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FHM Prevails on Jurisdiction

On June 17, 2017, there was a collision between the USS Fitzgerald and the ACX Crystal in Japanese territorial waters.  Following the collision, the estates of seven U.S. Navy sailors and more than forty current and former U.S. Navy sailors filed two lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, demanding $287 million in damages.

We filed pre-answer motions to dismiss the lawsuits, arguing that the Court could not exercise personal jurisdiction over our client, a Japanese corporation that has its principal place of business in Japan.  The District Court granted our motions.  Alcide v. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha  19-13691 (E.D.LA 2020) and  Douglass v. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha 19-13688 (E.D.LA 2020).  On April 30, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decisions.  Stephen Douglas, et al. v. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha, 20-30382 c/w 20-30379 (5th Cir. 2021).

There were no allegations of specific personal jurisdiction over our client, and we argued that Plaintiffs could not establish that our client was “essentially at home” in the U.S. under Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117 (2014) and its progeny, including recent Fifth Circuit precedent addressing the issue.  In an attempt to circumvent Daimler, Plaintiffs argued that Rule 4(k)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provided an independent basis to exercise personal jurisdiction over our client.  Plaintiffs further asserted that there is a more flexible due process requirement in admiralty cases and that a different standard should be applied based on the type of admiralty claim involved. 

Below, the Court rejected Plaintiffs’ arguments.  Noting it was constrained by U.S. Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent, it dismissed the lawsuits.  The Court also denied Plaintiffs’ motion for jurisdiction discovery, holding that discovery would not show that our client was “at home” in the U.S. 

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decisions.  The Court acknowledged it was bound by its prior precedent and upheld the District Court’s decisions to dismiss the lawsuits. Plaintiffs have sought rehearing en banc.

The motions below and on appeal were handled by Freehill partners Thomas Canevari and Eric Matheson and associate Cody King, with Robert Murphy and Peter Tompkins of Murphy, Rogers, Sloss, Gambel and Tompkins as local New Orleans counsel.