Encounter in the Dominican Republic Leading to Sexually-Transmitted Diseases Suffered by New York Resident Does not Establish Personal Jurisdiction in New York

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

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Lebron v. Encarnacion, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, May 31, 2017

The plaintiff, Ashley Lebron, is a resident of New York State. The Defendant, Edwin Encarnacion, is a resident of the Dominican Republic and employed as a baseball player by the Toronto Blue Jays, a Canadian Major League Baseball team. Encarnacion took occasional trips to New York to play in professional baseball games against the Yankees and Mets. In February of 2016, Lebron and Encarnacion had an affair in the Dominican Republic that Lebron alleged infected her with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Lebron sued Encarnacion in federal court in New York, claiming jurisdiction over him based on her continuing injuries in New York and Encarnacion’s contacts with the State.

Lebron asserted that the District Court had personal jurisdiction over Encarnacion under New York State’s “long-arm” statute, which governs personal jurisdiction over non-residents of New York and applies even in federal court where the case is not based on a violation of a federal statute having its own jurisdictional provision. New York’s long-arm statute allows two types of personal jurisdiction – “all-purpose” (usually referred to as “general”) and “case-linked” (usually referred to as “specific”). In both situations, the requirements of the Due Process Clause of the US Constitution must also be satisfied.

The Court stated that all-purpose jurisdiction exists where a party, based on its connections to New York, is “essentially at home” in the State. Courts can exercise all-purpose jurisdiction regardless of the suit’s subject matter. By contrast, the Court noted that case-linked jurisdiction exists only where a party’s conduct in New York gives rise to the violations alleged. Lebron claimed that the court had both all-purpose and case-linked personal jurisdiction over Encarnacion.

The Court found that all-purpose (or general) jurisdiction could not be asserted against Encarnacion; he appeared in New York only as a visitor and could not be considered “at home” in the State. The Court added that, subject to “truly exceptional” exclusions, all-purpose jurisdiction requires an individual to live permanently within the State, not in another country, as did Encarnacion. The exceptions to this rule required in part, (1) “continuous and systematic contacts” within New York, or (2) a party’s full-time employee acting solely on its behalf within New York. Encarnacion’s professional baseball trips to New York over the years, by contrast, were indistinguishable from his equally numerous trips to sixteen other states. The schedule rendered Encarnacion’s trips insufficiently continuous and systematic to consider him at home in New York. Lebron also argued that all-purpose jurisdiction could be based on Encarnacion’s representation by a New York players’ union and his retention of a New York publicity firm, but the Court found these contacts insubstantial, noting that many professional baseball players had the same associations with the union and the agency. Those entities did not act specifically on Encarnacion’s behalf. As a result, there was no all-purpose jurisdiction.

The District Court also ruled that Encarnacion was not subject to case-linked jurisdiction. Case-linked jurisdiction requires that the “original event which caused the injury” take place within New York. Here, the event that allegedly caused the injury took place in the Dominican Republic. The Court distinguished other cases that had found case-linked jurisdiction based on the location where the plaintiff suffered injury (for example, people who contracted lung cancer from inhalation of asbestos) as involving injuries that were not caused by discrete events, as was alleged here. Finding no personal jurisdiction, the Court dismissed the case.

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