Maryland Federal Court Ruling on Personal Jurisdiction

The Maryland Daily Record reported yesterday that U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett dismissed the complaint filed by prison inmate Byron Smoot against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, finding that Simmons and co-defendant Missouri based Kellwood Company lacked the requisite minimum contacts with Maryland that would make them amenable to jurisdiction in Maryland. The Court’s 14 page opinion can be found here.

As an interesting footnote to this case, in 1999 Smoot began a romantic relationship with the prison psychologist. Smoot and a convicted murderer escaped later that year by climbing over the prison’s fence. They ran into town and made a phone call to the prison psychologist. The men were caught two days later after a massive manhunt. The psychologist pled guilty to an accessory charge for housing the men and was sentenced to six months in prison. HBO had a series years ago called “Oz” where the prison doctor fell in love with one of the inmates. I remember thinking the plot seemed a bit outlandish. But this story sounds equally bizarre.

Coming back from this soap opera to Maryland law, Maryland’s long arm statute allows jurisdiction of defendants to the fullest extent possible under federal law under the due process clause. I am handling an accident where a Missouri truck driver is a defendant. We sought jurisdiction in Maryland based on Defendant’s affidavit that he had four or five truck deliveries a year in Maryland. In the alternative, we asked for permission for our attorneys to conduct discovery to fully understand Defendant’s general contacts with Maryland as opposed to relying simply on the affidavits. But the Baltimore City Circuit Court judge who heard the case denied both requests.

I am of the opinion that if a truck driver regularly drives through a jurisdiction, he is availing himself to that jurisdiction. I cannot see how it is a violation of due process to be amenable in a jurisdiction that you regularly frequent when there is jurisdiction if your are served with process the first time you happen to be in the jurisdiction. See Burnham v. Superior Court, 495 US 604 (1990). But 99% of the case law on this subject disagrees with me.

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