The World in U.S. Courts: Spring 2016 - Personal Jurisdiction/Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA)/Forum Non Conveniens
Plaintiffs Mr. and Ms. Snegur were New York residents who had booked a vacation to the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall in Jamaica through a New York-based travel agency. While on vacation at the hotel, Ms. Snegur slipped and fell on a wet floor and sued the hotel, along with four other defendants, alleging that the floor was improperly maintained and charging the defendants with negligence.
Of the five defendants, the District Court in Brooklyn determined that only three were suable entities, finding one not suable because it is a place, and another not suable because it is a trademark. Of the suable defendants, Branch Development Ltd., a Jamaican entity, owns and operates the hotel. The second defendant, Iberostar Hoteles y Apartamentos, is a Spanish entity that indirectly owns the hotel. Finally, the third defendant, Grupo Iberostar, is a private association registered in Spain that owns the Iberostar Hotels and Resorts trademark. None of the defendants had offices, property, or bank accounts in New York.
The defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and the Court agreed with their arguments. First, the Court found that the defendants were not subject to personal jurisdiction under New York's long-arm statute because the alleged tort occurred in Jamaica, not New York, and the in-state activity of booking a room at the hotel through a travel agent was too remote from the alleged tort to sustain an action against the foreign hotel. Second, the Court rejected the Snegurs' argument that the defendants consented to personal jurisdiction by way of a legal notice on the hotel's website providing that the website's owner subjected itself to the courts of the user's legal residence for any dispute arising from use of the website. The Court concluded that the notice, on a website that provides promotional and booking services, did not cover a dispute arising from unrelated negligence at the hotel. Finally, the Court rejected the Snegurs' assertion that the defendants forfeited their personal jurisdiction challenge by engaging in pretrial activity before filing their motion to dismiss. Noting that the motion to dismiss was filed on the same day as the answer to the amended complaint, New York's cautious approach to finding waiver in cases challenging the application of the long arm statute, and the absence of prejudice to the plaintiffs, the Court declined to make a finding of forfeiture.