Court Grants Cornell’s Motion to Dismiss on Jurisdictional Grounds

Apr 24, 2009

A federal judge from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has granted Cornell University’s motion to dismiss the claim of a Pennsylvania student, who was tragically injured while attempting a gymnastic maneuver on the TumblTrak gymnastics training apparatus in the Teagle Gymnasium on the Cornell campus.
The incident occurred on October 12, 2006. Plaintiff Randall Duchesneau attempted a backwards jumping maneuver on the TumblTrak, and landed squarely in the center of the apparatus, causing him to suffer catastrophic, permanent spinal injuries. The injuries rendered him a quadriplegic, who is totally dependant on a motorized, reclined wheelchair.
Two years later, Duchesneau sued Cornell and the manufacturer, alleging negligence and products liability. The plaintiff alleged diversity of citizenship between the parties. Cornell filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the instant court lacks personal jurisdiction over Cornell or, in the alternative, that the venue was improper. Defendant TumblTrak filed a motion to dismiss in which it only asserted that the venue was improper. Duchesneau opposed both motions on the grounds that the court has personal jurisdiction over both defendants and that the venue is proper.
In siding with Cornell on the question of specific jurisdiction, the court found that “there is no relationship between Cornell’s specific activities in the Commonwealth and Plaintiff’s cause of action. The activities undertaken by Cornell’s Chester County alumni office are limited to student recruiting and alumni organization in the Middle Atlantic region. The causes of action against Cornell in this matter concern a personal injury suffered in a gymnasium on the Cornell campus in upstate New York. Thus, Plaintiff’s claims simply do not ‘arise from or relate to’ Cornell’s activities in its Middle Atlantic alumni office. To allow specific jurisdiction based on such unconnected elements would unacceptably tip the reciprocal exchange in Plaintiff’s favor. Stated differently, the connection is not intimate enough to keep the quid pro quo proportional. Under these circumstances, the Court must decline to exercise specific jurisdiction over Cornell.”
Turning to the question of general jurisdiction, the court relied on 28 U.S.C. §1391, titled “Venue generally,” which provides in relevant part:
“(a) A civil action where jurisdiction is founded only on diversity of citizenship may, except as otherwise provided by law, be brought only in (1) a judicial district where any defendant resides, if all defendants reside in the same State, (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated, or (3) a judicial district in which any defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction at the time the action is commenced, if there is no district in which the action may otherwise be brought.

“(c) For purposes of venue under this chapter, a defendant that is a corporation shall be deemed to reside in any judicial district in which it is subject to personal jurisdiction at the time the action is commenced… .
“None of these provisions is satisfied here. For purposes of subsection (a)(2), no events or omissions giving rise to Plaintiff’s claims occurred in Pennsylvania. The accident itself, and all possible relevant relationships between the parties, occurred in Ithaca, New York, which is located in the Northern District of New York. Subsection (a)(3) is similarly inapplicable, as it specifically applies only ‘if there is no other district in which the action may otherwise be brought.’ Here, this action could have been brought in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, where Ithaca and Cornell, and accordingly the location of the accident, are located.”
Turning to TumblTrak’s motion to dismiss, the court again relied on § 1391.
“As with Defendant Cornell, subsections (2) and (3) do not apply to TumblTrak. Thus, the only remaining subsection under which Plaintiff could possibly satisfy venue is subsection (1). Under this subsection, venue would be appropriate here only if all defendants are determined to ‘reside’ within Pennsylvania. It is true that under § 1391(c), Tumbltrak is deemed to reside in any judicial district in which it is subject to personal jurisdiction at the time the action is commenced. However, as discussed above, defendant Cornell is not subject to the personal jurisdiction of this court, and accordingly is not deemed to “reside” within Pennsylvania. Therefore, all of the defendants do not ‘reside’ in Pennsylvania for the purposes of § 1391(a)(1), and Plaintiff cannot rely upon that subsection. Venue in this district is therefore improper for Defendant TumblTrak. However, under § 1391, venue would be proper in the Northern District of New York.”
The court went on to suggest that transferring this action to the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York “would better serve the interests of justice than dismissal of the action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1631.
“As discussed above, personal jurisdiction and venue are proper in the Northern District of New York as Cornell’s place of business is located there and Plaintiff’s injuries occurred there. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a), (c). Moreover, a transfer is in the interest of justice because it will prevent the duplication of filing costs.”
Randall Duchesneau v. Cornell University, et al.; E.D. Pa.; Civil Action No. 08-4856, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19125; 2/26/09
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Stewart J. Eisenberg, Lead Attorney, Daniel Joseph Sherry, Jr., Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck P.C., Philadelphia, Pa. (for defendant) Allen R. Bunker, Comeau & Bunker, Philadelphia, Pa.; Daniel J. Mccarthy, Susan R. Engle, Lead Attorneys, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman, Philadelphia, Pa.


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