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April 30, 2018 Practice Points

Courts Continue to Dismiss Aviation Cases on Jurisdictional Grounds

By John Maggio and Zachary Groendyk

Over the past several months, defendants have successfully moved to dismiss cases for lack of personal jurisdiction by relying upon the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746, 761 (2014).

In April 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington (Seattle) dismissed defendants AirAsia Berhad and Artus S.A.S. from wrongful death litigation arising out of the crash of AirAsia Flight QZ 8501 into the Java Sea on December 28, 2014. The plaintiffs filed their action in Seattle where they reside, alleging subject-matter jurisdiction under the Multiparty, Multiforum Trial Jurisdiction Act. See 28 U.S.C. § 1369. Relying upon the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746, 761 (2014), the defendants successfully moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

In granting dismissal, the district court agreed that general jurisdiction was lacking because the defendants were not “at home” in the forum (in this case, the U.S.). See Sia v. AirAsia Berhad, No. C16-1692 TSZ, 2017 WL 1408172 (W.D. Wash. Apr. 20, 2017) (order granting AirAsia Berhad and Artus, S.A.S.’s motions to dismiss). The court’s determination that jurisdiction was lacking was based on the defendants’ affidavits establishing they were incorporated and had their principal places of business in foreign countries. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that certain domestic business activities, such as hosting a website on a U.S.-based server, rendered each of the defendants “essentially at home” in the United States for jurisdictional purposes, finding such contacts “minimal.” See id. at *3.

The district court also determined specific jurisdiction did not exist based on the plaintiffs’ failure to allege any causal connection between their claims and any U.S.-based conduct by either defendant. See id. at *4.

This decision follows the Northern District of Illinois’s dismissal of claims stemming from the same air crash in Siswanto v. Airbus Americas, Inc. in 2015 and 2016. The Siswanto case involved wrongful death claims against seven defendants, including the alleged owner of the aircraft and various component manufacturers. The Illinois litigation was dismissed after the court granted motions to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction and forum non conveniens. See Siswanto v. Airbus, 153 F. Supp. 3d 1024, 1026 (N.D. Ill. 2015) (memorandum opinion and order dismissing Airbus, S.A.S. for lack of personal jurisdiction); Siswanto v. Airbus Americas, Inc., No. 15-CV-5486, 2016 WL 7178459 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 9, 2016) (memorandum opinion and order granting Thales Avionics’ motion to dismiss); Siswanto v. Airbus Americas, Inc., No. 15-CV-5486, 2016 WL 7178460 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 9, 2016) (memorandum opinion and order dismissing several U.S.-based defendants on the basis of forum non conveniens).

In foreign air crash cases, it is likely that this trend of dismissals based upon lack of personal jurisdiction will continue, making it challenging for such litigation to obtain a foothold in U.S. courts.

John Maggio is a partner at Condon & Forsyth LLP in New York, New York, and Miami, Florida. Zachary Groendyk is an associate at the firm’s New York branch.

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