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Norman v. H&E Equipment Services, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 20, 2015



JOHN W. deGRAVELLES, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant E.I. DuPont De Nemours and Company's (hereinafter "DuPont") Motion Under Rule 12(b)(2) To Dismiss, or Alternatively, To Transfer, For Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Over DuPont; or, Alternatively, Motion Under 28 U.S.C. Section 1404 to Transfer Venue. (Doc. 5.) Plaintiff has opposed this Motion. (Doc. 8.) Defendant has filed a Reply Memorandum. (Doc. 11.) No oral argument is necessary.

Considering the foregoing, for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is denied. Defendant's Alternative Motion to Transfer Venue is granted.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed a Petition for Damages in state court seeking damages for injuries suffered on September 6, 2013 when a crane's jib allegedly malfunctioned and pinned the plaintiff against the crane. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff named as one of the defendants H & E Equipment Services, Inc. (hereafter, "H & E") a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Louisiana. (Doc. 10-2, p. 2) Plaintiff alleges that H & E sold and/or leased and/or maintained the crane at issue. Plaintiff alleges various negligent and grossly negligent acts collectively against all of the defendants: failure to inspect, maintain, and repair the crane; failure to warn of the crane's hazardous condition; failure to train and/or supervise their employees; failure to comply with applicable safety standards and OSHA regulations; and defectively designing and/or manufacturing the crane. (Doc. 10-2, p. 3.) Defendant DuPont removed the case to this court asserting subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, specifically alleging that the citizenship of H& E should be ignored because it was improperly joined. (Doc. 1, p. 3.) Thus, DuPont argued, 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b), which prohibits removal of an action which has as a defendant a citizen of the state in which the action is brought, is not applicable in this case. (Doc. 1, p. 11.) Defendant DuPont argued that the plaintiff's conclusory and non-specific allegations concerning H & E's negligence failed to demonstrate any reasonable basis for recovery from H & E under Louisiana law. (Doc. 1, p. 6.)

Plaintiff moved to remand, arguing that H & E was not improperly joined and that DuPont could not show that there is no possibility of establishing a cause of action against it. (Doc. 10.) Magistrate Judge Riedlinger recommended that Plaintiff's Motion be denied, finding that Defendant H&E Equipment was improperly joined, and thus its citizenship could be disregarded for the purpose of determining whether diversity of citizenship exited between the parties. (Doc. 15, p. 6.) No objection to or appeal of Magistrate Judge Reidlinger's Report and Recommendation was filed by Plaintiff. This Court adopted the Report & Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Riedlinger, denying Plaintiff's Motion to Remand. (Doc. 20, p. 1.)

II. Background

On September 6, 2013, Plaintiff was injured while working on a crane in La Porte, Texas, on the premises of a chemical plant owned by DuPont. (Doc. 1.) The crane was allegedly manufactured by Defendant Manitowoc. (Doc. 1.) DuPont acquired the crane in question from a non-party to this action, Grove U.S., LLC, who is a citizen of Wisconsin. (Doc. 5-6, pp. 1-4.) The crane was delivered by Grove U.S., LLC, to DuPont's La Porte, Texas facility. (Doc. 5-6, p. 3.)

DuPont is a Delaware corporation with its principle place of business in Delaware. (Doc. 5-1, p. 2.) Globally, DuPont operates plants in more than 90 countries. (Doc. 8-2, p. 1.) In Louisiana, DuPont operates three plants: one in Burnside, one in LaPlace, and one in Plaquemine. (Doc. 8-1, p. 1.)

Prior to this accident, DuPont contracted with H&E to provide maintenance and repair of the crane involved in the accident giving rise to this suit. (Doc. 5, p.2.) H&E is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Louisiana. (Doc. 10-2, p. 2.) All maintenance and repair work performed on the subject crane was done by H&E at DuPont's LaPorte, Texas facility. (Doc. 5-1, p. 2.) No work was performed in Louisiana. (Doc. 5-7, stating that all work was performed in La Porte, Texas.) H&E's responsibility for maintenance of the crane ended on June 1, 2013, three months before the subject accident. (Doc. 5-7, p. 3-4.)

II. Law and Analysis

When a nonresident defendant moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has jurisdiction over the defendant. Herman v. Cataphora, Inc., 730 F.3d 460, 464 (5th Cir. 2013). To withstand a Rule 12(b)(2) motion, a "plaintiff need only present a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction to satisfy its burden." Id.

"When a court rules on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction without holding an evidentiary hearing, it must accept as true the uncontroverted allegations in the complaint and resolve in favor of the plaintiff any factual conflicts." Id. A court determines the existence of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant by examining the "(1) assertion of jurisdiction by the law of the forum, " and "(2) conformity of the law with the Constitution." Pedalahore v. Astropark, Inc., 745 F.2d 346, 347 (5th Cir. 1984). A defendant is amenable to the personal jurisdiction of a federal court sitting in diversity to the same extent that it would be amenable to the jurisdiction of a state court in the same forum. Id.

In a diversity action, a federal district court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant to the extent permitted by the applicable state law. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 4(e)(1); Panda Brandywine v. Potomac, 253 F.3d 865, 868 (5th Cir. 2001). Pursuant to La. Rev. Stat. § 13:3201, Louisiana's long-arm statute, courts are permitted to exercise personal jurisdiction over non-residents consistent with the Louisiana State Constitution and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. A & L Energy, Inc. v. Pegasus Group, 791 So.2d 1266, 1270 (La. 2001). A court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant comports with the due process clause when (1) the defendant has purposefully availed himself of the benefits and protections of the forum state by establishing minimum contacts with that state and (2) the court's exercise of jurisdiction over that defendant does not offend traditional notions of fair play ans substantial justice. Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945).

Here, the Plaintiff alleges that this Court has both specific and general jurisdiction over DuPont. (Doc. 8.) "Specific" jurisdiction, sometimes referred to as "case-linked" or "conduct-linked" jurisdiction, requires an "affiliatio[n] between the forum and the underlying controversy." Goodyear Dunlop Tire Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 131 S.Ct. 2846, 2851 (2011). By contrast, "general" or "all purpose" jurisdiction permits a court to assert jurisdiction over a defendant based on forum connections unrelated to the underlying suit. Id. "[S]pecific jurisdiction is confined to adjudication of issues deriving from, or connected with, the very controversy that establishes jurisdiction." Id. (citation omitted).

In deciding whether there is personal jurisdiction, the Court should first determine whether the connection between the forum and the circumstances giving rise to the suit can justify the exercise of specific jurisdiction. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, fn. 20 (2014).

A. Specific Jurisdiction

Plaintiff's argument that this Court has specific jurisdiction over DuPont can rest on only one factor: DuPont's contract with a Louisiana company (H&E) which maintained and repaired the subject crane. Plaintiff has pointed to no other conduct by DuPont in Louisiana that is related to Plaintiff's accident.

Although DuPont contracted for the maintenance and repair of the crane with this Louisiana company, H&E's employees performed all of their work on the crane in DuPont's LaPorte, Texas facility. (Doc. 5, p. 2.) The contract ended several months before the accident. (Doc. 5, p. 2.) Two recent Supreme Court cases addressing specific jurisdiction, Goodyear, supra , and Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115 (2014), mandate a finding that this single contact is insufficient to give this Court specific jurisdiction.

To the extent that Plaintiff is arguing that H&E's contacts with Louisiana are relevant in measuring DuPont's contacts with the state, this argument must fail. "We have consistently rejected attempts to satisfy the defendant-focused minimum contacts' inquiry by demonstrating contacts between the plaintiff ( or third parties ) and the forum. Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. At 1122 (emphasis added).

This only leaves the contract itself. "If the question is whether an individual's contract with an out-of-state party alone can automatically establish sufficient minimum contacts in the other party's home forum, we believe the answer clearly is that it cannot." Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 478 (1085) (emphasis added). While the Court in Burger King emphasized that other factors leading to or following the contract (e.g. the negotiations and the parties' actual course of dealing under the contract) might provide additional contacts sufficient to subject the defendant to the jurisdiction of the forum state, Plaintiff has produced no evidence in this regard. Rather, it is the ...

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