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Black v. Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., LLC

United States District Court, C.D. California

October 10, 2013


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Before the Court is Defendants' Motion (Dkt. 17) to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(2), or in the alternative, a Motion for a More Definite Statement Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(e). After reviewing the motions, oppositions, replies, and supplemental briefing, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(2) and DISMISSES Plaintiff's case. [1]

I. Background

On August 28, 2011, Plaintiff Connie A. Black, a resident of California, and her daughter, were guests of The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai (" RC Dubai" ). FAC (Dkt. 12) at 7. RC Dubai is owned by Mohamed Saeed Almulla & Sons, L.L.C. (" MSAS" ), which is not a party to this case. Mot. (Dkt. 18) at 2.

a. Events Giving Rise to the Cause of Action

In Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (" FAC" ), she alleges that on August 28, 2011, she asked an RC Dubai employee where breakfast was being served and the employee pointed and told Plaintiff to proceed through a drape-covered doorway. FAC (Dkt. 12) at 7. Plaintiff alleges that the drape obscured all view of the other side, thus she did not see the drop in the floor level or the two marble steps. Id.

When Plaintiff walked through the doorway, she claims the drop in the floor caused her to fall and severely injure herself. Id. Plaintiff claims the fall caused her severe pain, required intensive medical care in Dubai and in California, and cost her wasted vacation and travel expenses. Id. at 7-8.

The Plaintiff received medical care from an emergency room physician in Dubai. Pl's Opp'n (Dkt. 28) at 3. Following the emergency treatment in Dubai, Plaintiff was told it was not safe for her to travel for 48 hours, and she returned to the RC Dubai where she was given a complimentary two-night stay and a business-class upgrade for her and her daughter's return flight to Los Angeles. Id. at 3. Plaintiff alleges that, along with the stay and upgrade, she was also handed a " Release and Settlement Claim Form" releasing RC Dubai and its affiliates and subsidiaries from liability. Id. at 4. Plaintiff did not sign the form. Id. Plaintiff claims she received only emergency care in Dubai, and the accident led to several orthopedic surgeries and many follow-up appointments with doctors located in California. Opp'n at 4.

b. Defendants' Liability

RC Dubai is no longer a party to this case. See Not. of Voluntary Dismissal (Dkt. 16). MSAS, the owner of RC Dubai, is not a named defendant. FAC (Dkt. 12) at 1. The only remaining Defendants are

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(1) the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company Limited (" RC Bermuda" ) and (2) the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C. (" RC Delaware" ). RC Bermuda is a company organized under the laws of Bermuda with its principal place of business in either Maryland, see Mot. (Dkt. 18) at 2, or Bermuda, see Def's Supplemental Brief (Dkt. 54) at 2. RC Delaware is a company organized under the laws of Delaware with its principal place of business in Maryland. Mot. at 2. It is undisputed that RC Bermuda and RC Delaware are both subsidiaries of Marriott International, Inc. (" MI" ).

1. RC Bermuda

It is undisputed that RC Bermuda participates in the operation of the hotel at RC Dubai. Defendants argue that a Restated Operating Agreement (" ROA" ) between RC Bermuda and MSAS clearly states that as of July 1, 2004, RC Bermuda would be the sole operator and controller of the hotel at RC Dubai. Mot. (Dkt. 17) Ex. A at 5. [2] The ROA states that the RC Delaware operated the RC Dubai from September 1998 until the date the RC Bermuda took over on July 1, 2004. Mot. (Dkt. 17) Ex. A.

2. RC Delaware

The Plaintiff alleges that RC Delaware operates and maintains a web site that allows users in California to reserve a room and inquire about employment opportunities with the Ritz-Carlton locations around the world, including RC Dubai. FAC (Dkt. 12) at 2, 6 (" On information and belief, [RC Delaware] operates 77 hotels worldwide with 38,000 employees in 25 countries, including the United Arab Emirates" ). Plaintiff argues that an internet search for " RC Dubai" directs users to the website maintained by RC Delaware. Opp. (Dkt. 27) at 7. The Plaintiff did not book her reservation through the website, but instead reserved her room through a travel agent. Decl. (Dkt. 29) at 2.

The Plaintiff further alleges the RC Delaware maintains and owns hotels throughout California and is registered with the California Secretary of State. FAC (Dkt. 12) at 2. Plaintiff states that her stays at the Ritz-Carlton California locations, operated by RC Delaware, as well as advertisements directed to residents of California, influenced her decision to stay at the RC Dubai. Decl. (Dkt. 29) at 2; FAC (Dkt. 12) at 6.

c. The Present Motion

Plaintiff filed the FAC on May 9, 2012, for negligence and premises liability. FAC (Dkt. 12). Defendants, RC Delaware

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and RC Bermuda, filed the motion to dismiss, arguing that (1) this Court does not have personal jurisdiction over RC Bermuda; and (2) Plaintiff has not alleged facts sufficient to state a claim against RC Delaware.

Regarding the jurisdictional question, the Court ordered further briefing after a limited discovery period related to the jurisdictional question. (Dkt. 44). Defendants submitted a Supplemental Brief (Dkt. 54), which Plaintiff opposed (Dkt. 55).

II. Discussion

a. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction over RC Bermuda

Defendants argue that the Court is unable to assert personal jurisdiction over Defendant RC Bermuda because RC Bermuda does not maintain any contacts with California. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds, first, that RC Bermuda does not have sufficient contacts with the forum state to assert general jurisdiction. Second, the Court finds that it does not have specific personal jurisdiction over RC Bermuda. Finally, the Court finds that it cannot assert personal jurisdiction over RC Bermuda based on an agency theory.

i. Legal Standard

A plaintiff has the burden of establishing that personal jurisdiction exists over a defendant. See Harris Rutsky & Co. Ins. Servs. v. Bell & Clements Ltd., 328 F.3d 1122, 1128-29 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing John Doe I v. Unocal Corp., 248 F.3d 915, 922 (9th Cir. 2001)). The court may consider evidence presented in affidavits to assist it in its determination and may order discovery on the jurisdictional issues. Data Disc, Inc. v. Systems Technology Assoc., Inc., 557 F.2d 1280, 1285 (9th Cir. 1977). However, when a district court acts on a defendant's motion to dismiss without holding an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff need make only a prima facie showing of jurisdictional facts to withstand the motion to dismiss. Ballard v. Savage, 65 F.3d 1495, 1498 (9th Cir.1995) (citations omitted); see also AT & T v. Compagnie Bruxelles Lambert, 94 F.3d 586, 588 (9th Cir.1996) (where trial court rules on jurisdictional issue based on affidavits and discovery materials without holding evidentiary hearing, plaintiff need only make prima facie showing). When the plaintiff's version of the facts is not directly controverted, it is taken as true for the purposes of a Rule 12(b)(2) motion. Harris, 328 F.3d at 1129 (quoting AT& T v. Compagnie Bruxelles Lambert, 94 F.3d 586, 588 (9th Cir. 1996)). Conflicts between the facts in the parties' affidavits are resolved in the plaintiff's favor. Id.

Where there is no federal statute controlling the Court's exercise of personal jurisdiction, federal courts must look to the forum state's jurisdictional statute to determine whether it is proper to assert personal jurisdiction. Id. The California long-arm statute provides that " [a] court of this state may exercise jurisdiction on any basis not inconsistent with the Constitution of this state or of the United States." Cal. Civ. Proc. Code ยง 410.10. Thus, the court's jurisdictional analysis under California law and ...

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