Eleventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Tort and Breach of Contract Claims Against Foreign Tour and Excursion Operator for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

The World in U.S. Courts: Summer 2017 - Personal Jurisdiction/Forum Non Conveniens

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Wolf v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, March 28, 2017

The plaintiff brought tort and breach of contract claims against non-US resident tour and excursion operator “The Original Canopy Tour” (OCT) and Celebrity Cruises after being injured during an offshore zip-lining activity in Costa Rica. The District Court in Florida found no personal jurisdiction over the defendants, and in this decision the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Court of Appeals noted that Florida’s long-arm statute permitted the assertion of personal jurisdiction over a defendant in two ways: 1) through specific personal jurisdiction, where suits arise out of or relate to a defendant’s contact with Florida; or 2) through general personal jurisdiction, where the defendant has engaged in “substantial and not isolated activity” in the State.

As relevant here, the Court of Appeals found no basis for the assertion of specific jurisdiction because the plaintiff alleged that OCT’s tortious act was committed in Costa Rica and so his claim could not have arisen out of the defendants’ contacts with the State.

The Court of Appeals likewise found no basis for the assertion of general personal jurisdiction over OCT. General jurisdiction requires “continuous and systematic” affiliations with the State such that a defendant is “essentially at home in the forum State.” Moreover, outside of having a corporation’s place of incorporation or principal place of business in the forum State (which was not the case as to either defendant), general jurisdiction extends over a corporation’s operations in that forum only in the “exceptional case.” The Court of Appeals found no basis for applying such an exception.

The plaintiff asked in the alternative for “jurisdictional discovery,” but the Court of Appeals agreed that the trial court had reasonably denied this request, which had been made over four months after he filed his complaint and had not specified the information he sought or how that information would bolster his allegations.

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