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Casteel v. Maryland Marine

April 9, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge


REAGAN, District Judge

I. Introduction

On September 14, 2008, Barry Casteel sustained injuries while working as a crew member on the M/V Sandy Point, a navigable vessel owned and operated by Casteel's employer, Maryland Marine, Inc. ("MMI"). More specifically, a fight broke out between two other crew members when the Sandy Point was near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at mile marker 167. Casteel injured his low back when he attempted to restrain one of the combatants.

Casteel filed an admiralty suit in this District Court under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, and general maritime law of the United States.

Via amended complaint filed on February 12, 2009, Casteel claims that MMI breached its duties under the Jones Act to provide him a reasonably safe place to work and seaworthy vessel. Casteel also claims that MMI breached its duty not to retaliate against him for the commencement of this action, but, in derogation and breach of that duty, discharged him from a light duty position following service of the Complaint. Casteel also directs claims of maintenance and cure against MMI.

Now before the Court is MMI's combined Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, or in the alternative, motion to dismiss for improper venue or, as a third alternative, section 1404(a) motion to transfer venue (Doc. 6). Plaintiff responds that he does not object to this case being transferred to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.

II. Analysis

FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12(b)(2) authorizes dismissal based on lack of personal jurisdiction, and FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12(b)(3) authorizes dismissal based on improper venue. MMI seeks dismissal on both grounds, so the Court assesses them each, turning first to the issue of personal jurisdiction.

Casteel's February 2009 amended complaint does not include facts alleging personal jurisdiction. Of course, a complaint need not do so. Steel Warehouse of Wisconsin, Inc. v. Leach, 154 F.3d 712, 715 (7th Cir. 1998). Once a defendant moves to dismiss a complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, however, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating the existence of personal jurisdiction. Purdue Research Foundation v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, S.A., 338 F.3d 773, 782 (7th Cir. 2003), citing Central States, S.E. & S.W. Areas Pension Fund v. Reimer Express World Corp., 230 F.3d 934, 939 (7th Cir. 2000).

Assuming no evidentiary hearing is held on the issue (i.e., if the district court resolves the dismissal motion based on the parties' written submissions), the plaintiff need only "make out a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction" to avoid Rule 12(b)(2) dismissal. Purdue, 338 F.3d at 782, citing Hyatt Int'l Corp. v. Coco, 302 F.3d 707, 713 (7th Cir. 2002). See also Nelson v. Park Indus., Inc., 717 F.2d 1120, 1123 (7th Cir. 1983). In evaluating whether the plaintiff has made this prima facie showing, the Court resolves in the plaintiff's favor all disputes concerning relevant facts presented in the record. Purdue, 338 F.3d at 782, quoting Nelson, 717 F.2d at 1123, and RAR, Inc. v. Turner Diesel, Ltd., 107 F.3d 1272, 1275 (7th Cir. 1997)(plaintiff "is entitled to have any conflicts in the affidavits resolved in its favor").

Personal jurisdiction involves a multi-layered, sometimes complex, analysis. Clearly, where a federal district court exercises diversity jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction lies "only if a court of the state in which it sits would have such jurisdiction." RAR, 107 F.3d at 1275. To answer this question, the court examines three "distinct obstacles to personal jurisdiction" -- (1) state statutory law, (2) state constitutional law, and (3) federal constitutional law. Id., 107 F.3d at 1276.

As to state statutory law, analysis focuses on the Illinois long-arm statute, 735 ILCS 5/2-209, which authorizes personal jurisdiction to the constitutional limits (by providing that an Illinois court may "exercise jurisdiction on any ... basis now or hereafter permitted by the Illinois Constitution and the Constitution of the United States"). Id.AccordHyatt, 302 F.3d at 713.

In the case at bar, Casteel's amended complaint invokes subject matter jurisdiction under the federal question statute (§ 1331) and the admiralty jurisdiction statute (§ 1333) -- not the diversity ...

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