction exists
over each defendant independently. Beydoun v. Wataniya
Restaurants Holding, Q.S.C., 768 F.3d 499, 504 (6th Cir.
2014); Conn v. Zakharov, 667 F.3d 705, 711 (6th Cir.
2012). However, the burden of proof that plaintiffs must bear
to avoid dismissal depends on whether the court conducts an
evidentiary hearing on the motion. Id. Here, based
on the parties' submissions, the Court exercises its
discretion not to conduct an evidentiary hearing.
district court rules on a jurisdictional motion to dismiss
made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2) without limited discovery or
conducting an evidentiary hearing, then-instead of weighing
any facts disputed by the parties-the court must consider the
pleadings and submitted affidavits in a light most favorable
to the nonmoving party, although the court also may consider
the defendant's undisputed factual assertions.
Id. Where a district court rules without an
evidentiary hearing, then plaintiffs need only make a
prima facie showing that personal jurisdiction over
the defendant exists to defeat such a motion. Id.
Inquiry concerning alleged consent to personal
jurisdiction pursuant to 49 U.S.C. §
defendant may consent to the personal jurisdiction of a
particular court, regardless of that court's ability to
exercise personal jurisdiction over that defendant. See
Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 n.14
(1985) (“because the personal jurisdiction requirement
is a waivable right, there are a variety of legal
arrangements by which a litigant may give express or implied
consent to the personal jurisdiction of the court”)
(internal citation and quotation marks omitted). Merely as an
example of how a party may consent to personal jurisdiction,
“[t]he use of a forum selection clause is one way in
which contracting parties may agree in advance to submit to
the jurisdiction of a particular court.” Preferred
Capital, Inc. v. Assocs. In Urology, 453 F.3d 718, 721
(6th Cir. 2006).
Response, Plaintiffs argue that Venture consented to personal
jurisdiction in this Court because it registered an agent for
service in Ohio in accordance with 49 U.S.C. § 13304(a),
a provision of the federal Motor Carrier Act. (Doc. 22 at
PAGEID # 78.) The issue of whether designating an agent in a
state, in accordance with 49 U.S.C. § 13304(a), implies
consent to personal jurisdiction in that state is an issue
that has divided courts. See Western Express, Inc. v.
Villanueva, No. 3:17-cv-01006, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
176227, at *15-16 (M.D. Tenn. Oct. 24, 2014) (citing numerous
cases and explaining how “[b]oth parties acknowledge
that there are numerous cases holding that the designation of
an agent for service of process does imply consent
to personal jurisdiction” and that “there are
numerous cases standing for the opposite premise as
well.”) (internal citations omitted) (emphasis in
statute states the following:
(a) Designation of agent. A motor carrier or
broker providing transportation subject to jurisdiction under
chapter 135 [49 U.S.C. §§ 13501 et seq.]
… shall designate an agent in each State in which it
operates by name and post office address on whom process
issued by a court with subject matter jurisdiction may be
served in an action brought against that carrier or broker.
The designation shall be in writing and filed with the
Department of Transportation and each State in which the
carrier operates may require that an additional designation
be filed with it. If a designation under this subsection is
not made, service may be made on any agent of the carrier or
broker within that State.
49 U.S.C. § 13304(a). “The phrase
‘jurisdiction under chapter 135' generally refers
to the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Department of
Transportation and the Surface Transportation Board …
over the interstate transportation by motor carrier and the
procurement of that transportation.” Hegemann v. M
& M Am., Inc., No. 2:18-cv-00064, 2018 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 160683, at *13 (D. Vt. Sept. 20, 2018) (citing
Western Express, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 176227, at *13
n.4 and 49 U.S.C. §§ 13102(1), (2))
(internal quotation marks omitted).
initial matter, Venture points out that the Complaint does
not identify 49 U.S.C. § 13304(a) as a basis for
personal jurisdiction over Venture. (See Doc. 1 at
¶¶ 1-3, 9.) Regardless, this Court finds that
Venture has not consented to personal jurisdiction
based solely on Plaintiffs' service of process on
Venture' registered agent in Ohio designated pursuant to
49 U.S.C. § 13304(a).
1993, the Sixth Circuit held that “the mere designation
of an agent in compliance with the service-of-process statute
does not automatically eliminate the requirement of minimum
contacts to establish personal jurisdiction.”
Pittock v. Otis Elevator Co., 8 F.3d 325, 329 (6th
Cir. 1993) (finding that the district court properly
determined that Ohio did not have personal jurisdiction over
a non-Ohio defendant corporation concerning an accident that
took place in Nevada). In Pittock, the plaintiffs
argued that the defendant “consented to personal
jurisdiction by designating an agent to accept service of
process in Ohio.” Id. at 328. The statute at
issue there was an Ohio state statute requiring a foreign
corporation to designate an agent (upon whom process against
the corporation may be served within the state) in order to
be licensed to transact business in the state. Id.,
citing Ohio Revised Code ...