District Court Finds No Personal Jurisdiction over Airline that Sold Tickets in New York Without Further Contact with the Forum

The World in U.S. Courts: Fall 2015 - Personal Jurisdiction/Forum Non Conveniens

Cordice v. LIAT Airlines, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, September 22, 2015

Dorothy Cordice sued LIAT Airlines after an employee spilled hot water on her lap during a flight from Trinidad and Tobago to St. Vincent. LIAT moved for summary judgment, arguing that the New York District Court lacked personal jurisdiction over it.

The Court began by examining whether general personal jurisdiction could be exercised over LIAT. Because LIAT was incorporated under the laws of Antigua and Barbuda and had its principal place of business in Antigua, general personal jurisdiction over LIAT would  be available only under extraordinary circumstances—if the airline's contacts with New York were otherwise "so continuous and systematic . . . that it [was] essentially at home" in the State. As to that question, Cordice alleged only that she bought her ticket in New York, and the Court held that fact alone was not enough to render LIAT "at home" in New York. The Court therefore concluded it lacked general personal jurisdiction over LIAT.

The Court next analyzed potential grounds for exercising specific personal jurisdiction over LIAT. First, it noted that New York law would support the exercise of specific jurisdiction where a cause of action arises out of the transaction of any business within the State. This requires an "articulable nexus or substantial relationship" between the business transacted and the cause of action. While Plaintiff alleged she purchased her ticket in New York, the Court cited precedent holding that the mere purchase of a ticket does not create a substantial enough connection to alleged violations of law occurring later, on the trip for which the ticket was bought. The Court thus held there was no nexus or substantial connection between the transaction and cause of action.

Next, the Court observed that New York law also supports the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction where a defendant's actions outside New York cause an injury within the State. Although Cordice alleged that her symptoms persisted after she returned to New York, she alleged that she was injured elsewhere, and so this basis for jurisdiction was also unavailable. 

Finally, the Court considered whether personal jurisdiction over LIAT was permitted under federal law. Under this standard, personal jurisdiction may exist over a non-U.S. defendant for claims under federal law if the defendant has sufficient contact with the U.S. as a whole to satisfy the requirements of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, even if it lacks sufficient contact with any individual forum State for jurisdiction otherwise to be appropriate. The Court noted that LIAT did have contacts with the U.S., including bank accounts and flights servicing Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It concluded, however, that those contacts were insufficient to render LIAT "essentially at home" in the U.S. (which would support general personal jurisdiction) and were not connected in any way with Cordice's claims (which would support specific personal jurisdiction). 

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