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Renee Hanevold v. Susan Hsu

December 1, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. John A. Mendez U. S. District Court Judge


The motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction filed September 16, 2011 (Dkt #6) by the defendant, Susan Hsu, M.D., came on regularly before this Court for hearing on November 16, 2011. The plaintiff, Renee Hanevold, filed papers and supporting declarations opposing said motion on November 2, 2011 (Dkt. #7 and #7-1), and the defendant filed her reply on November 9, 2011 (Dkt. #8). Rick R. Hsu, Esq. appeared as attorney for the defendant, and Anthony J. Poidmore, Esq., appeared as attorney for the plaintiff. Having read and considered the memoranda submitted by counsel, the attachments thereto, the pleadings, and the arguments of counsel, the Court now renders the following Memorandum, Decision and Order.


Plaintiff was working at Renown Hospital ("Renown") in Reno, Nevada as a certified nurse midwife from March, 31, 2009 through November 15, 2010. Defendant is an obstetrics and gynecology physician at Renown and was Plaintiff's supervising physician. While employed at Renown, plaintiff had a dispute with defendant over a purported practice regarding breaking the water of certain pregnant female patients.

In October, 2010, plaintiff moved to Placer County, California and applied for and was offered a job at Feather River Hospital ("Feather River") in Butte County, California. Plaintiff began her employment at Feather River on December 6, 2010 with a two-day orientation program. On December 7, 2010, the Chief of Staff at Feather River, Anthony Nasr, M.D., called the defendant by telephone to speak about the plaintiff. Defendant allegedly knew that her statements would affect plaintiff's employment. However, Dr. Nasr did not identify the state from where he was calling, nor did defendant know from where he was calling. During the telephone conversation, defendant allegedly falsely told Dr. Nasr that plaintiff's hospital privileges had been suspended, limited or restricted. Defendant also allegedly refused to answer a question about plaintiff's medical knowledge or judgment, which implied that plaintiff lacked medical knowledge or judgment. As a result of the telephone conversation, Feather River terminated plaintiff's employment. Plaintiff filed her Complaint against defendant on July 15, 2011 in this Court alleging defamation per se and that she is entitled to punitive damages because the defamation was made maliciously and with ill will. Defendant moves for dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction.


"When a defendant moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that the court has jurisdiction over the defendant." Pebble Beach Co. v. Caddy, 453 F.3d 1151, 1154 (9th Cir. 2006). To meet this burden, the plaintiff must demonstrate that personal jurisdiction over a defendant is (1) permitted under the applicable state's long-arm statute and (2) that the exercise of jurisdiction does not violate federal due process. Id. Because California's long-arm statute, Cal.Civ.Proc.Code § 410.10, is coextensive with federal due process requirements, the jurisdictional analyses under state law and federal due process are the same. Schwarzenegger v. Fred Martin Motor Co., 374 F.3d 797, 800-01 (9th Cir.2004).

Where the issue is before the Court on a motion to dismiss based on affidavits and discovery materials without an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff must make "a prima facie showing of facts supporting jurisdiction through its pleadings and affidavits to avoid dismissal." Glencore Grain Rotterdam B.V. v. Shivnath Rai Harnarain Co., 284 F.3d 1114, 1119 (9th Cir.2002). The Court accepts as true any uncontroverted allegations in the complaint and resolves any conflicts between the facts contained in the parties' evidence in the plaintiff's favor. Id. However, for personal jurisdiction purposes, a court "may not assume the truth of allegations in a pleading which are contradicted by affidavit." Alexander v. Circus Circus Enters., Inc., 972 F.2d 261, 262 (9th Cir.1992) (quotation omitted).

Where subject matter jurisdiction is based on diversity, as in this case, "a federal court applies the personal jurisdiction rules of the forum state provided the exercise of jurisdiction comports with due process." Scott v. Breeland, 792 F.2d 925, 927 (9th Cir.1986). However, "federal law is controlling on the issue of due process under the United States Constitution." Data Disc, Inc. v. Sys. Tech. Assoc., Inc., 557 F.2d 1280, 1286, n.3 (9th Cir.1977); see also Dole Food Co., Inc. v. Watts, 303 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir.2002).

To satisfy federal due process standards, a nonresident defendant must have "minimum contacts" with the forum state so that the assertion of jurisdiction does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Pebble Beach Co., 453 F.3d at 1155 (citing International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 315 (1945)). A federal district court may exercise either general or specific personal jurisdiction. See Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414-15 (1984).

A. The Court Lacks General Personal Jurisdiction over Defendant.

To establish general personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant has sufficient contacts to "constitute the kind of continuous and systematic general business contacts that 'approximate physical presence.'" Glencore Grain, 284 F.3d at 1124. "A defendant whose contacts are substantial, continuous, and systematic is subject to a court's general jurisdiction even if the suit concerns matters not arising out of his contacts with the forum." Id. at 1123 (citing Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 415, n.9).

In this case, the defendant has submitted evidence of minimal contacts in California. Defendant grew up in Reno, attended high school, undergraduate college and medical school in Reno, and is licensed to practice medicine only in Nevada. Plaintiff neither disputes defendant's evidence on this issue nor submits any argument that the Court may exercise general personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Therefore, the Court finds that it lacks general personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

B. The Court Lacks Specific Personal Jurisdiction over Defendant.

The question on whether the Court can exercise specific personal jurisdiction over defendant is close. Both parties acknowledge the three-prong legal test for determining whether the Court may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant based on the defendant's "minimum contacts": (1) the defendant has performed some act or transaction within the forum or purposefully availed himself of the privileges of conducting activities within the forum, (2) the plaintiff's claim arises out of or results from the defendant's forum-related activities, and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction over the defendant is reasonable. Pebble Beach Co., 453 F.3d at 1155-56. "If any of the three ...

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