PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has upheld a lower court’s view that lack of personal jurisdiction as it pertained to Maryland-based defendants was grounds for dismissal in an educator’s wrongful termination lawsuit.

Third Circuit judges Thomas L. Ambro, Joseph A. Greenaway, Jr. and Anthony J. Scirica ruled Aug. 8 to turn away the appeal of plaintiff Mary Valestine Miller Turner, M.Ed. – in effect denying her move for reconsideration related to the dismissal of her complaint from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Turner, a Pennsylvania resident, initiated the instant action in 2016 against the Prince George’s County Public Schools and several of its officials, after her employment was terminated in 2013, for submitting allegedly-improper doctor’s notes when returning to service after a medical leave. Turner admitted in her complaint that all defendants were residents of Maryland, the events which led to her lawsuit occurred in Maryland, and the defendants were served in Maryland.

Early in the litigation, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), arguing they lacked the requisite minimal contacts with Pennsylvania for the District Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over them. After Turner did not respond for nearly five months, the District Court granted the motion and dismissed her complaint without prejudice, concluding she failed “to produce any competent evidence to support personal jurisdiction,” and that “exercising personal jurisdiction would run afoul of Pennsylvania’s long-arm statute.”

Turner then filed a notice of appeal, and submitted a brief arguing that she did submit sufficient evidence to establish personal jurisdiction. Nearly one month later, the defendants filed this motion for summary action.

The plaintiff attempted to persuade the appeals court that the long-arm statute and relevant application of personal jurisdiction to the Maryland defendants was necessary in this case, but the Court disagreed.

“The District Court properly concluded that Turner failed to set forth sufficient facts to establish personal jurisdiction—either general or specific. Turner failed to plead facts establishing that defendants had any contacts with Pennsylvania, let alone systematic and continuous ones. Turner’s complaint is similarly deficient as to specific jurisdiction, which requires, among other things, that a defendant “purposefully direct [her] activities at the forum,” the Third Circuit said.

“The alleged misconduct – Turner’s improper termination – occurred in Maryland, and Turner has pleaded no other facts indicating that defendants directed any activities at Pennsylvania. Accordingly, we grant defendants’ motion for summary action and will summarily affirm the judgment of the District Court,” the Third Circuit concluded.

The defendants are represented by Gerald S. Robinson of Robinson & Gerlado in Harrisburg, plus James E. McCollum, Jr. of McCollum & Associates, in College Park, Md.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit 17-2001

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:16-cv-04524

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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