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February 2016

Seattle Team Prevails on Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Resulting in Dismissal of All Claims with Prejudice

Gordon & Rees Seattle partner Sarah Turner and senior counsel Derek Bishop were successful in obtaining a complete dismissal with prejudice of Plaintiff’s claims for lack of personal jurisdiction in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. 

The plaintiff was a former sales director for a nationwide health food company who was responsible for overseeing and managing the sales of the company’s pre-packaged line of healthy frozen meals to retail grocery stores on the east coast of the United States. Although the company was headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the plaintiff worked from his home office in Long Island, N.Y. In his lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that members of the corporate office made false statements regarding his performance which he claimed was exemplary. Eventually, the plaintiff’s employment was terminated due to poor job performance. Subsequently, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the company and its CEO, alleging violation of Title VII. 

Defendants asked that the Court dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint on the grounds that the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over them since they were headquartered and/or lived in Vancouver, and not in Washington State. The defendants also moved to dismiss the claims for failure to state a claim against the individual CEO because Title VII does not provide for individual liability. 

In opposition, the plaintiff alleged that the company had two contacts with Washington State which he claimed provided the Court with general and specific jurisdiction. The first was the presence of a post office box, just across the Canadian/United States border, which the company maintained to allow it to accept mail from United States customers without incurring additional fees for international delivery. The second was a sales call that the plaintiff allegedly made in Washington with other sales directors when he first began employment. Defendants argued, and the Court agreed, that these contacts were insufficient to give rise to either general or specific jurisdiction over the defendants, and dismissed the claims against the defendants with prejudice. The Court also dismissed all individual claims against the CEO on the basis of lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.

The client was very pleased with this result especially since the plaintiff had waited just days before the statute of limitations would expire, and the plaintiff did not re-file his complaint in the proper New York jurisdiction within the remaining statutory time period.

Derek A. Bishop
Sarah N. Turner