Hello everybody. I hope you all had a great weekend and are ready to tackle the week! As it is my birthday today, I thought I would share a recent and informative defensive win regarding vicarious liability in the context of personal jurisdiction to celebrate.
The case, entitled: JANE HELLER, and KRISTI VONDEYLEN Plaintiffs, v. MARRIOTT VACATIONS WORLDWIDE CORP, Def.., No. EP22CV00398FMMAT, 2023 WL 6702696 (W.D. Tex. Oct. 11, 2023), is an El Paso district court case where the plaintiffs, two Texas residents, alleged that they were receiving promotional calls from the defendant, Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation (“Marriott Vacations”). The issue raised by both parties was whether two non-defendant companies, Marriott Ownership Resorts, Inc. (“MORI”) and Marriott International, Inc. (“MII”), made Marriot Vacations vicariously liable for the alleged tortious calls that were made.
In defense, Marriott Vacations filed a Renewed Motion to Dismiss after limited discovery was conducted on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ case lacked personal jurisdiction. As the court continued to review the case, they broke down personal jurisdiction into two separate subsections: General Jurisdiction and Specific Jurisdiction.
Hmm. That is interesting. So, what is the difference between the two? In short, general jurisdiction is held to the state in which Marriott Vacations considers “home”. Specific jurisdiction, on the other hand, means the court would hold jurisdiction over a corporation or entity if they committed a tortious act within that state. So, if the plaintiffs were able to prove that Marriott Vacations was vicariously related to the two non-defendant parties, and that the tortious conduct took place in Texas, then Texas would potentially hold jurisdiction over Marriott Vacations.
Now that we understand the two forms of jurisdiction, what happened?
Well, the court found rather quickly that Marriott Vacations is incorporated under the laws of the State of Delaware and has its principal place of business in the State of Florida. So, we can quickly rule out Texas having general jurisdiction over the defendant. But what about specific jurisdiction? Could the plaintiff prove that the non-defendant parties were associated with Marriott Vacations?
In short, the answer was no! Marriott Vacations argued that they did not know of any calls made by MORI. The burden of proof then falls on the plaintiff to tie connections between MORI and MII to Marriott Vacations in order for specific jurisdiction to be relevant. The court ordered the plaintiff to conduct discovery to prove their claims, and the plaintiffs could not do so. The court held that MORI making calls on Marriott Vacations’ behalf was simply an assumption and could not be proven true in discovery. Therefore, specific jurisdiction did not exist.
Wow. So, because the plaintiff could not prove general or specific jurisdiction to exist, nor prove that MORI and MII’s calls were conducted on behalf of Marriott Vacations, the court granted the defendant’s Renewed Motion to Dismiss.
Now does that mean this case is over? No. In fact, quite the opposite. Even though the court granted the Renewed Motion to Dismiss, they also granted the plaintiff’s Motion to Amend the complaint. The plaintiffs stated that they had new information from discovery to add, and that they were going to bring MORI and MII into the lawsuit as defendants. So, while Marriott Vacations may have won this small battle, they might still be in for a long war. In the meantime, I am sure Marriott Vacations will take this small victory.
Pretty wild case so far though, right? I will be sure to watch this case for any new developments that I want to share with you. In the meantime, thank you all for reading, and until next time.