Johnson-Howard v. Aecom Special Missions Servs., Inc., Case No.: GJH-19-614

Decision Date17 January 2020
Docket NumberCase No.: GJH-19-614
Citation434 F.Supp.3d 359
Parties Kim JOHNSON-HOWARD, Plaintiff, v. AECOM SPECIAL MISSIONS SERVICES, INC., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

Kasey Kendra Murray, Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, De Paolis and Lightfoot LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Dawn Star Singleton, Keith M. Bonner, Sean Charles O. Hara, Bonner Kiernan Trebach and Crociata LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GEORGE J. HAZEL, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Kim Johnson-Howard ("Plaintiff") brings this action against AECOM Special Missions Services, Inc. and AECOM Government Services, Inc. ("Defendants") seeking damages for injuries she alleges she sustained in a fall at a federal building in Reston, Virginia on March 7, 2016. ECF No. 1. Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss the suit on several grounds. ECF No. 7. Plaintiff has opposed the motion, ECF No. 9, and Defendants have not filed a reply. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. Rule 105.6. (D. Md.). For the following reasons, the Court will deny the Motion to Dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND1

On or about March 7, 2016, Plaintiff, a resident of Virginia, was leaving a meeting at a federal building located at 1760 Business Center Drive in Reston, Virginia when she slipped on the wet floor of the lobby and fell to the ground, hitting her head, buttocks, right hip, and back. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 3, 7. Plaintiff sustained severe and permanent injuries to her head, brain, neck, back, and right hip, among other parts of her body. Id. ¶¶ 7, 10. The floor recently had been mopped by building maintenance workers who were employees or agents of Defendants, but there were no signs in the vicinity where Plaintiff fell or any other warnings to Plaintiff that the floors were wet or slippery. Id. ¶ 8.

Plaintiff filed this action on February 26, 2019, invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction. Id. ¶ 1. The Complaint asserts a single claim of negligence against both Defendants for breaching their duties to inspect and maintain the premises at the building, to warn Plaintiff of hazardous conditions including wet floors, and to perform their duties under their contracts with the federal government in a reasonable and prudent manner. Id. ¶¶ 11–12, 15. Plaintiff alleges harm including her personal injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering, id. ¶ 14, and seeks damages of $3,000,000, id. at 5.

Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint on April 5, 2019.2 ECF No. 7. The Motion argues that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction over Defendants, making dismissal proper under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(2), respectively, that this Court is an improper venue for the suit under Rule 12(b)(3), that the action is untimely and therefore dismissal is required under Rule 12(b)(6), and that dismissal is appropriate under the doctrine of forum non conveniens . Id. at 1–2. The primary contention underlying these arguments is that Defendants are Virginia residents for jurisdictional purposes, see id. , contrary to Plaintiff's allegations in the Complaint that both Defendants have their principal place of business in Germantown, Maryland, ECF No. 1 ¶ 4.

Defendants do not challenge Plaintiff's additional allegations that they are both subsidiaries of AECOM, a multinational corporation, though Defendants clarify that Defendant AECOM Special Missions Services, Inc. is an indirect subsidiary while Defendant AECOM Government Services, Inc. is a direct subsidiary. ECF No. 7 at 4–5; ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 4–5. Defendants also offer that they both "provide consulting and operational services to the various intelligence agencies of the United States Government." ECF No. 7 at 5. That description is consistent with Plaintiff's allegation that both Defendants are recipients of multi-million dollar contracts with the federal government to provide facilities maintenance, repairs, janitorial, and other services to various federal facilities in the area of Northern Virginia, including the building in which Plaintiff fell and suffered her injuries. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 4–5.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A. Rule 12(b)(1)

Defendants argue that dismissal is appropriate under Rule 12(b)(1) because the parties are not diverse and there is no federal question, thus depriving the Court of subject matter jurisdiction. "A district court should grant a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) ‘only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.’ " Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P. , 887 F.3d 637, 645 (4th Cir. 2018) (quoting Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co. , 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999) ). "The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction rests with the plaintiff." Demetres v. East West Constr. , 776 F.3d 271, 272 (4th Cir. 2015). "When a defendant challenges subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), ‘the district court is to regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.’ " Evans , 166 F.3d at 647 (quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States , 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991) ).

B. Rule 12(b)(2)

A motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction invokes Rule 12(b)(2). "When a court's personal jurisdiction is properly challenged by a Rule 12(b)(2) motion, the jurisdictional question thus raised is one for the judge, with the burden on the plaintiff ultimately to prove the existence of a ground for jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence." Combs v. Bakker , 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). Discovery and an evidentiary hearing are not required to resolve a motion under Rule 12(b)(2). See generally 5B Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1351. The Court may address personal jurisdiction as a preliminary matter, ruling solely on the motion papers, supporting legal memoranda, affidavits, and the allegations in the complaint. Consulting Engr's Corp. v. Geometric Ltd. , 561 F.3d 273, 276 (4th Cir. 2009) ; see also In re Celotex Corp. , 124 F.3d 619, 628 (4th Cir. 1997). In such a circumstance, the plaintiff need only make "a prima facie showing of a sufficient jurisdictional basis to survive the jurisdictional challenge." Consulting Eng'rs Corp. , 561 F.3d at 276. "In deciding whether the plaintiff has made the requisite showing, the court must take all disputed facts and reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Carefirst of Md., Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc. , 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir.2003) (citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Akzo, N.V. , 2 F.3d 56, 62 (4th Cir. 1993) ).

C. Rule 12(b)(3)

"A defendant may challenge the sufficiency of plaintiff's choice of venue by way of a motion under Rule 12(b)(3). In the Fourth Circuit, when a challenge to venue is raised, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that venue is appropriate." Stone v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. , 361 F. Supp. 3d 539, 549 (D. Md. 2019) (citing Bartholomew v. Va. Chiropractors Ass'n , 612 F.2d 812, 816 (4th Cir. 1979) ). "To survive a motion to dismiss for improper venue when no evidentiary hearing is held, the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of venue." Mitrano v. Hawes , 377 F.3d 402, 405 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Delong Equip. Co. v. Wash. Mills Abrasive Co. , 840 F.2d 843, 845 (11th Cir. 1988) ). "Unlike a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, evidence outside the pleadings may be ‘freely consider[ed] in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(3) motion." Am. Ins. Mktg. Corp. v. 5 Star Life Ins. Co. , 958 F. Supp. 2d 609, 612 (D. Md. 2013) (quoting Sucampo Pharms., Inc. v. Astellas Pharma, Inc. , 471 F.3d 544, 550 (4th Cir. 2006) ); see also Aggarao v. MOL Ship Mgmt. Co., Ltd. , 675 F.3d 355, 365–66 (4th Cir. 2012). "All reasonable inferences must still be drawn in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Am. Ins. Mktg. Corp. , 958 F. Supp. 2d at 612 (citing CoStar Realty Info., Inc. v. Field , 612 F. Supp. 2d 660, 672 (D. Md. 2009) ).

D. Rule 12(b)(6)

To state a claim that survives a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ " Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). The "mere recital of elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, is not sufficient to survive a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)." Walters v. McMahen , 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012). To determine whether a claim has crossed "the line from conceivable to plausible," the Court must employ a "context-specific" inquiry, drawing on the court's "experience and common sense." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679–80, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). When performing this inquiry, the Court accepts "all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff in weighing the legal sufficiency of the complaint." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc. , 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009).

"Courts generally do not ‘resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses’ through a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." Balt. Scrap Corp. v. Exec. Risk Specialty Ins. Co. , 388 F. Supp. 3d 574, 584 (D. Md. 2019) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro , 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999) ). "But, ‘in the relatively rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint, the defense may be reached by a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6).’ " Id. (quoting Goodman v. Praxair, Inc. , 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007) ). "However, because Rule 12(b)(6) ‘is intended [onl...

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