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K.A. v. Boy Scouts of America

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 23, 2017

K.A., Plaintiff,
BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA, a congressionally Chartered corporation, authorized to do business in New Mexico, and SAGAMORE COUNCIL, BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA, Defendants.


         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Sagamore Council, Boy Scouts of America's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, filed on January 30, 2017. Doc. 7. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b), the parties have consented to me serving as the presiding judge and entering final judgment. See Docs. 5, 8. Having heard oral argument on this matter (see Doc. 33) and having considered the record, submissions of counsel, and relevant law, the Court finds that it would violate due process to exercise jurisdiction over Defendant Sagamore Council in this forum. Therefore, Defendant's motion is well-taken and will be granted.

         I. Background

         K.A. (Plaintiff) is an adult male who resides in the state of Oregon. Doc. 1-1 (Compl.) ¶ 1. At all times relevant to the events in the Complaint, Plaintiff was an unemancipated minor resident of the state of Indiana. Id. ¶ 2; see also Doc. 18 at 1. Defendant Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is a congressionally-chartered not-for-profit corporation registered with the New Mexico Secretary of State. Compl. ¶ 3. BSA's principal place of business in New Mexico is listed as the Philmont Scout Ranch (Philmont) in Cimarron, New Mexico. Id. Defendant Sagamore Council, Boy Scouts of America (Sagamore) is a not-for-profit corporation organized under the laws of Indiana with its principal place of business in Kokomo, Indiana. Id. ¶ 4.

         BSA issues charters to smaller “non-profit organizations known as Local Councils.” Doc. 7-1 ¶ 6.[1] While BSA issues charters and provides Scouting materials to Local Councils, those Local Councils are separate organizations from the BSA with their own board of directors and financial statements. See Id. ¶ 14. Local Councils, such as Sagamore, then support other, smaller, local groups that wish to establish “Chartered Organizations” through BSA. See Id. ¶¶ 6-7; see also Doc. 7 at 3.

         Chartered Organizations organize and operate individual Scouting units. See Doc. 7-1 ¶ 7. The Chartered Organizations are responsible for selecting adult leaders and meeting facilities and for providing a representative who will coordinate the Scouting activities within the organization. Id. ¶ 8. Chartered Organizations must also “appoint a local troop committee comprised of adult volunteers who are responsible for selecting and supervising the Scoutmaster and other troop volunteers.” Id. ¶ 10. Chartered Organizations submit the names of potential volunteers to Local Councils. Id. ¶ 11. Local Councils, like Sagamore, cross-reference potential volunteers' names against a list of names of people who have applied to volunteer with the BSA but were rejected. See Mot. Hr'g Tr.[2] at 13:6-13. Sagamore also conducts criminal background checks on all potential volunteers the troop committees select. Id. ¶ 15. All volunteers must be registered with the BSA. Id. ¶ 11.

         The Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster of each troop plan, organize, and supervise troop activities. See Id. ¶ 12. “The selection of activities varies by troop, based on factors such as the scouts' interests; the volunteers' time, abilities, and willingness; and parents' approval, among other things.” Id. ¶ 13.

         Sagamore neither controls, nor “has the right to control, the Chartered Organizations or the activities of the local troops so long as they are consistent with BSA's program.” Id. Sagamore, however, does help facilitate one scouting activity for some of the troops in its region: “[a]lmost annually, Sagamore Council organizes a Council Contingent, which is a group of youth from different units in Sagamore Council's region who desire to attend Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.” Id. ¶ 31. The Council Contingent allows youth from smaller units to combine in order to go to Philmont. Id. Sagamore helps facilitate the Contingent's trip by collecting funds and transmitting those funds to Philmont. Id. Sagamore does not make any other arrangements for the Council Contingent. Id.

         From 1974-1977, when Plaintiff was approximately 10-14 years old, he was a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 512. Compl. ¶¶ 8, 15; Doc. 18 at 1. Troop 512 was a Scouting unit organized by Beamer United Methodist Church (the Chartered Organization) in Kokomo, Indiana. Compl. ¶ 8; Doc. 18 at 1. Troop 512 and its Chartered Organization were part of Sagamore Council. See Doc. 18 at 1. Randall Shafer was a Scout Leader for Troop 512. Compl. ¶ 8.

         The Complaint alleges that in his capacity as Scout Leader, Shafer sexually abused Plaintiff on multiple occasions during that three-year period. Id. ¶ 15. “The sexual abuse occurred during Scouting-related meetings, events and outings.” Id. “Among other locations, Shafer sexually abused Plaintiff in Arizona; Colorado; Indiana; Illinois; Michigan; Ohio; Utah; and New Mexico.” Id. During the summer of 1976, Shafer took Troop 512 (including Plaintiff) on a month-long camping trip to several locations throughout the Southwest, including a week-long stop at Philmont in New Mexico. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff does not allege that the trip through the Southwest or the stop at Philmont was organized as a “Council Contingent.” See Compl. Shafer allegedly abused Plaintiff at least six times while at Philmont. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff alleges injuries and damages from the abuse, but he also maintains that he did not remember the abuse until sometime after January 2014. Id. ¶¶ 22-24.

         II. Legal Standard

         Where, as here, the Court holds an evidentiary hearing on the issue of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff carries the burden to “establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that personal jurisdiction exists.” Dudnikov v. Chalk & Vermilion Fine Arts, Inc., 514 F.3d 1063, 1070 n.4 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Dennis Garberg & Assoc., Inc. v. Pack-Tech Int'l Corp., 115 F.3d 767, 773 (10th Cir. 1997) (internal citation omitted)).

         “A New Mexico court may only exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant if three conditions are satisfied.” McManemy v. Roman Catholic Church of Diocese of Worcester, 2 F.Supp.3d 1188, 1198 (D.N.M. 2013) (citing Salas v. Homestake Enter., Inc., 742 P.2d 1049, 1050 (N.M. 1987) (internal citation omitted)). “First, the defendant must have engaged in one of the acts enumerated in New Mexico's jurisdictional long-arm statute.” Id. (citing N.M. Stat. Ann. § 38-1-16 (1978)). “Under the long-arm statute, a person submits himself to personal jurisdiction in New Mexico if he transacts any business in the state, or if he commits a tortious act within the state.” Id. (citing N.M. Stat. Ann. § 38-1-16). “Second, the plaintiff's cause of action must arise from one of those acts.” Id. (citing Salas, 742 P.2d at 1050). “Finally, the defendant must have minimum contacts with New Mexico sufficient to satisfy constitutional Due Process.” Id. (citing Salas, 742 P.2d at 1050).

         “New Mexico courts have repeatedly equated the first and third conditions.” Id. “Because New Mexico's long arm statute extends the jurisdiction of New Mexico courts as far as constitutionally permissible, the inquiry into whether specific conduct falls under the statute becomes subsumed by the constitutional Due Process inquiry.” Id. at 1198-99. “The question of personal jurisdiction over out-of-state residents involves more than a technical ‘transaction of any business' or the technical ‘commission of a tortious act' within New Mexico. The meaning of those terms, in our statute, is to be equated with the minimum contacts sufficient to satisfy Due Process.” Id. at 1199 (quoting Tarango v. Pastrana, 616 P.2d 440, 441 (N.M. Ct. App. 1980) (internal citation omitted)). “To satisfy Due Process requirements, the defendant must have (1) sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state (2) such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Id. (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (internal citations omitted)).

         To satisfy the minimum contacts prong of the Due Process inquiry, Plaintiff must establish that the Court may exercise either general or specific jurisdiction over Sagamore. See Id. (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 (1984)). Only the exercise of specific jurisdiction is at issue in this case.

         “To establish specific jurisdiction, the plaintiff must show that the defendant ‘purposefully directed' [its] activities at residents of the forum, and that the plaintiff's injuries ‘arise out of or relate to' those activities.” Id. (quoting Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985) (internal quotation omitted)). “A defendant ‘purposefully directs' activities in a forum where the defendant makes (a) an intentional action that was (b) expressly aimed at the forum state (c) with knowledge that the brunt of the injury would be felt in the forum.” Id. (citing Shrader v. Biddinger, 633 F.3d 1235, 1239-40 (10th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation omitted)). “This ensures that an out-of-state defendant is not bound to appear in the forum to account for merely ‘random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts' with the forum.” Id. (quoting Burger King Corp., 471 U.S. at 475 (alterations in original, internal citations omitted)).

         If Plaintiff establishes minimum contacts, the Court must then turn to the second prong of the Due Process inquiry and “determine whether exercising personal jurisdiction would offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” AST Sports Sci., Inc. v. CLF Distribution Ltd., 514 F.3d 1054, 1061 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., Solano Cty., 480 U.S. 102, 113 (1987) (internal quotations omitted)). Courts examine several factors to determine whether jurisdiction is unreasonable, including:

(1) the burden on the defendant, (2) the forum state's interests in resolving the dispute, (3) the plaintiff's interest in receiving convenient and effectual relief, (4) the interstate judicial system's interest in obtaining the most efficient resolution of controversies, and (5) the shared interest of the several states [or foreign nations] in furthering fundamental social policies.

Dudnikov, 514 F.3d at 1080 (quotation and citations omitted).

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff raises two theories in his attempt to establish personal jurisdiction over Sagamore Council. First, Plaintiff argues that Sagamore purposefully availed itself of this forum by organizing the Council Contingent to attend Philmont and by collecting and transferring the Council Contingent's funds to Philmont. Doc. 18 at 6-7. This purposeful direction, argues Plaintiff, is sufficient to establish minimum contacts with New Mexico and subject Sagamore to jurisdiction here. See Id. Second, Plaintiff contends that Shafer acted as Sagamore's agent, and thus Sagamore is vicariously liable for Shafer's tortious conduct in New Mexico. Id. at 7-8.

         Plaintiff brings four counts against both BSA and Sagamore: (1) Negligence/ Respondeat Superior; (2) Premises Liability; (3) Sexual Battery of a Child/Respondeat Superior; and (4) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress/Respondeat Superior. Compl. ¶¶ 25-65. Because “[p]ersonal jurisdiction is a ‘claim-specific inquiry[, ] . . . the Court must analyze each claim to determine whether the requirements for personal jurisdiction are satisfied.” Ski Racing Inc. v. Johnson, No. 09-CV-1181 MCA/LAM, ...

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