Ecuadorian Doctor for Florida Cruise Line has Insufficient Connections to Florida to Support Assertion of General Personal Jurisdiction

The World in U.S. Courts: Summer 2017 - Personal Jurisdiction/Forum Non Conveniens | June.01.2017

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Ure v. Oceania Cruises, Inc., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, June 1, 2017

The plaintiffs, Diane and Thomas Ure, were passengers on board a cruise ship operated by defendant Ocaeana. The Ures’ sued one of the ship’s doctors, Fabian Bonilla, in US District Court in Florida, claiming malpractice in connection with treatment administered in international waters. Bonilla was a citizen and resident of Ecuador who never lived in Florida or owned or rented property there.

The Ures’ based personal jurisdiction on the allegations that Bonilla:

  • Was employed by Oceania, a Florida cruise line.

     

  • Attended occasional training within Florida

     

  • Consulted with Florida medical professionals while at sea

     

  • Used his friend’s Florida address as his mailing address and to obtain a Wells Fargo Bank account using that address

     

  • Had an both an employment contract with Oceania and a Wells Fargo account stipulating that disputes arising from those contracts were to be resolved in Florida courts.

     

The Ures asserted that the District Court had general or “all-purpose” jurisdiction over Bonilla under Florida’s “long-arm” statute, which is construed to be as expansive as permitted under the Due Process Clause of the US Constitution. A defendant is subject to general personal jurisdiction under this rule if he is “essentially at home” in the state—a standard that typically looks to a person’s permanent home, which in Bonilla’s case is Ecuador. Absent permanent residence in Florida, general jurisdiction requires wide ranging contacts with Florida that must be so “continuous and systematic” that the State is the equivalent of the person’s home. The Court found Bonilla’s contacts with Florida insufficient to meet this demanding test, and declined to exercise personal jurisdiction over him.

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