United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION AND ORDER
BARBARA B. CRABB District Judge.
prisoner Cornelius Hunter, who is incarcerated at the Eau
Claire County jail in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, has filed a
proposed complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law
in which he alleges that employees of two Florida
transportation companies left him and eleven other pre-trial
detainees in a van without air conditioning for two hours in
extreme heat in Arizona. Plaintiff's complaint is before
the court for screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the
reasons explained below, I am directing plaintiff to show
cause why this case should not be dismissed for lack of
personal jurisdiction over the defendants.
fairly alleges the following facts in his complaint.
Cornelius Hunter is currently incarcerated at the Eau Claire
County Jail in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. At all times relevant
to this complaint, he was a pretrial detainee.
U.S. Corrections Transport and Prisoner Transport Services
are private companies located in Melbourne, Florida that
transport inmates for state authorities. Defendant John
Simmons is a sergeant and supervisor and defendant John Doe
is an employee and driver. (It is unclear whether the
companies are related or which company the individual
defendants work for.)
June 30, 2015, defendants Doe and Simmons were transporting
plaintiff and 11 other detainees from the Las Vegas County
Detention Center to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. (Although
plaintiff alleges that he was in the custody of “John
Doe 1 and John Doe 2, ” I understand him to be
referring to the two named individual defendants.) Defendants
Doe and Simmons stopped at a hotel in Gila Bend, Arizona,
rolling up the windows on the van and turning off the
vehicle. It was over 120 degrees Fahrenheit at that time of
year. After 30 minutes, plaintiff became nauseated and had
signs of heat stroke. He was dehydrated and “black[ing]
in and out, ” and he passed out after an hour and a
half. The other detainees were yelling and banging the sides
of the vehicle, and some also passed out.
more than two hours before the Gila Bend first responders
arrived to rescue the detainees and brought them to the
hospital for medical treatment. Defendant Simmons told
hospital staff that the company did not have medical coverage
for the inmates.
understand plaintiff to be raising a claim that defendants
violated his constitutional rights when they subjected him to
a substantial risk of serious harm by leaving him in a
locked, closed vehicle in extreme heat without air
conditioning or open windows. Plaintiff also alleges that
defendants were negligent.
obvious questions raised by plaintiff's amended complaint
are whether this court may exercise personal jurisdiction
over any of the defendants and whether venue is appropriate
in this district. A federal district court cannot exercise
personal jurisdiction over a defendant unless that defendant
has certain “minimum contacts” with the state in
which the court is located. RAR, Inc. v. Turner Diesel,
Ltd., 107 F.3d 1272, 1277 (7th Cir. 1997). Venue
generally is not appropriate in a district unless one of the
defendants resides there or the events giving rise
to the complaint occurred there. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).
case, plaintiff alleges that defendants are located in
Florida and all of the relevant events occurred in Arizona.
Plaintiff does not identify any contacts that any of the
defendants have with Wisconsin, other than the fact that they
were driving him to Eau Claire. Further, even if the
corporate defendants had some connection to Wisconsin,
“[a] court may not exercise jurisdiction over
individual officers or employees of a corporation merely on
the basis of contacts sufficient to justify the exercise of
personal jurisdiction over the corporation.” 16
Moore's Federal Practice § 108.42[b][iii] (3d.
2017). In other words, a court cannot exercise jurisdiction
over employees like Simmons and Doe simply because they work
for a company that is located in the state in which the court
sits. The plaintiff must point to personal contacts between
the state and the employee.
it appears that the only reason that plaintiff filed the
lawsuit here is that he is incarcerated at the Eau Claire
County jail, which is located in Wisconsin. However, he does
not allege that his incarceration is related to his claims.
The fact that plaintiff is incarcerated here is not
sufficient to make an exercise of personal jurisdiction
proper or to make venue appropriate. Walden v.
Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 1118 (2014)
(“[P]laintiff's contacts with the forum State
cannot be decisive in determining whether the [court may
exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant].”)
(internal quotations omitted); Green v. Beth, No.
15-cv-540-bbc, 2017 WL 436057, at *1 (W.D. Wis. Feb. 1, 2017)
(“[T]he convenience of the plaintiff is not a factor
that I may consider [in determining proper venue].”).
I am directing plaintiff to show cause why this case should
not be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction over the
defendants. It makes little sense to require the U.S.
Marshals to travel across the country to serve the complaint
if there is no basis for keeping the case in this district.
If plaintiff believes that the case should be transferred
instead of dismissed, Cote v. Wadel, 796 F.2d 981,
985 (7th Cir. 1986) (court may grant motion to transfer venue
without deciding whether court may exercise personal
jurisdiction over defendants), plaintiff should explain why
he believes the case should be transferred to a particular
federal district. To prevail on a motion to transfer ...