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Civil Practice – Personal Jurisdiction – Unincorporated Association – Baseball Team Owner – Intellectual Property


Since plaintiff’s claims arise out of an unincorporated association’s alleged use of photographs of a Charleston baseball stadium, the court has specific jurisdiction over the unincorporated association, which has as a “core business” the ownership of a Minor League Baseball team in Charleston. Plaintiff need not name the association’s members individually as defendants.

The court denies defendant The Goldklang Group’s (TGG’s) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Under South Carolina law, “all unincorporated associations may be sued … under the name and style by which they are usually known without naming the individual members of the association.” S.C. Code Ann. § 15-5-160. An unincorporated association is a body of individual persons organized without a charter for the prosecution of some common enterprise. Section 15-5-160 permits a plaintiff to “bring the members of an association before the court without naming and serving process upon them individually.” Therefore, as an unincorporated association, defendant TGG can be sued.

Defendants argue that TGG exists only as a “branding strategy” and a “loose affiliation of minor league baseball teams with overlapping ownership.

Plaintiff submitted multiple screen shots from TGG’s website, which states that it is a “sports entertainment consulting and management firm” that was formed as an “investment partnership” to acquire “controlling interests in three Minor League Baseball franchises,” including the Charleston RiverDogs, whose logo is shown on the page. The page goes on to state that TGG has “participated in the construction and/or financing of three minor league stadiums,” listing Charleston as one of their projects.

Further, the webpage indicates that it is copyrighted by “The Goldklang Group.” The website additionally states that the RiverDogs play “under their Goldklang Group ownership” and that TGG continues to “oversee the club.” TGG, on their website and other job search websites, also posts job openings for the RiverDogs. TGG additionally has set up an officer structure, with Marv Goldklang listed as Chairman, Jeff Goldklang as President and Michael Goldklang as General Counsel and Senior Vice President.

Plaintiff has clearly carried his burden to make a prima facie showing of specific jurisdiction. First, as TGG has overseen the RiverDogs by forming an investment partnership to acquire the club, participating in construction and financing for the stadium, and continuing to direct hiring at the RiverDogs, it has purposefully availed itself of conducting activities in South Carolina. These clearly constitute sufficient minimum contacts.

Second, as the complaint’s allegations arise from an allegedly unauthorized use of a photograph of the stadium for marketing and other business purposes, the alleged claims arise from TGG’s contacts with the state related to their “core business” of “[operating] … its proprietary clubs and year-round management of their associated venues.” Finally, personal jurisdiction is reasonable here, as the dispute is centered on photographs allegedly taken in South Carolina.

While the complaint does not allege that either plaintiff or TGG is a resident of South Carolina, the risk of prejudice to TGG is low as it operates a “core business” in South Carolina, namely, the RiverDogs. Much of the evidence for this case also likely remains in South Carolina as the photographs were taken and used in South Carolina. Further, plaintiff has an interest in his chosen forum, and, as to efficiency and the shared interests of states, it would be unreasonable and inefficient for the claims against TGG to proceed in a separate forum from those against the defendant RiverDogs. Therefore, the court has specific jurisdiction over defendant TGG.

Defendants acknowledge that TGG’s putative members have an ownership interest and operate the RiverDogs. South Carolina law specifically seeks to avoid having to name each member of an unincorporated associated where persons have joined together in a common enterprise. Instead, South Carolina allows parties to bring an association before the court as a group.

Ultimately, the liability of the individual members of the organization will be decided by the substantive law. However, the court has jurisdiction over defendant TGG.

Motion denied.

Oppenheimer v. The Goldklang Group (Lawyers Weekly No. 002-030-19, 7 pp.) (Richard Gergel, J.) 2:18-cv-02691. Meliah Bowers Jefferson and Wallace Lightsey for plaintiff; John McElwaine and Andrew Marvin Connor for defendants. D.S.C.

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