Friday, October 2, 2020

Pinner v. Pinner (Ct. of Appeals)

Filed: March 3, 2020

Opinion by: Booth, J.

Holding: Defendant’s filing of a single lawsuit in Maryland, without further connection to the forum, did not place Defendant on notice she might be sued in a separate, though related, action by Plaintiff, and therefore such litigation violated the 14th amendment due process clause.

Facts: Plaintiff is the son of the defendant. Both parties are residents of North Carolina. Defendant had filed a prior action in Maryland on behalf of her late husband against various Asbestos Entities for her late husband’s death due to exposure to asbestos while working in Maryland.  Plaintiff was not included in the proceedings until it his ability to intervene was barred by the statute of limitations, and Defendant received a settlement as a result of that litigation that was not deposited in her late husband’s Estate, nor was any portion of it paid to Plaintiff. 


Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a separate action in Maryland for his alleged share of the asbestos settlement, alleging that the Defendant was negligent and breached a fiduciary duty as personal representative of her late husband’s Estate. Defendant failed to file a responsive pleading, and Plaintiff sought and obtained a default judgment for $99,856. Defendant appealed on the grounds that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over her to enter a judgment.


Analysis: A state court may exercise personal jurisdiction under the 14th amendment on an out-of-state defendant if the defendant had “minimum contacts” with the forum sufficient to put the defendant on notice that the might be sued in the forum in the future. Beyond Systems, Inc. v. Realtime Gaming Holding Co., 388 Md. at 1, 22 (2005). Three factors are considered to determine specific personal jurisdiction over a defendant (where the present lawsuit arises out of the defendant’s prior contacts with Maryland): “(1) the extent to which the defendant has purposefully availed [herself] of the privilege of conducting activities within the State; (2) whether the plaintiff’s claims arise out of those activities directed at the State; and (3) 

whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be constitutionally reasonable.” Id. At 26.


The Court held that the Defendant’s prior asbestos litigation was the sole contact of the Defendant with Maryland. No evidence was offered that the Defendant had actively participated in hearings or depositions in Maryland, or that she had even traveled at all to Maryland during the six year period the case was litigated. Moreover, the Court found that the present dispute involved issues arising under North Carolina law, between North Carolina residents, where the injury to Plaintiff arose in North Carolina. As to the second factor, the Court found that a breach of a fiduciary duty under North Carolina law is tenuously connected to the original asbestos litigation. 


As to the third factor, the Court noted that numerous specific considerations come into play with constitutional reasonableness such as: “the burden on the defendant; the interests of the forum State; the plaintiff’s interest in obtaining relief; the interstate judicial system’s interest in obtaining the most efficient resolution of controversy; and the shared interest of the several states in furthering fundamental substantive social policies.” Examining these considerations, the Court found that overall there was no efficiency in litigating North Carolina-based claims between North Carolina residents in a Maryland court, and that the Maryland court system had no interest in adjudicating such claims.


As a result, the Court concluded that the Maryland trial court lacked jurisdiction over the Defendant.


Full opinion available in PDF.

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