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Crow Law Firm Inc. v. Oby T. Rogers, PPLC

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 22, 2019

CROW LAW FIRM, INC., Plaintiff
v.
OBY T. ROGERS, PPLC, and OBY T. ROGERS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARTHA VÁZQUEZ United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction [Doc. 4]. The Court, having considered the motion and relevant law, finds that the motion is well-taken and will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         The relevant facts, as alleged in the Complaint and demonstrated by the parties' affidavits, are as follows. On May 6, 2018, Kolby Burton, who lives in Mississippi, was injured in an automobile accident in Loving, New Mexico. Doc. 4-1, Ex. A. He was airlifted to University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. Id. While he was in El Paso, on May 16, 2018, Mr. Burton signed a contract retaining B.J. Crow and the Crow Law Firm to represent him in connection with the accident. Id. Mr. Burton returned to Mississippi on May 17, 2018. Id.

         On June 12, 2018, Mr. Burton met with Oby T. Rogers in Mississippi. Id. During the meeting, Mr. Burton did not mention Mr. Crow. Id., Ex. A. On June 15, 2018, Mr. Burton again met with Mr. Rogers, and decided to retain him in connection with his New Mexico accident. Id. During that meeting, Mr. Burton asked Mr. Rogers, “What do I do with the other lawyer?” Id. Mr. Rogers responded, “What are you talking about?” Id. Mr. Burton then disclosed that he had previously retained Mr. Crow to represent him in connection with the accident, but indicated that he wanted to “fire Crow.” Id. Mr. Rogers responded that if Mr. Burton “wanted to fire Crow then he needed to write it out and sign it and then he could continue talking to [Mr. Rogers]. Id. At that point, Mr. Burton “wrote a note out firing Crow, handed [it] to [Mr.] Rogers, and signed” a contract retaining Mr. Rogers and Oby T. Rogers, PPLC (the “Rogers Law Firm”). Id.

         Thereafter, on June 20, 2018, Mr. Rogers sent Mr. Crow an email message stating that Mr. Burton had terminated Mr. Crow's services. Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 18. The email message attached a handwritten note from Mr. Burton stating, “Thanks BJ for your help but I have decided to use Oby Rogers on my case.” Id. at ¶ 19. The email message also indicated that Mr. Burton “would prefer that [Mr. Crow] not attempt to contact [him] regarding [his] decision to terminate [Mr. Crow].” Id. at 21.

         Also on June 20, 2018, Mr. Rogers sent a letter to Agava Transportation Services (“Agava”) in Carlsbad, New Mexico, regarding Mr. Burton's accident, indicating that the Rogers Law Firm was representing Mr. Burton and directing that Agava preserve the evidence related to the accident. Doc. 11-3. The letter also stated: “[I]t is my understanding that you have previously been contacted by B.J. Crow, Esq. in regards to this matter. Mr Crow's representation of Mr. Burton has been terminated as of June 15, 2018.” Id. Ryan Sanders, an attorney at Butt Thornton & Baehr in Albuquerque, New Mexico, forwarded the letter to Mr. Crow on June 20, 2018, asking whether he was still representing Mr. Burton. Doc. 11-2. Mr. Crow responded, “It doesn't appear so, has Mr. Oby Rogers been in contact with you?” Id. Mr. Sanders responded, “He has been in contact with us.” Id.

         Based on these facts, Plaintiff, the Crow Law Firm, commenced the instant action in New Mexico State Court against Mr. Rogers and the Rogers Law Firm. Doc. 1-1. The Complaint alleges claims of tortious interference with contract, negligence, and prima facie tort. Id. On August 22, 2018, Defendants removed the action to this Court. Doc. 1.

         On their instant motion, Defendants seek dismissal of the action on the basis that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them. Doc. 4. Plaintiff opposes the motion, arguing that Defendants “have purposeful and significant contacts with the State of New Mexico, warranting the exercise of personal jurisdiction over them.” Doc. 11.

         In support of their motion, Defendants submitted the affidavit of Mr. Rogers. Doc. 4-1, Ex. B. Mr. Rogers' affidavit states that: he resides in and is licensed to practice law in Mississippi; he is not licensed to practice law in, has never been admitted pro hac vice in, and, until his representation of Mr. Burton, has never participated in any litigation in New Mexico; neither he nor the Rogers Law Firm has ever advertised in New Mexico or filed any taxes in New Mexico; and, prior to being retained by Mr. Burton, had never been to New Mexico for business, only to ski. Id. In support of his opposition, Plaintiff submitted a July 27, 2018 Facebook post of Mr. Rogers and the Rogers Law Firm, in which Mr. Rogers states that he “spent the week in New Mexico” working on Mr. Burton's case. Doc. 11-4.

         STANDARD

         “[W]hen the court's jurisdiction is contested, the plaintiff has the burden of proving jurisdiction exists.” Wenz v. Memery Crystal, 55 F.3d 1503, 1505 (10th Cir. 1995). Where, 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 written material, the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing that jurisdiction exists.” Id. “The allegations in the complaint must be taken as true to the extent they are uncontroverted by the defendants' affidavits.” Id. Further, “[i]f the parties present conflicting affidavits, all factual disputes must be resolved in the plaintiff's favor, and the plaintiff's prima facie showing is sufficient notwithstanding the contrary presentation by the moving party.” Id. Importantly, however, “only the well pled facts of plaintiff's complaint, as distinguished form mere conclusory allegations, must be accepted as true.” Id. The court's “task is to determine whether the plaintiff's allegations, as supported by affidavits, make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction.” Id.

         “Federal courts ordinarily follow state law in determining the bounds of their jurisdiction over persons.” Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 125 (2014). Here, 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, in order to determine whether this court may exercise personal jurisdiction over Defendants, the relevant inquiry is whether that exercise of jurisdiction “comports with the limits imposed by federal due process.” Daimler, 571 U.S. at 125.

         “The Due Process Clause protects an individual's liberty interest in not being subject to the binding judgments of a forum with which he has established no meaningful contacts, ties or relations.” Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, I471 U.S. 462, 471-72 (1985). In the “canonical opinion” of International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945), the Supreme Court held that a court may “exercise personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant if the defendant has certain minimum contacts with [the forum state] such that the maintenance of the suit ...


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