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Carmona v. Leo Ship Management Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

March 28, 2018

JOSE CARMONA, Plaintiff,
v.
LEO SHIP MANAGEMENT, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIM LAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Jose Carmona, filed this action on April 10, 2017, in the 151st Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas, against defendant, Leo Ship Management, Inc. ("LSM" or "Defendant"), asserting a claim for negligence under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.[1] On November 22, 2017, Defendant filed a Notice of Removal (Docket Entry No. 1). Pending before the court is Defendant Leo Ship Management, Inc.'s Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction and Memorandum in Support Thereof ("Defendant's Motion to Dismiss") (Docket Entry No. 3). On February 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed Plaintiff Jose Carmona's Response in Opposition to Defendant Leo Ship Management, Inc.'s Rule 12(b) (2) Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction ("Plaintiff's Response") (Docket Entry No. 10). For the reasons stated below, the court concludes that the Motion to Dismiss should be granted.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff was a stevedore working aboard the M/V KOMATSUSHIMA STAR.[2] Defendant was the vessel manager for the M/V KOMATSUSHIMA STAR and is a Philippine corporation with its principal place of business in Manila, Philippines.[3] Defendant managed and staffed the vessel pursuant to a Ship Management Agreement with the vessel owner, Lua Line S.A.[4] Plaintiff worked for John Tim Enterprises, LLC but alleges that the crew of the vessel "were employed by the Defendant" and "maintained active control over the vessel and the work of the longshoremen, including Plaintiff."[5] Plaintiff alleges that he was working in the vessel's hold placing straps on bundles of pipes for discharging activities when one of the bundles fell and injured his ankle.[6] Plaintiff observed a vessel crewmember inspect the cargo to be discharged and turn over the hold to Plaintiff for discharging.[7] Plaintiff alleges that the bundle was not properly stowed or bundled and that Defendant's negligence caused Plaintiff's injuries.[8] Defendant argues that the court lacks personal jurisdiction over it.

         II. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

         A. Standard of Review

         Dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). When a foreign defendant moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b) (2), "the plaintiff 'bears the burden of establishing the district court's jurisdiction over the defendant.'" Quick Technologies, Inc. v. Sage Group PLC, 313 F.3d 338, 343 (5th Cir. 2002), cert, denied, 124 S.Ct. 66 (2003) (quoting Mink v. AAAA Development LLC, 190 F.3d 333, 335 (5th Cir. 1999)). "When the district court rules on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction 'without an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff may bear his burden by presenting a prima facie case that personal jurisdiction is proper.'" Id. (quoting Wilson v. Belin, 20 F.3d 644, 648 (5th Cir.), cert, denied, 115 S.Ct. 322 (1994)). "In making its determination, the district court may consider the contents of the record before the court at the time of the motion, including 'affidavits, interrogatories, depositions, oral testimony, or any combination of the recognized methods of discovery.'" Id. at 344 (quoting Thompson v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 755 F.2d 1162, 1165 (5th Cir. 1985)) . The court must accept as true the uncontroverted allegations in the plaintiff's complaint and must resolve in favor of the plaintiff any factual conflicts. Guidry v. United States Tobacco Co., Inc., 188 F.3d 619, 625 (5th Cir. 1999) . However, the court is not obligated to credit conclusory allegations, even if uncontroverted. Panda Brandywine Corp. v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 253 F.3d 865, 869 (5th Cir. 2001). "Absent any dispute as to the relevant facts, the issue of whether personal jurisdiction may be exercised over a nonresident defendant is a question of law to be determined . . . by th [e] Court." Ruston Gas Turbines, Inc. v. Donaldson Co., Inc., 9 F.3d 415, 418 (5th Cir. 1993).

         B. Applicable Law

         A federal district court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant if "(1) the forum state's long-arm statute confers personal jurisdiction over that defendant; and (2) the exercise of personal jurisdiction comports with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." McFadin v. Gerber, 587 F.3d 753, 759 (5th Cir. 2009), cert, denied, 131 S.Ct. 68 (2010). Since the Texas long-arm statute extends as far as constitutional due process allows, the court considers only the second step of the inquiry. Id.

         Exercise of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant comports with federal due process guarantees when the nonresident defendant has established minimum contacts with the forum state, and the exercise of jurisdiction "does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" International Shoe Co. v. State of Washington, Office of Unemployment Compensation and Placement, 66 S.Ct. 154, 158 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 61 S.Ct. 339, 343 (1940)). Once a plaintiff satisfies these two requirements, a presumption arises that jurisdiction is reasonable, and the burden of proof and persuasion shifts to the defendant opposing jurisdiction to present "a compelling case that the presence of some other considerations would render jurisdiction unreasonable." Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 105 S.Ct. 2174, 2185 (1985). "The 'minimum contacts' inquiry is fact intensive and no one element is decisive; rather the touchstone is whether the defendant's conduct shows that it 'reasonably anticipates being haled into court.'" McFadin, 587 F.3d at 759.

         "There are two types of 'minimum contacts': those that give rise to specific personal jurisdiction and those that give rise to general personal jurisdiction." Lewis v. Fresne, 252 F.3d 352, 358 (5th Cir. 2001). Because the parties agree that the court does not have general personal jurisdiction over Defendant, the relevant inquiry is whether the court can exercise specific jurisdiction over Defendant.[9]

         A court may exercise specific jurisdiction when the alleged injuries arise from or are directly related to the nonresident defendant's contacts with the forum state. Gundle Lining Construction Corp. v. Adams County Asphalt, Inc., 85 F.3d 201, 205 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 1872 n.8 (1984) and Quick Technologies, 313 F.3d at 344). To determine whether specific jurisdiction exists, a court must "examine the relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation to determine whether maintaining the suit offends traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Gundle Lining, 85 F.3d at 205. Even a single contact can support specific jurisdiction if the defendant "'purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws.'" Burger King, 105 S.Ct. at 2183. "The non-resident's 'purposeful availment' must be such that the defendant 'should reasonably anticipate being haled into court' in the forum state." Ruston Gas, 9 F.3d at 419 (citing World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 100 S.Ct. 559, 567 (1980)).

         There are three parts to a purposeful availment inquiry. First, only the defendant's contacts with the forum are relevant, not the unilateral activity of another party or a third person. Sangha v. Navicr8 ShipManagement Private Limited, 882 F.3d 96, 103 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 1122 (2014) ("We have consistently rejected attempts to satisfy the defendant-focused 'minimum contacts' inquiry by demonstrating contacts between the plaintiff (or third parties) and the forum State.")). Second, the contacts relied upon must be purposeful rather than random, fortuitous, or attenuated. Id. (citing Walden, 134 at 1123) . Finally, the defendant must seek some benefit, advantage, or profit by availing itself of the jurisdiction. Burger King, 105 S.Ct. at 2183. A defendant may purposefully avoid a particular forum by structuring its transactions in such a way as to neither profit from the forum's laws nor subject itself to jurisdiction there. Moki Mac River Expeditions v. Drugg, 221 S.W.3d 569, 575 (Tex. 2007) (citing Burger King, 105 S.Ct. at 2181-85). Since specific jurisdiction is claim specific, "[a] plaintiff bringing multiple claims that arise out of different forum contacts of the defendant must establish specific jurisdiction for each claim." Seiferth v. Helicopteros Atuneros, Inc., 472 F.3d 266, 274 (5th Cir. 2006).

         C. Analysis

         1. The Parties' Arguments

         Defendant argues that the court may not exercise personal jurisdiction because:

1. Defendant is not a resident of Texas;
2. The causes of action alleged by Plaintiff neither arise from, nor are they connected with, any purposeful acts or transactions that Defendant performed in Texas;
3. Defendant has not purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the State of Texas, and, as a result, has not invoked the benefits or protections of the laws of the State of Texas;
4. Defendant does not have the requisite minimum contact with Texas such that it would have fair warning that a particular activity might subject it to jurisdiction in a court in this State; and 5. The exercise of personal jurisdiction over Defendant would offend traditional notions of fair play and ...

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