Filed: September 15, 2011
Opinion by: Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander
Held: In a suit alleging breach of fiduciary obligations of directors of a corporation, a Maryland court may exercise personal jurisdiction over out-of-state directors of a Maryland corporation that conducts its business operations in Maryland.
Facts: Defendants were directors, officers and employees of a Maryland corporation. Plaintiff alleged defendants acted in a course of misconduct. All of the defendants reside in Delaware.
Analysis: A court exercising personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants does not violate the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution when the defendants have "minimum contacts" in the state and "the exercise of jurisdiction based on those contacts is constitutionally reasonable." The Court applied the logic of Pittsburgh Terminal Corp. v. Mid Allegheny Corp., 831 F.2d 522 (4th Cir. 1987), which involved a West Virginia corporation and directors who lived in the State of Virginia.
In Pittsburgh Terminal, the Fourth Circuit held "the acceptance of a directorship constitutes minimum contacts in a derivative suit." The Court also found minimum contacts because, among other reasons, (a) Maryland law, like West Virginia law, provides the business and affairs of the corporation shall be managed under the direction of a board of directors, (b) directors participate in business decisions that have a primary effect in the forum state and (c) by becoming directors, the defendants purposefully availed themselves of the privilege of doing business in that state.
Turning to the constitutional reasonableness portion of the due process test, the Court cited Pittsburgh Terminal, which noted the factors of the case made the "assertion of jurisdiction more reasonable." The Court agreed. As in Pittsburgh Terminal, the defendants live in a neighboring state. Maryland has a strong interest in providing a forum to hear a claim alleging wrongful acts by the directors of one of its domestic corporations. And, according to the Court, while defendants receive many benefits of the legal fiction of a corporation, requiring "them in turn to shoulder one of the few burdens of such fiction" did not seem unfair.
The opinion is available in pdf.