United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
BRACK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER comes before the Court upon Defendant Mindy
Stringer's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal
Jurisdiction and Supporting Memorandum. (Doc. 13.) Plaintiff
Pauline Mathews opposes this motion. (Doc. 15.) Having
considered the submissions of counsel and relevant law, the
Court will GRANT this motion.
August 29, 2014, in Los Lunas, New Mexico, Plaintiff Pauline
Mathews and Defendant Donald Newman were involved in a motor
vehicle accident. (Doc. 1-2.) Defendant Mindy Stringer is Mr.
Newman's girlfriend. (Id.) Both defendants
reside in Marana, Arizona. (Id.) Ms. Mathews resides
in Valencia County, New Mexico. (Doc. 8-1 at 1.) Ms. Mathews
commenced an action against the defendants in the Thirteenth
Judicial District Court of New Mexico on June 1, 2016. (Doc.
1.) Ms. Mathews alleged that Ms. Stringer owned the vehicle
Mr. Newman was operating at the time of the accident. (Doc.
1-2 at 2.) Ms. Mathews provided an affidavit signed by both
Mr. Newman and Ms. Stringer, wherein the defendants state
that Ms. Stringer owned and Mr. Newman operated the vehicle
at issue. (Doc. 15-2.) The affidavit also states that Ms.
Stringer and Mr. Newman own no real property. (Id.)
Ms. Mathews filed a letter from the American Family Insurance
company that lists Ms. Stringer as the insured owner of the
vehicle. (Id.) In that letter, the insurance company
requested a copy of any papers related to any future lawsuits
and declined a request to interview Ms. Stringer prior to
trial. (Id.) Mr. Newman removed the case to this
Court with Ms. Stringer's consent pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1332, 1441, and 1446. (Doc. 1.)
January 24, 2017, Ms. Stringer filed this Motion to Dismiss
for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction. (Doc. 13.) Ms. Stringer
argues that because she has no relevant contacts with New
Mexico and did not own or drive the car at issue, she should
not be a party to the case and this Court has no personal
jurisdiction over her. (Doc. 13 at 1.) Ms. Stringer owns a
one-half interest in real estate in Quemado, New Mexico.
(Doc. 13-1 at 2.) Mr. Newman owns the other 50%.
(Id.) Ms. Stringer asserts that ownership of this
property is an insufficient basis for jurisdiction because
she does not reside there and it is unrelated to the instant
incident. (Id.) As grounds for dismissal, Ms.
Stringer alleges that the car involved in the accident did
not belong to her, despite the affidavit to the contrary.
(Doc. 13 at 2.) Ms. Stringer filed a subsequent affidavit
saying that the first affidavit contained two errors: that
Ms. Stringer owned the vehicle, and that Ms. Stringer and Mr.
Newman do not own real property in New Mexico. (Doc. 13-1 at
2.) The affidavit also says, “Mr. Newman and I are not
lawyers and did not fully understand, at the time, the
significance of signing a document that was
inaccurate.” (Id.) Ms. Stringer's attorney
included a footnote saying that the first affidavit was
incorrect and likely immaterial because they believe vehicle
ownership is not a sufficient basis upon which to assert
jurisdiction. (Doc. 13 at 2.) Ms. Stringer filed a printed
e-mail from Pima Federal Credit Union which states that Mr.
Newman is the only titleholder of the car. (Doc. 13-2.) The
e-mail from the credit union is not certified.
as here, there has been no evidentiary hearing, and the
motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction is decided on the
basis of affidavits and other documents, the plaintiff need
only make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction. See Wenz
v. Memery Crystal, 55 F.3d 1503, 1505 (10th Cir. 1995).
“If parties present conflicting affidavits, all factual
disputes are resolved in plaintiff's favor, and
plaintiff's prima facie showing is sufficient
notwithstanding contrary presentation by moving party.”
Behagen v. Amateur Basketball Ass'n of U.S.A.,
744 F.2d 731, 733 (10th Cir. 1984). “For the purposes
of a motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual
allegations in the complaint as true.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
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” to satisfy due
process. Id. New Mexico's long-arm statute
states in relevant part that any person who engages in the
“operation of a motor vehicle upon the highways of this
state” thereby “submits himself . . . to the
jurisdiction of the courts of this state.” N.M. Stat.
Ann. § 38-1-16.
are two primary questions for the Court to resolve. First,
when there are conflicting affidavits, in which party's
favor should the dispute be resolved? And second, does
ownership of the car involved in the dispute provide the
Court with personal jurisdiction over a defendant who was not
involved in the accident and otherwise has minimal contacts
with the state of New Mexico?
first question is straightforward. The parties presented
conflicting affidavits, so the court must resolve the dispute
in Ms. Mathews's favor. Behagen, 744 F.2d at
733. Though Ms. Stringer attempts to explain the
discrepancies between the affidavits, the Court is not
satisfied that the second affidavit supersedes the first, and
therefore will not grant a dismissal on that basis alone. In
making this determination, the Court proceeds as though the
initial affidavit submitted by Ms. Mathews is factually
correct, and Ms. Stringer is both the owner of the car and
the primary insured relative to the car. Ms. Stringer also
submitted an uncertified, printed e-mail record from Pima
Federal Credit Union that purports to show that Mr. Newman is
the only person on the car title, but because this conflicts
with the affidavit, the Court will continue to resolve the
dispute in Ms. Mathews's favor. The conflicting
affidavits create a dispute of fact that cannot be resolved
by the Court in response to this motion.
brings the Court to the next question. Is ownership of the
car a sufficient basis upon which to assert jurisdiction over
Ms. Stringer? Because the operation of a motor vehicle on the
state highways exposes the driver to jurisdiction in New
Mexico under the long-arm statute, the Court holds that mere
ownership of the car is an insufficient basis upon which to
assert jurisdiction. For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the
Court must take Ms. Mathews's claims as true, but even if
Ms. Stringer owned the car, the Court cannot assert
jurisdiction over her. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Mathews cites Morris v. Cartwright for the
proposition that there is a trial rebuttable presumption that
ownership establishes agency in the operation of a motor
vehicle. Morris v. Cartwright, 57 N.M. 328 (1953).
Morris, however, does not bear directly on the facts
of this case. The New Mexico Supreme Court held that
“[i]t is fundamental that liability of the master for
the use of an automobile by the servant is created
only when it appears that its use is with the
knowledge and consent of the master and that it is used
within the scope of employment of the servant and to
facilitate the master's business.” Id. at
332 (emphasis added). Morris involved employer
liability and was an action against the master for the
negligence of the servant. Ms. Mathews has not alleged that
there is an employer/employee or master/servant relationship
in the present matter. Even if Ms. Stringer owned the car,
Morris would not apply to the facts of the present
case because Ms. Stringer was not employing Mr. Newman, and
there is no indication that he was acting as her agent.
Mathews's pleadings show that Ms. Stringer may have owned
the vehicle and may have allowed it to be driven into New
Mexico, but Ms. Mathews does not show or allege that the
vehicle was driven into New Mexico at Ms. Stringer's
behest. The New Mexico long-arm statute expressly provides
for jurisdiction over drivers on the state highways, not the
owners of those vehicles. There is no question that the Court
has jurisdiction over Mr. Newman, the driver. New Mexico has
repeatedly equated the first and third conditions required to