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 were successful in having the cases dismissed at the District Court on a pre-answer motion.  On April 30, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decisions.  Stephen Douglass, et al. v. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha, 20-30382 c/w 20-30379 (5th Cir. 2021).

Plaintiffs appealed to the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal, which Affirmed that the Circuit Precedent in the Fifth Circuit remains consistent with every other Circuit to have decided the issue of general personal jurisdiction under the Fifth Amendment. Stephen Douglas, et al. v. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha, 20-30382 c/w 20-30379  5th Cir. Aug. 16, 2022).  (Read our earlier post).

Plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case.   There were two amicus briefs submitted in support of the Petition, by The Association of Transport Law Professionals and by a group of Civil Procedure Professors.  We opposed the petition and on March 20, 2022, the Supreme Court denied certiorari.   The petition, opposition and the amicus briefs are available on the Supreme Court docket.

Though a denial of a petition for certiorari does not express an opinion of the Court, its effect here is to leave in place the en banc decision of the Fifth Circuit which itself left undisturbed the thorough and well-reasoned opinions of the district court on our original motions. (District Court decisions, Alcide, Douglass).    

The Fifth Circuit en banc decision, sets limits on general personal jurisdiction for claims against a foreign corporation that arise outside of the United States, where the claim does not arise from activities of the corporation in the United States.  The same at home standard used under the Fourteenth Amendment analysis applies in a Fifth Amendment due process analysis and there is no special personal jurisdiction test for admiralty disputes.

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