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Densmore v. Colby-Sawyer College

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 1, 2016

JOANNA DENSMORE, et al., Plaintiffs,


JOHN H. RICH, III, Magistrate Judge.

The defendant, Colby-Sawyer College, located in New London, New Hampshire, moves to dismiss this action for lack of personal jurisdiction. In the alternative, it asks that this action be transferred to the District of New Hampshire. I recommend that the court grant the motion to transfer, thereby mooting the motion to dismiss.

I. Applicable Legal Standard

The motion to dismiss invokes Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or, In the Alternative, Motion for Transfer ("Motion") (ECF No. 9) at 1. A motion brought under this subsection of Rule 12 alleges lack of personal jurisdiction. Such a motion raises the question of whether a defendant has "purposefully established minimum contacts in the forum State." Hancock v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 793 F.Supp. 366, 367 (D. Me. 1992) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction; however, where (as here) the court rules on a Rule 12(b)(2) motion without holding an evidentiary hearing, a prima facie showing suffices. Archibald v. Archibald, 826 F.Supp. 26, 28 (D. Me. 1993). Such a showing requires more than mere reference to unsupported allegations in the plaintiff's pleadings. Boit v. Gar-Tec Prods., Inc., 967 F.2d 671, 675 (1st Cir. 1992). However, for purposes of considering a Rule 12(b)(2) motion, the court will accept properly supported proffers of evidence as true. Id .

II. Factual Background

The complaint sets forth the following relevant factual allegations. Plaintiff JoAnna Densmore is a resident of Maine. Plaintiffs' Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial ("Complaint") (ECF No. 1) ¶ 2. Plaintiff Julia Shriver is a resident of Massachusetts. Id . ¶ 3. Plaintiff Kristina Fuccillo is a resident of Rhode Island. Id . ¶ 4. At all relevant times, the plaintiffs were students in the undergraduate nursing program offered by the defendant, Colby-Sawyer College ("the college"), a private, post-secondary educational institution located in New London, New Hampshire. Id . ¶¶ 1, 5.

In the spring of their sophomore year, nursing students at the college typically complete a clinical course, "Health Assessment and Fundamental Nursing Skills, " identified as NURS 230. Id . ¶ 12. The course is conducted at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which limits participation to 36 students per year. Id . ¶¶ 12, 18. For the Class of 2016, of which the plaintiffs were members, the college admitted approximately 100 students who intended to major in nursing, and 51 remained academically eligible to continue in that program in the spring of their sophomore year, including the plaintiffs. Id . ¶ 22. All of these students were required to take and pass NURS 230 in January 2014. Id . ¶ 23.

The college offered 36 students in the Class of 2016 the opportunity to take NURS 230 during the spring 2014 semester, and offered alternative paths to the 15 remaining nursing students, including the plaintiffs. Id . ¶¶ 25, 29. The alternatives were to take NURS 230 in a 12-week summer session, either alone or with two co-requisite courses (microbiology and pharmacology), or to take the course during the spring 2015 semester along with members of the Class of 2017, thereby delaying graduation by a year. Id . ¶ 26. The plaintiffs chose to take the co-requisite courses in the Spring 2014 semester and to take NURS 230 in the summer session, at an additional cost of $1, 800 tuition and $100 per week for room and board for the summer session. Id . ¶¶ 27, 29-30.

The plaintiffs were in a group of five students who took the summer session NURS 230 course in 2014. Id . ¶ 31. On July 30, 2014, the five students were informed by the professor supervising their clinical work that they were at risk to fail the clinical component of the course. Id . ¶ 60. Shortly thereafter, each plaintiff received formal notification that she would fail the clinical portion of NURS 230, and all three were instructed not to attend the remaining clinical or laboratory sessions of the course. Id . ¶ 61. These actions were part of a strategy by the college to reduce the number of nursing majors in the Class of 2016. Id . ¶ 66.

The plaintiffs appealed their failing grades in NURS 230 in accordance with internal procedures of the college. Id . ¶ 69. The appeals were denied. Id . The college offered the plaintiffs the option to retake NURS 230, which was a required prerequisite to all of the remaining clinical courses in the nursing program, during the spring 2015 semester. Id . ¶¶ 70, 71.

III. Discussion

A. The Motion to Transfer

The defendant moves, in the alternative, to transfer this case to the District of New Hampshire. Motion at 11-12. The motion to transfer invokes 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Id . at 11. That statute provides this court with discretion to transfer a civil action "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, ... to any other district... where it might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); see also Stewart Org., Inc.. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (describing the discretionary nature of § 1404 analysis). Factors to be considered in addressing a motion to transfer a case include the convenience of the parties and witnesses and "the availability of documents." Coady v. Ashcraft & Gerel, 223 F.3d 1, 11 (1st Cir. 2000). There is also, in the First Circuit, "a strong presumption in favor of the plaintiff's choice of forum." Id . However, that presumption is not determinative and may be outweighed by the interest of justice or by the convenience of the parties and witnesses. Banjo Buddies, Inc. v. Renosky, 156 F.Supp.2d 22, 24 (D. Me. 2001).

It cannot be disputed that this case could have been brought in the District of New Hampshire. The events that gave rise to this action occurred in New Hampshire. Most of the witnesses are in New Hampshire. None of the plaintiffs resides in New Hampshire, Complaint ¶¶ 2-4, so the diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 that is alleged as the basis of the complaint, id . ¶ 6, would be present in District of New Hampshire. Two of the three plaintiffs do not reside in Maine. The plaintiffs have not contested any of these facts. The location of relevant documents is of little weight, now that electronic documents have alleviated the need for storage of paper records and have simplified the transfer of documents to the court, see ...

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