Judge dismisses Pa. man's suit against N.J.'s Division of Consumer Affairs

By Jon Campisi | Aug 30, 2012

A federal judge sitting in Philadelphia has dismissed with prejudice a complaint that had

been filed by a Pennsylvania man against New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs and one of its investigators alleging various federal and state constitutional rights violations.

Robert L. Gary claimed that Robert Hines, an investigator for the New Jersey Division on Consumer Affairs, excluded him from a settlement of a civil enforcement action by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office against United Credit Adjusters Inc., a company that Gary alleged defrauded him of just over one thousand dollars.

In 2007, Gary paid United Credit $1,049 to “clean up” his credit so he could secure a mortgage, background information on the case shows.

However, the company never performed its duties, Gary claimed, and the man soon submitted a complaint to the New Jersey Attorney’s Office, which subsequently filed suit against United Credit, which is based out of New Jersey.

Gary’s complaint was one of many that the Attorney General’s Office received about United Credit.

In late July 2009, a New Jersey state trial court entered a final consent judgment in the litigation requiring United Credit to pay restitution to a small group of injured consumers of which Gary was not part, the record shows.

Gary contacted Hines, the investigator, to express his dissatisfaction with not being included in the restitution order, but Hines advised the man that because United Credit could not make restitution to all injured consumers, Gary should wait on the federal defendants to get his money back.

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission brought suit against United Credit in the federal court in New Jersey, and Gary has still not received his restitution.

In an Aug. 27 memorandum, U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, wrote that he had no choice but to dismiss Gary’s pro se complaint with prejudice because the court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over Hines.

Sanchez wrote that the plaintiff has the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction once the defense is raised, and in the absence of an evidentiary hearing, a plaintiff need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction.

In the current case, the memorandum states, it is not disputed that Hines works for the NJDCA solely in New Jersey, and that his only contacts with Pennsylvania consist of a handful of communications between Hines in New Jersey and Gary in Pennsylvania, in the form of mail and phone calls.

“Such communications in response to Gary’s unilateral inquiries are insufficient to demonstrate Hines deliberately targeted Pennsylvania with the purpose of availing himself of the benefits and protections of conducting activities therein,” the memorandum states.

Sanchez went on to write that allowing Gary to maintain his lawsuit in Pennsylvania based solely on Hine’s sending a questionnaire to Gary in Pennsylvania and participating in a handful of phone calls with the plaintiff in Pennsylvania “would certainly offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.”

Sanchez determined that Gary has not submitted any evidence regarding personal jurisdiction but has responded only with “mere allegations.”

“Although Gary’s claims against Hines were previously dismissed with leave to amend his first Amended Complaint, the dismissal was not based on lack of personal jurisdiction,” Sanchez wrote. “Nevertheless, having provided Gary ample opportunity to establish personal jurisdiction over Hines, this Court is satisfied any further amendment of Gary’s Second Amended Complaint would be futile.”

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