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U.S. Bank National Association v. San Bernardino Public Employees' Association

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

December 3, 2013

U.S. Bank National Association, d/b/a U.S. Bank Equipment Finance, Plaintiff,
v.
San Bernardino Public Employees' Association, Defendant.

ORDER

JOAN N. ERICKSEN, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, or in the alternative, to transfer venue. For the reasons stated below, the motion to dismiss is denied, but the motion to transfer is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff U.S. Bank National Association ("U.S. Bank") filed this breach-of-contract action in state court and Defendant San Bernardino Public Employees' Association ("SBPEA") removed it to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยงยง 1332, 1441, and 1446. The complaint alleges breach by SBPEA of its obligations to Plaintiff under two agreements relating to leases of copier equipment. With its suit, U.S. Bank alleges that SBPEA has defaulted on its agreements and owes U.S. Bank certain payments.

The parties do not appear to dispute that SBPEA lacks any significant presence in Minnesota or that U.S. Bank is based in Minnesota, but has national operations. SBPEA is a California corporation and does not have any offices, representatives, or assets in Minnesota. Neither has it conducted any business in Minnesota. Image Source, the third party supplier of the equipment leased to SBPEA, is also located in California. SBPEA negotiated and signed the relevant agreements in California. U.S. Bank has its principal place of business in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with the offices of its equipment finance division located in Marshall, Minnesota. U.S. Bank reviewed SBPEA's application in Marshall, Minnesota. All billing and collection activity on the payments owed to U.S. Bank also originated there.

The primary lease agreement includes a "consent to law, jurisdiction, and venue" clause that lies at the center of the present jurisdictional and venue dispute. That agreement, attached to the complaint, names U.S. Bancorp Business Equipment Finance Group as the "lessor" and SBPEA as the "customer." The relevant clause uses the term "You" to refer to the customer and is reproduced verbatim below:

This Agreement shall be deemed fully executed and performed in the state of Lessor or its Assignee's principal place of business and shall be governed by and construed in accordance with its laws. If the Lessor or its Assignee shall bring any judicial proceeding in relation to any matter arising under the Agreement, the You irrevocably agrees that any such matter may be adjudged or determined in any court or courts in the state of the Lessor or its Assignee's principal place of business, or in any court or courts in Your's state of residence, or in any other court having jurisdiction over you or your assets, all at the sole election of the Lessor. The You hereby irrevocably submits generally and unconditionally to the jurisdiction of any such court so elected by Lessor in relation to such matters. You waive trial by jury in any action between us.

("Forum Provision").

The second agreement is titled a "lease supplement" and lists a single additional piece of equipment to be leased. The supplement lists Image Source as the lessor. An assignment document shows a transfer of the supplement to U.S. Bank from Image Source.

DISCUSSION

Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

SBPEA seeks dismissal of the action for a lack of personal jurisdiction. When a defendant challenges personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that jurisdiction exists. Burlington Indus. v. Maples Indus., 97 F.3d 1100, 1102 (8th Cir. 1996). "To survive a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction over the defendant." Digi-Tel Holdings v. Proteq Telcoms., 89 F.3d 519, 522 (8th Cir. 1996). In ruling on the motion, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and resolve factual conflicts in its favor. Id.

Nonresidents are subject to personal jurisdiction to the extent that state law allows, and Minnesota law confers personal jurisdiction over nonresident defendants to the maximum extent allowed by due process. Dominium Austin Partners, L.L.C. v. Emerson, 248 F.3d 720, 726 (8th Cir. 2001). Ordinarily, courts conduct a "minimum contacts" analysis to assess whether asserting jurisdiction comports with due process requirements. See K-V Pharm. Co. v. J. Uriach & CIA, S.A., 648 F.3d 588, 592 (8th Cir. 2011). Under that analysis, the defendant's conduct and connection with the forum must be such that the defendant should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there. World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980). Parties may, however, waive rights afforded them under the due process clause, Monsanto Co. v. Ruckelshaus, 753 F.2d 649, 654 (8th Cir. 1985), and "the personal jurisdiction requirement is a waivable right, " Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 n.14 (1985). Consequently, "[d]ue process is satisfied when a defendant consents to personal jurisdiction by entering into a contract that contains a valid forum selection clause." Dominium, 248 F.3d at 726 (citing Burger King, 471 U.S. at 472 n.14 and M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 15 (1972)).

SBPEA contends that it lacks sufficient contacts with Minnesota to meet the traditional minimum contacts standards. U.S. Bank does not dispute that contention, but argues that the parties' agreements include an enforceable forum selection clause under which SBPEA agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of courts in Minnesota. Therefore, the dispute ...


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