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Charles Reeve v. Ocean Ships

July 27, 2011

CHARLES REEVE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OCEAN SHIPS, INC. AND THE UNITED STATES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Charles Reeve ("Reeve") brought the instant complaint alleging he was injured on while working on the crew of the USNS Sisler, a noncombat ship manned by employees of Ocean Ships, Inc. ("Ocean Ships"). Before the Court are Defendant Ocean Ships' Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction and Defendant United States of America's Motion to Dismiss or Transfer for Improper Venue. For the reasons contained herein, both motions are granted, and the case is dismissed in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

Reeve, then an employee of Ocean Ships, contends he was injured on December 28, 2009, while working as a deckhand on the USNS Sisler. According to his Complaint, the unsecured bow of a launch boat trapped his foot between the launch boat and the stern ladder of the ship. At the time of the injury, the ship was docked at a port in Cartenga, Spain. Reeve alleges that he suffered severe and permanent injuries to his ankle, resulting in lost wages, lost earning capacity, and pain and suffering. Reeve's four-count Complaint alleges Jones Act negligence against Ocean Ships (Count I), breach of its warranty of seaworthiness by Ocean Ships (Count II), breach of its duty of maintenance and cure by Ocean Ships (Count III), and a breach of the Public Vessels Act, 46 U.S.C. § 31102, by the United States (Count IV).

Ocean Ships moves to dismiss under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction, contending that it does no business within the State of Illinois and Reeve has failed to show that his injuries resulted from any specific contacts it had with the state. The United States moves to dismiss or transfer for improper venue under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(3), arguing that Reeve was obligated to file his suit against it in the location where the vessel was found at the time the suit was filed, which was New York.

II. PERSONAL JURISDICTION OVER OCEAN SHIPS

The plaintiff has the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction, but where the issue is raised by a motion to dismiss decided without an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdictional facts. Tamburo v. Dworkin, 601 F.3d 693, 700--01 (7th Cir. 2010). The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint and resolve any disputes in favor of the plaintiff. Id. However, the Court also will accept as true any unrebutted facts in Defendant's affidavit. Gulley v. Moynihan, 10 C 4435, 2011 WL 2461813, at *1 (N.D. Ill. June 17, 2011).

Here, the Court has jurisdiction over Reeve's Complaint on the basis of federal question and admiralty jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1333. In such a case, this Court has jurisdiction if a court of the state in which it sits would have jurisdiction. Casteel v. Maryland Marine, Inc., 09 CV 0078, 2009 WL 972368, at *2 (S.D. Ill. April 9, 2009). So the question is whether Oceans Ships is subject to the jurisdiction of Illinois courts.

Illinois' long-arm statute permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction to the limits of the Illinois and United States constitutions. 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/2-209(c). Because there is no difference between the two constitutional limits, the Court must consider whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Ocean Ships would violate federal due process. Mobile Anesthesiologists Chi., LLC v. Anesthesia Assoc. of Houston Metroplex, P.A., 623 F.3d 440, 443 (7th Cir. 2010). In order to comport with due process, the defendant must have such minimum contacts with a state "that the maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted). A defendant cannot be hauled into a distant court unless it has done something that would make it reasonably anticipate that it may be sued in the forum state. Id. at 444.

The key question is whether the defendant has "purposefully availed itself" of the benefits and protections of acting in the forum state. Id. (citing Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958)). Personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant may be either general or specific, depending on the number and nature of the defendant's contacts with the forum state. Id.

Oceans Ships has submitted an affidavit from Linda Jester ("Jester"), its claims administrator, asserting that Ocean Ships is a Delaware corporation. Its only office is located in Houston, Texas. It does not own property in Illinois and does not advertise here or otherwise conduct business here, according to the affidavit.

A. General Jurisdiction

Illinois courts may exercise general jurisdiction over defendants when the defendant's business contacts with the state are continuous and systematic. Russell v. SNFA, 946 N.E.2d 1076, 1082 (Ill. App. Ct. 2011). Here, Reeve contends that Ocean Ships hired him knowing that he was an Illinois resident. But this is not enough to establish general jurisdiction in light of Jester's affidavit, the truthfulness of which Reeve does not challenge. Reeve relies on Bass v. Energy Transp. Corp., 787 F.Supp. 530 (D. Md. 1992), in which the Maryland district court found it had general personal jurisdiction over a vessel owner that had a 15-year relationship with a Maryland-based union through which it hired all of its unlicensed seamen. ...


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