E-Alert Case Updates
United States District Court for the District of Maryland Holds that it does not have Personal Jurisdiction over Virginia Residents in Suit Arising of Sale of Virginia Real Estate
Fidelity Nat’l Title Ins. Co. v. M&R Title, Inc.
In Fidelity National Title Insurance Company, Inc. v. M&R Title, Inc., the United States District Court for the District of Maryland held that it did not have personal jurisdiction over two (2) Virginia residents when the claim against them arose from a real estate transaction in Virginia, and the defendants only had occasional contact with the State of Maryland. Writing for the Court, Judge Paul W. Grimm found that the Court had no specific personal jurisdiction over Virginia-based residents where the facts giving rise to the plaintiff’s suit were not among those categories specifically enumerated by the Maryland Long-Arm Statute. The Court similarly held that it had no general personal jurisdiction over the defendants because they were neither domiciled in Maryland, nor carried on such consistent contact with the state such that they were “essentially at home” in the forum. Therefore, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims against the Virginia defendants.
In January 2012, Fidelity National Title Insurance Co. (“Fidelity”) filed any action against fifty (50) named defendants, alleging damages caused by fraudulent real estate transactions. Among those defendants named were M&R Title, Inc. and its principal, Marla Messenger (collectively, “M&R”), along with Jeffrey and Anita D’Antonio (collectively, the “D’Antonios”). The D’Antonios were domiciled in Virginia. Fidelity claimed that M&R and the D’Antonios conspired together to perpetrate a fraudulent transaction involving real property located at 909 Danton Lane, Alexandria, Virginia (“Danton Lane”). In particular, Fidelity alleged that M&R sold Danton Lane to Mr. D’Antonio on February 12, 2008, after which the D’Antonios obtained a loan secured by a deed of trust on the property. The trustee on the deed of trust was Ms. Messenger’s husband, and both the lender and trustee’s addresses were listed as Ms. Messenger’s former home address. The deed to Danton Lane was recorded on May 21, 2008. On May 23, 2008, M&R conducted a closing on two (2) refinance loans to the D’Antonios. Ms. D’Antonio then executed a false affidavit pertaining to the issuance of titled insurance underwritten by Fidelity’s predecessor, stating that she had owned Danton Lane for at least 123 days prior to May 23, 2008. Fidelity subsequent learned that M&R did not disburse the escrow funds held in connection with the sale of Danton Lane. Fidelity filed suit, alleging that the Danton Lane transaction exposed it to substantial liability. The D’Antonios moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.
The Court granted the D’Antonios’ motion, and agreed that the Maryland Long Arm Statute did not reach the D’Antonios under the facts presented. The Court noted that, to assert specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident of Maryland, the plaintiff must demonstrate that jurisdiction is authorized under the Maryland Long-Arm Statute, and that jurisdiction comports with the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process requirements. Fidelity argued that jurisdiction was proper under Section (b) (1) of the Maryland Long-Arm Statue because the D’Antonios allegedly “transact[ed] . . . business” in the State of Maryland. Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 6-103. Fidelity premised this argument on the fact that the D’Antonios lived in Maryland in the past, sometimes traveled to Maryland, and engaged in some business transactions in Maryland. The Court rejected Fidelity’s argument, reasoning that the basis of the suit was the Danton Lane transaction, only. Accordingly, the Court held that Fidelity’s claims against the D’Antonios failed to “aris[e] from any act” enumerated by the Long-Arm Statute. Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 6-103 (a) (“[i]f jurisdiction over a person is based solely upon this section, he may be sued only on a cause of action arising from any act enumerated in this section.” (emphasis added)).
The Court likewise held that it had no general jurisdiction over the D’Antonios. The Court noted that general jurisdiction is strongly linked to domicile, and there is no dispute that the D’Antonios were no longer domiciled in Maryland. The Court noted that the Constitutional requirement of “continuous and systematic” contact with the State of Maryland is more stringent when the underlying jurisdictional theory rests on general jurisdiction, rather than specific jurisdiciton. In this case, where Fidelity’s claims did not arise from the D’Antonios’ alleged “continuous and systematic” contacts with Maryland, but rather the Danton Lane transaction, the Court held that the D’Antonio’s occasional contact with the state was insufficient to confer personal jurisdiction. A non-resident defendant’s contacts with the forum state would be sufficient to confer general jurisdiction only where those contacts rendered the defendants “essentially at home” in the forum. The D’Antonios’ contacts were not sufficient to meet this threshold. Accordingly, the Court dismissed Fidelity’s claims against the D’Antonios.
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