No Personal Jurisdiction in California Over Swiss Shipper Pursuant To Rule 4(k)(2) Where Claim Could Be Brought Against Shipper In New Jersey

The World in U.S. Courts: Winter 2018 - Personal Jurisdiction/Forum Non Conveniens

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Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. v. Swiss Shipping Line S.A.L, US District Court for the Northern District of California, November 30, 2017

The plaintiff Mitsui is an ocean common carrier that was hired by the defendant, Swiss Shipping Line (SSL), to transport various minimum quantities of goods from various ports on the East Coast of the US to Benin.  When the contractual minima were allegedly not satisfied, Mitsui invoiced SSL for contractual damages.  SSL did not pay, and Mitsui filed suit against SSL, a Swiss company, in California, alleging a federal claim of breach of maritime contract.  Personal jurisdiction was claimed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(2), which applies where a claim is brought under federal law and the defendant is not subject to jurisdiction in any one State but its contacts with the United States are, in the aggregate, sufficient to satisfy the Due Process Clause of the US Constitution.

SSL admitted that it was subject to jurisdiction in New Jersey with regard to the plaintiff’s claim and argued that it Rule 4(k)(2) did not thus apply.  The Court noted that a defendant may only claim it are subject to jurisdiction in another State where the facts bear that out, and concluded that the facts supported SSL’s assertion:  The relevant contract was negotiated and signed in New Jersey (where a Mitsui party was based) and provided for shipment from two ports in New Jersey.  The Court thus concluded that jurisdiction in California was not provided by Rule 4(k)(2) because SSL could be sued in New Jersey.

The Court also rejected Mitsui’s argument that general personal jurisdiction over SSL existed in California, finding no cause to deviate from the rule, applicable in all but “exceptional” circumstances, that general jurisdiction exists only where a corporation is organized or has its principal place of business.

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