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Siverls-Dunham v. Lee

November 13, 2006

VERONICA SIVERLS-DUNHAM, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PROPOSED AMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JULIA MARGARET SIVERLS, DECEASED, ALLEN SIVERLS, ROBERT SIVERLS, STEPHEN SIVERLS, AELEPHIA ANN GELBER, JAMES SIVERLS, JOHN SIVERLS, VIRGINA WILSON AND RONALD SIVERLS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SEUNG HUEN LEE (A/K/A GRAND MASTER SEUNG HUEN LEE), ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: P. Kevin Castel, Usdj

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs, all living siblings of the decedent, Dr. Julia Siverls-Dunham, Ph.D., allege that beginning in December 2001, decedent was actively solicited to join the "Dahn Hak Cult". They further allege that, as a direct result of Dr. Siverls-Dunham's association with the Cult, she was drugged and killed during a hike in the course of a training retreat at the "Dahn Hak Cult" headquarters in Sedona, Arizona.

Throughout the complaint and affidavits submitted on this motion, plaintiffs refer to all defendants jointly, both moving and non-moving, as either the "Dahn Hak Cult" (the "Cult") or the "Dahn Organization". The complaint alleges that the corporate and individual defendants committed certain "wrongful acts" which ultimately lead to the death of plaintiffs' decedent in Sedona, Arizona in July 2003. Plaintiffs further allege that defendants mishandled the decedent's body, causing severe emotional distress. Plaintiffs assert claims for wrongful death and for intentional infliction of emotional distress against all defendants.

Defendants Tao Fellowship, Dahn Institute, Inc., Healing Society, Inc., BR Consulting NJ, Inc., Dahn Center, Inc., Dahn Hak Sun Won Co., Ltd. and Dr. Seung Huen Lee (individually, "Moving Defendant" and, collectively, the "Moving Defendants" or "Movants") now move to dismiss all claims against them, asserting, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2), Fed. R. Civ. P., that this court lacks personal jurisdiction over them. Plaintiffs contend that this court has personal jurisdiction over all Moving Defendants under CPLR § 301 or, alternatively, under CPLR § 302(a)(1). For the reasons discussed below, I grant defendants' motions.

I. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT

The complaint in this action was filed on July 12, 2005 in Supreme Court, BronX County, and removed to this court by defendant Mago Earth, Inc. ("Mago") on August 25, 2005 on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. On January 25, 2006, plaintiffs moved to remand this action to state court citing a lack of unanimity among the defendants in removing the action. I denied that motion on February 27, 2006, finding that this non-jurisdictional defect in removal had been waived by plaintiffs. See Siverls-Dunham v. Seung Huen Lee,2006 WL 510504 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 27, 2006).

At a pretrial conference on March 17, 2006, I granted the plaintiffs leave to conduct discovery during a 60-day period, limited to the factual basis for personal jurisdiction over the defendants. Pursuant to the requests of counsel, I extended the period for jurisdictional discovery until August 4, 2006. Following the close of the jurisdictional discovery period, the Moving Defendants filed their motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

On October 12, 2006, defendant Bell Rock Development Co., an Arizona corporation which is authorized to do business in New York, withdrew its motion to dismiss with permission of this court. According to an affidavit submitted on behalf of defendant Bell Rock, it has merged with Dahn Meditation, Inc. and Dahn Meditation, Inc. is no longer an independent corporate entity. (Kong Aff. ¶ 3) Dahn Center Sedona is another name under which non-movant Bell Rock does business. (Kong Aff. ¶ 4) Defendant Dahn L.L.C. was dismissed with prejudice on February 23, 2006 as having been improperly and fraudulently joined by plaintiffs. (2/23/06 Order) All claims against Dahn Hak Sun Won Co., a Korean corporation, were discontinued with prejudice on August 28, 2006 by stipulation of the parties. (4/28/06 Order) In addition, the court notes that defendants John Doe (1), (2) and (3) have never been served with the complaint and the one-hundred and twenty day period, set forth in Rule 4(m), Fed. R. Civ. P, has expired. Accordingly, the Doe defendants are dismissed.*fn1

II. BACKGROUND

A. The Complaint

According to plaintiffs' complaint, the "Dahn Hak Cult" is comprised of "several multinational for-profit and non-profit business entities and organizations" which include, but are not limited to, the organizations named as defendants in this action. (Cmpl. ¶ 3) The complaint alleges that the individual defendant in this action, Seung Huen Lee, is the founder, leader and controller of the Cult. (Cmpl. ¶ 11) Plaintiffs assert that the Cult poses as a South Korean Dahn Yoga exercise program, employing meditation and spiritual retreat, which is based on the philosophy and beliefs of Dr. Lee. (Cmpl. ¶ 3) There are now over seventy Dahn Hak Yoga centers in the United States, eleven of which were operating in New York at the time plaintiffs' cause of action arose.

Plaintiffs allege that the Cult recruits new members through advertisements and word-of-mouth solicitation by existing members, and that new members are "lured in" with free Dahn Yoga classes after which they are "pressured to take private Dahn Hak lessons and drink spiritual tea that Defendants lace with drugs." (Cmpl. ¶¶ 7, 9) Student recruits are also allegedly pressured to attend expensive lectures and training seminars, some of which are in Sedona, Arizona, at which they are "drugged, exploited for money and brain-washed" by Cult leaders. (Cmpl. ¶¶ 6, 9-10) Plaintiffs contend that it is during one of these training seminars that decedent died.

Dr. Siverls-Dunham was a resident of New York and a Professor in the Department of Social Sciences at Queensborough Community College in Queens, New York. (Cmpl. ¶ 44) A sufferer of chronic back pain, decedent practiced yoga, used holistic remedies and watched her diet. (Cmpl. ¶ 57) Plaintiffs allege that decedent was solicited by the Cult when she enrolled in yoga classes at the Queens Dan Hak Center in December 2001. (Cmpl. ¶ 58) Plaintiffs further allege that as a result of her involvement with the Queens Dahn Hak Center, Dr. Siverls-Dunham was pressured to enroll in yoga retreats, including an advanced retreat at the Dahn Hak Sedona Center. (Cmpl. ¶ 62) During this retreat, plaintiffs contend that Dr. Siverls-Dunham and others had their food laced with drugs, including marijuana and methadone, and were pressured to take part in difficult and dangerous rituals and tests to prove their devotion to the Cult and to achieve the stature of Dahn Hak "Master". (Cmpl. ¶¶ 63, 64) While plaintiffs allege that defendants were generally responsible for leading these activities, it is unclear from the face of the complaint who, among the defendants, is alleged to have been in charge. One of the activities allegedly lead by defendants was a hike through the Arizona desert which took place on July 12, 2003. Dr. Siverls-Dunham is alleged to have collapsed during the hike and died of dehydration and exposure. (Cmpl. ¶ 95)

B. Evidence on this Motion

Based, in part, upon evidence developed during the jurisdictional discovery period, plaintiffs have submitted affidavits in opposition to the Moving Defendants' motions. Plaintiffs' description of the operation and structure of the "Dahn Organization" is heavily reliant on the affidavit of Robert Rueb. Rueb was employed by non-movant Bell Rock at two New York Dahn Yoga Centers, the Woodside Dahn Center and later the Syosset Dahn Center, as a yoga instructor, "healer" and "Master". (Rueb Aff. ¶¶ 1, 49) Rueb was on the hike in July 2003 when Dr. Siverls-Dunham died and his affidavit is descriptive of that event. There is no sworn assertion, either in Rueb's two-hundred and thirteen paragraph affidavit or elsewhere, that Rueb and Dr. Siverls-Dunham had met prior to their arrival in Arizona or that Dr. Siverls-Dunham ever confided in Rueb or explained her motivation for traveling from New York to Arizona. While plaintiffs also submit the affidavits of Veronica Siverls-Dunham and Robert Siverls-Dunham, both siblings of the decedent, those affidavits are not informative on the subject of personal jurisdiction. The affidavit of Veronica Siverls-Dunham describes her experience collecting the decedent's car and personal belongings. Robert Siverls-Dunham's affidavit describes his trip to Sedona, Arizona to recover decedent's body. Both affidavits also discuss the decedent's intention to give up all of her "worldly possessions".

According to Rueb's affidavit, the Cult is run by Dr. Lee from his headquarters in Sedona, Arizona (the "Sedona Retreat"). The Cult is purportedly a "family business" and Dr. Lee acknowledged during his testimony that Moving Defendant BR Consulting employs Dr. Lee's son ...


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