393 F.3d 201 (D.C. Cir. 2004), 03-7179, Helmer v. Doletskaya

Docket Nº:03-7179.
Citation:393 F.3d 201
Party Name:John HELMER, Appellant v. Elena DOLETSKAYA, Appellee
Case Date:December 21, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
 
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393 F.3d 201 (D.C. Cir. 2004)

John HELMER, Appellant

v.

Elena DOLETSKAYA, Appellee

No. 03-7179.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

December 21, 2004

Argued Oct. 7, 2004

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 02cv00460).

Bruce S. Marks argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant. John M. Mason entered an appearance.

William M. Sullivan, Jr. argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief was Sarah M. Hall.

Before: ROGERS, TATEL and GARLAND, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

ROGERS, Circuit Judge.

This appeal involves personal jurisdiction under the District of Columbia long-arm statute, D.C.Code § 13-423 (2001). John Helmer, a United States citizen, sued his former girlfriend Elena Doletskaya, a Russian citizen, for fraud and breach of contract when she refused to repay him for real and personal property acquired while they lived together in Moscow. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. Helmer v. Doletskaya, 290 F.Supp.2d 61 (D.D.C.2003). We reverse the dismissal of Helmer's contract claim for repayment of credit card charges because the parties formed the contract in the District of Columbia and contemplated future repeated contacts with the District of Columbia as a condition of performance. Otherwise we affirm, as the other contracts had no substantial connection with the District of Columbia, and the fraud did not cause injury in the District of Columbia. In light of our partial reversal, however, the district court may have discretion to exercise pendent personal jurisdiction over the dismissed claims, an issue that was not briefed on appeal, or to dismiss the complaint on other grounds raised in Doletskaya's motion to dismiss, such as forum non conveniens.

I.

The facts, based on the pleadings and affidavits construed in the light most favorable to Helmer, are as follows. John Helmer is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the District of Columbia

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by virtue of his ownership of a home in the District of Columbia, his payment of D.C. taxes, and his possession of a D.C. driver's license. However, he has lived and worked in Moscow as an independent business journalist since 1990. Elena Doletskaya is a citizen of the Russian Federation and a resident of Moscow. In 1993, Helmer and Doletskaya commenced a romantic relationship and lived together in a rented apartment in Moscow. They also began negotiations with a Russian seller to purchase an apartment in Moscow. That summer, the couple visited Helmer's home in the District of Columbia. While there Doletskaya agreed to arrange for the purchase of the Moscow apartment in Helmer's name, as Helmer did not speak or read Russian. Doletskaya also agreed to repay Helmer for financially supporting her until her career was established. Such financial support included her use of Helmer's credit cards, on the condition that the monthly billing statements would be sent to Helmer's home address in the District of Columbia.

On November 19, 1993, after the couple returned to Moscow, Doletskaya arranged for the purchase of the Moscow apartment and registered it in her own name. Helmer paid cash for the apartment and received a receipt acknowledging the sale. The couple moved into the Moscow apartment in 1994. In 1996, their romantic relationship ended, and Helmer loaned Doletskaya $11,000 to purchase and renovate a dacha, or country house, in the outskirts of Moscow. Helmer continued to live in the Moscow apartment and to permit Doletskaya to use his credit cards until 2000, when Doletskaya established her financial independence as editor-in-chief of Vogue Russia. In 2000, after Doletskaya had moved into the dacha, Helmer discovered that the Moscow apartment was registered in Doletskaya's name. When Doletskaya refused to transfer the apartment to him, Helmer sued her in a Moscow court to recover title to the apartment; his complaint was dismissed on the merits. Doletskaya also refused to repay Helmer $68,000 for his financial support, including $57,000 in credit card charges and $11,000 for the dacha.

On March 15, 2002, Helmer sued Doletskaya in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for fraud and breach of contract. Count One of the complaint alleged that Doletskaya fraudulently induced Helmer to entrust her with the purchase of the apartment and to lend her financial support by concealing material facts about her personal background. Count Two alleged that Doletskaya breached her agreement to register the Moscow apartment in Helmer's name and her agreement to repay Helmer for his financial support. Doletskaya moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of service and personal jurisdiction, improper venue, forum non conveniens, and failure to state a claim for fraud. The district court granted the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, finding that the contracts made during the couple's 1993 visit to the District of Columbia did not constitute "minimum contacts" with the District of Columbia, and that the fraud did not cause injury in the District of Columbia, as Helmer was not living there at the time. Helmer, 290 F.Supp.2d at 68-69.

II.

On appeal, Helmer contends that the district court erred in dismissing the complaint because Doletskaya had sufficient contacts with the District of Columbia to satisfy the requirements of the D.C. long-arm statute and due process. Our standard of review depends on "[t]he posture in which the motion [to dismiss was] presented to trial court." Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Sciences, 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C.Cir. 1992).

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Although the district court permitted jurisdictional discovery, it did not hold an evidentiary hearing and ruled only on the basis of the pleadings and the affidavits, construed in the light most favorable to Helmer. See Helmer, 290 F.Supp.2d at 65 n. 1. Accordingly, we review the dismissal of the complaint de novo. See Herbert, 974 F.2d at 197; 5B CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHUR R. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1351, at 314 (3d ed. 2004).

In a diversity case, the federal district court's personal jurisdiction over the defendant is coextensive with that of a District of Columbia court. See Crane v. Carr, 814 F.2d 758, 762 (D.C.Cir. 1987). The District of Columbia long-arm statute provides that a...

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