The World in U.S. Courts: Spring 2015 - Personal Jurisdiction
Plaintiff Zibari, a transplant surgeon, was a member of Defendant International College of Surgeons ("ICS" or "the College"), a private global organization of surgeons and surgical specialists. The College is a non-profit organization organized under the laws of the District of Columbia with its principal place of business in Chicago, Illinois. Twenty-two of its 8,000 members are located in Louisiana, and the College receives $2,915 in annual membership fees from Louisiana. In October 2012, Zibari emailed several members of ICS to express his concerns about the organization's financial transparency and the seemingly inappropriate control exerted by some of the College's governing members. As a result of the email, a grievance committee comprised of ICS's leadership convened in Taiwan and ultimately expelled Zibari from the College. In April 2013, Zibari filed a petition in state court in his home state of Louisiana seeking various forms of relief to prevent the College from publishing or attempting to publish the fact of his expulsion. ICS removed the case to federal court in April 2014. In May 2014, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Zibari's claims, claiming, among other bases, lack of personal jurisdiction. Various governing members of ICS were named individual defendants in the case, and are domiciled outside of the U.S. None own property in, have business interests in, or maintain financial accounts in Louisiana.
The District Court observed that jurisdiction over the non-U.S. defendants would exist if consistent with the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It stated that this test would be satisfied if: (1) the defendant has purposely availed himself of the protections and benefits of the forum state by establishing "minimum contacts" with the state; and (2) the exercise of personal jurisdiction comports with "fair play and substantial justice."
The District Court first found that the defendants' contacts with Louisiana were insufficiently substantial, continuous, and systematic to confer general personal jurisdiction—meaning jurisdiction that would allow any claim to be brought against them whether or not related to their conduct in Louisiana. The District Court then observed that specific personal jurisdiction would be found if (1) sufficient (i.e., non-random fortuitous or attenuated) pre-litigation connections existed between the non-resident defendant and the forum; (2) the connection had been purposefully established by the defendant; and (3) the plaintiff's cause of action arises out of or is related to the defendant's forum contacts.
The District Court concluded that the test had not been met as to any individual defendant, finding their contacts with Louisiana either limited or non-existent. It further found that Zibari's cause of action stemmed from the Taiwanese grievance hearing that resulted in his expulsion. In addition, there was no evidence that Zibari's expulsion was ever publicized in Louisiana so as to cause him injury in the State. As a result, the Court concluded that the action did not arise from any actions by Defendants in Louisiana. Because Zibari failed to allege sufficient minimal contact between Defendants and Louisiana, the Court did not reach the question of whether the exercise of jurisdiction would comport with fair play and substantial justice.