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Hallum v. Four Corners OB-GYN

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 28, 2018

TANYA HALLUM, Personal Representative of the Estate of Charlie Hallum, TANYA HALLUM, Individually, and JESSE HALLUM, Individually, Plaintiffs



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant Mareca Pallister, M.D.'s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) [Doc. 20]. The Court, having considered the motion and relevant law, finds that the motion is well-taken and will be granted.


         The relevant facts as alleged in the Complaint are as follows. Plaintiffs Tanya Hallum, Charlie Hallum, and Jesse Hallum are residents of San Juan County. Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 3-5. Tanya Hallum is the Personal Representative of Charlie Hallum's estate. Id. at ¶ 4. On or about September 1, 2014, Tanya Hallum learned she was pregnant with Charlie Hallum and became a patient of Defendants Four Corners OB/GYN (“Four Corners”) and Dr. Mareca Pallister. Id. at ¶ 16. Dr. Pallister classified Tanya Hallum's pregnancy as high risk. Id. at ¶ 18. Tanya Hallum followed her gynecologist's recommendations and consistently went in for pre-natal examinations. Id. at ¶ 17.

         On or about January 6, 2015, Tanya Hallum went in to Four Corners's Aztec, New Mexico office for an unscheduled examination due to pain in her reproductive system and was seen by Nancy Rhein.[1] Doc. 1 at ¶ 20-21. Ms. Rhien checked Tanya Hallum's vital signs but did not examine her to determine the cause of her pain, nor did she refer to a doctor for further investigation of the pain. Id. at ¶¶ 21-23. Instead, Ms. Rhien informed Tanya Hallum that everything was fine. Id. at ¶ 24.

         Tanya Hallum's symptoms continued and she visited Four Corners's Durango, Colorado office on January 8, 2015. Id. at ¶ 26. Ms. Rhien again checked Tanya Hallum's vital signs but did not examine her or refer her to a doctor for further care. Id. at ¶¶ 27-29. Tanya Hallum was again told everything was fine with her pregnancy, and was not instructed to take any precautions. Id. at ¶ 30.

         On or about January 11, 2015, Tanya Hallum gave birth to Charlie Hallum, who was born approximately four months premature and only lived a short period. Id. at ¶ 32.

         At some point thereafter, Dr. Pallister advised Tanya Hallum to receive an Essure birth control device. Id. at ¶ 33. Tanya Hallum consented and did undergo a procedure, on or about March 19, 2015, to implant the Essure birth device. Id. at ¶¶ 34-36. However, on or about May 6, 2015, Tanya Hallum was informed Dr. Pallister had implanted three Essure birth devices, and they had to be removed. Id. at ¶ 37. As a result of the implantation of the three devices, Tanya Hallum underwent an unwanted hysterectomy. Id.

         Based on these allegations, on January 5, 2017, Plaintiffs commenced the instant action in New Mexico federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1332(a), which gives diversity jurisdiction to district courts for any civil action involving a complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and an amount in controversy of over $75, 000. Doc 1. Plaintiffs are, and at all time relevant were, resides of San Juan County, in the State of New Mexico. Id. at ¶¶ 3-5. Dr. Pallister is a resident of La Plata County, in the State of Colorado and was a member and employed as a gynecologist at Four Corners, which has its principal place of business in Durango, Colorado. Id. at ¶¶ 7-9. The Complaint alleges medical malpractice (Counts I); negligent failure to publish safety protocols (Count II); wrongful death/loss of chance of life (Count III); loss of consortium (Count IV); unfair trade practices (Count V); medical negligence (Count VI); physician battery (Count VII); negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count VIII);[2] negligent hiring, retention, and training/supervision of Dr. Pallister (Count IX); and negligent hiring, retention, and training/supervision of Nancy Rhien (Count X). Plaintiffs seek punitive damages (Count XI). Except for Count VII directed towards Dr. Pallister specifically, and Counts VII, IX, and X referring only to a singular defendant, each count appears to be alleged against both Dr. Pallister and Four Corners.

         On March 17, 2017, Dr. Pallister filed the instant motion to dismiss, under Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for lack of personal jurisdiction. Doc. 20. On June 26, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to Dr. Pallister's motion. Doc. 71. Dr. Pallister filed a reply on July 10, 2017. Doc. 81.


         Motions to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure test a plaintiff's theory of personal jurisdiction as well as the facts supporting personal jurisdiction. The Rule 12(b)(2) standard governing a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction is well established. When a defendant challenges the court's jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction exists. See McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936); Wenz v. Memery Crystal, 55 F.3d 1503, 1505 (10th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). In the preliminary stages of litigation, this burden is “light, ” and prior to trial a “plaintiff is only required to establish a prima facie showing of [personal] jurisdiction. Doe v. Nat'l Med. Serv., 974 F.2d 143, 145 (10th Cir. 1992). The plaintiff may make the required prima facie showing by coming forward with facts, via affidavit or written materials, that would support jurisdiction over the defendant if true. See OMI Holdings v. Royal Ins. Co., 149 F.3d 1086, 1091 (10th Cir. 1998). Only the well-pled facts of a plaintiff's complaint, however, as opposed to mere conclusory allegations in pleadings or other materials, must be accepted as true. See Ten Mile Indus. Park v. W. Plains Serv. Corp., 810 F.2d 1518, 1524 (10th Cir. 1987); Dudnikov v. Chalk & Vermilion Fine Arts, Inc., 514 F.3d 1063, 1070 (10th Cir. 2008). Moreover, a plaintiff's jurisdictional allegations are not automatically accepted as true when contradicted by affidavit, although if the parties present conflicting affidavits, all factual disputes must be resolved in the plaintiff's favor. See Wenz, 55 F.3d at 1505.

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects a defendant from being judged by a court that does not have jurisdiction over the defendant. Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 311 (1945). A judgment may only be rendered against a defendant if the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Id. at 315. “To obtain personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant in a diversity action, ” the court must comply with the forum state's long-arm statute and “the exercise of jurisdiction [must] not offend the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Far West Capital, Inc. v. Towne, 46 F.3d 1071, 1074 (10th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). New Mexico's long-arm statute “extends the jurisdictional reach of New Mexico courts as far as constitutionally permissible.” Tercero v. Roman Catholic Diocese, 48 P.3d 50, 54 (N.M. 2002). Thus, as long as the jurisdictional reach is constitutional, New Mexico's long-arm statute will be satisfied and the federal court will have personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

         To exercise personal jurisdiction that does not violate due process, the defendant must “have certain minimum contacts with [the forum state] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Int'l Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 316. The Due Process clause ensures that potential defendants have some assurance of where their conduct will render them liable to suit. World-Wide Volkswagen v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980). The “defendant's conduct and connection with the forum State [must be] such that [the defendant] should reasonably anticipate being hauled into court there.” Id. Accordingly, a nonresident defendant is subject to New ...

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