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Jenkins v. Duffy Crane and Hauling, Inc.

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

December 20, 2013

FRANKLYN A. JENKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
DUFFY CRANE AND HAULING, INC., a Colorado corporation, DUFFY HOLDINGS, LLC, a Colorado Limited Liability Company, and DUFFY CRANE, INC., a Colorado corporation, Defendants.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' AMENDED MOTION TO DISMISS

CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants Duffy Crane and Hauling, Inc., Duffy Holdings, LLC, Duffy Crane, Inc.'s (collectively, "Duffy") Amended Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 20). For the following reasons, the Duffy's Motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises from an injury that Plaintiff Franklyn A. Jenkins suffered during the unloading of a heavy piece of equipment from his truck on February 12, 2010. Jenkins had transported the equipment from Colorado to Minnesota and alleges that the equipment was improperly loaded. He also claims that during the transport, the equipment shifted. Duffy, a Colorado Corporation, had loaded the equipment into Jenkins's two-level flat-bed trailer. Jenkins suffered catastrophic injuries when the equipment fell onto him as it was being unloaded in Minneapolis.

On May 9. 2011. Jenkins filed suit in Minnesota state court alleging negligence and negligence per se against Duffy and other defendants. Jenkins v. Immedia, Inc., Duffy Crane, Inc., American Transport, Inc., and XTRA Lease, LLC, No. 62-CV-11-5524. Duffy moved to dismiss itself from the litigation based on lack of personal jurisdiction and, in the alternative, for summary judgment on the merits of Jenkins's claims. (Doc. # 20. at 54.) The state trial court granted Duffy's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, finding that it did not have sufficient minimum contacts with Minnesota to be subject to the jurisdiction of that court. The state court went on to reach the merits of Duffy's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the claims against Duffy on that basis as well. (Doc. # 21-1, at 54-58.) Plaintiff sought appellate review in the Minnesota Court of Appeals of the state trial court's decision to reach the merits of Duffy's summary judgment motion after deciding that it did not have personal jurisdiction over Duffy.[1] On January 22, 2013, the Minnesota Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal as premature, finding that because Jenkins's claims against the other defendants were still pending, the order on personal jurisdiction and summary judgment was interlocutory in nature and not immediately appealable. (Doc. # 20-1, at 59-63.)

On February 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant action against Duffy pursuant to this Court's power to hear diversity jurisdiction claims. (Doc. # 1.) Meanwhile, the state court litigation against the other defendants is still ongoing, but currently stayed pending a Minnesota Supreme Court decision regarding Minnesota negligence law.

Duffy moved to dismiss this action on res judicata, collateral estoppel, and statute of limitations grounds. In the alternative, Duffy asks that the Court stay these proceedings under the Colorado River abstention doctrine. (Doc. # 20.) Jenkins responds to these claims aid further argues that the state court's decision is void for want of personal jurisdiction. (Doc. # 21.) Having determined that Duffy's motion is ripe for review, the Court will address these contentions. The Court need not convert this motion to a summary judgment motion even though in rendering this decision it considers state court pleadings that are not included in the complaint.[2] Tenth Circuit has held that it is proper to consider prior state court pleadings when reviewing a motion to dismiss because the state court pleadings are matters of public record. See Rose v. Utah State Bar, 471 Fed.Appx. 818, 2012 WL 975422, *1 (Mar. 23, 2012 10th Cir.) (order and judgment holding that it was proper for district court to take judicial notice of earlier state court proceedings and not convert the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment); Amphibious Partners, LLC v. Redman, 534 F.3d 1357, 1361-62 (10th Cir. 2008): see also Q Int'l, Courier, Inc. v. Smoak, 441 F.3d 214, 216 (4th Cir. 2006) ("When entertaining a motion to dismiss on the ground of res judicata. a court may take judicial notice of facts from a prior judicial proceeding when the res judicata defense raises no disputed issue of fact.").

II. VOID JUDGMENT

At the heart of this dispute is the validity of the Minnesota trial court's order granting both dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction and summary judgment on the merits. Thus, the Court will first address Jenkins's contentions that it should void that decision. Jenkins does not identify the procedural vehicle by which it contends this Court has authority to void an order by a state trial court. However, the Second Circuit has recognized that Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(4) allows a party to collaterally attack a judgment that is constitutionally defective. Collins v. Foreman, 729 F.2d 108, 111 (2d Cir. 1984). Rule 60(b)(4) states that a court may relieve a party "from a final judgment, order, or proceeding... [if] the judgment is void." Moore's explains:

Although the Rule is silent about collateral attack as a method of challenging the validity of a judgment, there can be little doubt that if the judgment is void... a collateral attack upon the void judgment may be made in any proceeding in any court where the validity of the judgment comes in issue.

12 Moore's Federal Practice ΒΆ 60.44[1][b] (3d ed. 2011). Citing a long line of case law, the Tenth Circuit also has stated that a judgment may be "attacked in a collateral proceeding in another jurisdiction on the basis that it was rendered without jurisdiction." United Slates v. Bigford, 365 F.3d 859, 865 (10th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted): see also Clay v. Sun River Min. Co., 302 F.2d 599, 602 (10th Cir. 1962) (finding a state court default judgment void): Daniels v. Thomas, 225 F.2d 795, 798 (10th Cir. 1955) (state court judgment not void where it had jurisdiction over the subject matter and parties). The Circuit went on to explain:

The modern iteration of this constitutional rule is that "a judgment rendered in violation of due process is void in the rendering state and not entitled to full faith and credit elsewhere." World-Wile Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286. 291. 100 S.Ct. 559, 62 L.Ed.2d 490 (1980) (citing Pennoyer, 95 U.S. at 732-33). With respect to a state court's power to render a valid personal judgment against a nonresident defendant. "due process" requires "that the defendant be given adequate notice of the suit." per Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306. 313-14. 70 S.Ct. 652. 94 L.Ed. 865 (1950), and "be subject to the personal jurisdiction of the court" per International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945). World-Wide Volkswagen, 444 U.S. at 291, 100 S.Ct. 559.

Bigford, 365 F.3d at 866. Although relief from a void judgment is mandatory, "[r]elief under this rule is extraordinary and may only be granted in exceptional circumstances.'" Marcus Food Co. v. DiPanfilo, 671 F.3d 1159, 1166 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting Dronsejko v. Thornton, 632 F.3d 658, 664 (10th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

This Court does not endorse the Minnesota trial court's methodology of ruling on the merits of Jenkins's claims after it had determined it did not have personal jurisdiction over Duffy. The Court further recognizes "the longstanding proposition that judgments rendered by a court lacking jurisdiction are void." Bigford. 365 F.3d at 865 (citing Burnham v. Super. Ct. of Cal., 495 U.S. 604, 608 (1990); Williams v. Life Say. & Loan, 802 F.2d 1200, 1202 (10th Cir. 1986)); see further In re Four Seasons Sec. Laws Litig., 502 F.2d 834, 842 (10th Cir. 1974) ("[A] judgment is not void merely because it is erroneous, but only if the court which rendered it lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter, or of the parties, or acted in a manner inconsistent with due process of law.") "Traditionally [this] proposition was embodied in the phrase coram non judice, before a person not a judge'-meaning, in effect, that the proceeding in question was not a judicial proceeding because lawful judicial authority was not present, and could therefore not ...


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