Stratagene v. Parsons Behle & Latimer, No. CIV.A.DKC 2003-1703.

Decision Date29 April 2004
Docket NumberNo. CIV.A.DKC 2003-1703.
Citation315 F.Supp.2d 765
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

Read K. McCaffrey, Christopher Hellmich, Patton Boggs LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Pamela Anne Bresnahan, Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendant.


CHASANOW, District Judge.

Presently pending and ready for resolution in this legal malpractice case is the motion by Defendants Parsons Behle & Latimer (Parsons) and the named individual attorneys to dismiss or, in the alternative, to transfer venue. The issues have been fully briefed and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, the court will grant the motion to dismiss as to the law firm and attorneys Roche and Wikstrom, and will deny the motion as to attorney Pierce.

I. Background

Plaintiff Stratagene is engaged in ongoing patent infringement litigation in this court with Invitrogen Corporation (Invitrogen), the defendant in the action (Invitrogen litigation). During the course of that litigation, Plaintiff discovered that Vanessa Pierce, one of the attorneys for then-counsel to Invitrogen, Defendant Parsons Behle & Latimer (Parsons), previously had represented Plaintiff at her prior firm in patent matters. Plaintiff moved to disqualify both the attorney, Pierce, and her firm, Parsons, from the case. This court granted Plaintiff's motion, finding that Pierce had worked at her prior firm on matters "substantially related" to those in the Invitrogen litigation and that "Parsons has not sheltered itself from imputed disqualification" by failing to screen Pierce from participation in the Invitrogen litigation. Stratagene v. Invitrogen Corp., 225 F.Supp.2d 608, 613-14 (D.Md.2002). On June 10, 2003, Plaintiff filed a six-count complaint for legal malpractice and negligence against Parsons (counts three and six), Pierce (counts one and two), and two other firm attorneys, Kent Roche (count four) and Francis Wikstrom (count five).

II. Personal Jurisdiction
A. Standard of Review

When a court's power to exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant is challenged by a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), "the jurisdictional question is to be resolved by the judge, with the burden on the plaintiff ultimately to prove grounds for jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence." Carefirst of Maryland, Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Centers, Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir.2003) (citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Akzo, N.V., 2 F.3d 56, 59-60 (4th Cir.1993)). If the existence of jurisdiction turns on disputed facts, the court may resolve the challenge after a separate evidentiary hearing, or may defer ruling pending receipt at trial of evidence relevant to the jurisdictional question. Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir.1989). If the court chooses to rule without conducting an evidentiary hearing, relying solely on the basis of the complaint, affidavits and discovery materials, "the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction." Carefirst of Maryland, 334 F.3d at 396. See also Mylan Labs., 2 F.3d at 60; Combs, 886 F.2d at 676. In determining whether the plaintiff has proven a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction, the court "must draw all reasonable inferences arising from the proof, and resolve all factual disputes, in the plaintiff's favor." Mylan, 2 F.3d at 60; Carefirst of Maryland, 334 F.3d at 396.

A federal district court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant "if (1) an applicable state long-arm statute confers jurisdiction and (2) the assertion of that jurisdiction is consistent with constitutional due process." Nichols v. G.D. Searle & Co., 991 F.2d 1195, 1199 (4th Cir.1993). Maryland's long-arm statute, Md.Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 6-103, authorizes the exercise of personal jurisdiction to the limits permitted by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See ALS Scan, Inc. v. Digital Service Consultants, Inc., 293 F.3d 707, 710 (4th Cir.2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1105, 123 S.Ct. 868, 154 L.Ed.2d 773 (2003); Base Metal Trading, Ltd. v. OJSC "Novokuznetsky Aluminum Factory," 283 F.3d 208, 212-13 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 822, 123 S.Ct. 101, 154 L.Ed.2d 30 (2002). Thus, the inquiry for the court is whether the defendant purposefully established "minimum contacts" with Maryland such that maintenance of the suit does not offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463, 61 S.Ct. 339, 85 L.Ed. 278 (1940)). See also Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474, 105 S.Ct. 2174, 85 L.Ed.2d 528 (1985); Base Metal Trading, Ltd., 283 F.3d at 213.

The crucial issue is whether the contacts of each defendant with the forum state, here Maryland, are substantial enough that a defendant "should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297, 100 S.Ct. 559, 62 L.Ed.2d 490 (1980). A defendant has fair warning that the defendant might be subject to a forum's jurisdiction if the defendant purposefully directs activities at forum residents and "the litigation results from alleged injuries that `arise out of or relate to' those activities." Burger King Corp., 471 U.S. at 472, 105 S.Ct. 2174 (citing Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 465 U.S. 770, 774, 104 S.Ct. 1473, 79 L.Ed.2d 790 (1984); Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 80 L.Ed.2d 404 (1984)). Where a nonresident defendant purposefully has engaged in significant activities within the forum state or has created "continuing obligations" with residents of the forum state, the defendant has obtained the benefits and privileges of conducting business there — and thus, "it is presumptively not unreasonable to require him to submit to the burdens of litigation in that forum as well." Burger King Corp., 471 U.S. at 476, 105 S.Ct. 2174.

B. Analysis

At this stage, Plaintiff must make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction by demonstrating that each defendant is subject to Maryland's long-arm statute, which confers personal jurisdiction over a party who, inter alia,

(1) Transacts any business or performs any character of work or service in the State;

(2) Contracts to supply goods, food, services, or manufactured products in the State[.]

Md.Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. §§ 6-103(b)(1),(2). As Plaintiff aptly notes, each cause of action in the instant case "arises directly from the Defendants' actions and conduct in the underlying case Stratagene v. Invitrogen Corporation ... currently pending before this Court." Paper 7 at 3.

Plaintiff alleges that each Defendant performed work and services in Maryland in the Invitrogen litigation, and that Defendant Parsons contracted with Invitrogen to provide legal services here. In fact, two Parsons attorneys, Defendant Wikstrom and Hal Pos, acknowledged that at the time Invitrogen retained Parsons in 1995, "Invitrogen was located in Maryland" and did not relocate its principal office to California until March 2002 — a period of seven years. Paper 6, Ex. 1 at ¶ 4, Ex. 4 at ¶ 4. The Invitrogen litigation commenced in November 2001, which means that Defendants represented Invitrogen in the underlying action for four months while Invitrogen was based in Maryland. These factual circumstances, taken together and unchallenged by Defendants, are sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction upon the Defendants in this court.1

Where Defendant Wikstrom, on behalf of Defendant firm Parsons and with assistance from Defendant Pierce, represented Invitrogen in the underlying litigation solely and entirely in this court, and committed the alleged malpractice in conducting that litigation here, Defendants strain the bounds of credibility by arguing they could not reasonably anticipate being haled into this court to defend against these claims. See Paper 8 at 6. In deciding initially to represent Invitrogen, then headquartered in Maryland, Defendants transacted business and contracted to provide services to Invitrogen here. Indeed, with regard to Defendants' representation of Invitrogen in the underlying litigation, Plaintiff's instant "cause of action arose directly from those activities." English & Smith v. Metzger, 901 F.2d 36, 39 (4th Cir.1990).2 Therefore, personal jurisdiction is proper under the Maryland long-arm statute.

Moreover, the litigation that gives rise to the conflict of interest claim has always been in this court. The only reason counsel might not have been physically present here is this court's election to decide the disqualification motion on the papers without a hearing. Those attorneys who signed the documents knew they would be presented to a court here in Maryland. In particular, Defendant Wikstrom appeared pro hac vice in the underlying litigation in this court, while he and Defendants Pierce and Roche all signed declarations in support of Invitrogen's opposition response.

For these reasons, Maryland has a strong interest in hearing Plaintiff's claims, and the tenets of judicial efficiency likewise dictate retention of this case. Cf. McGann v. Wilson, 117 Md.App. 595, 606, 701 A.2d 873, 878 (1997) (no personal jurisdiction over Virginia attorney in Maryland as, inter alia,"Maryland has virtually no interest in a malpractice claim tried in Virginia under Virginia law"); Cape v. von Maur, 932 F.Supp. 124, 128 (D.Md.1996) ("Maryland's exercise of personal jurisdiction in this case — enforcing the claim of a Virginia-based corporation against attorneys in Germany for services rendered in Germany — is hardly reasonable"). Accordingly, Defendants' motion to dismiss, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), for lack of personal...

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