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Ergon Oil Purchasing, Inc. v. Canal Barge Company, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 26, 2017

ERGON OIL PURCHASING, INC.
v.
CANAL BARGE COMPANY, INC., SAYBOLT, L.P., AND SOUTHWEST SHIPYARD, L.P.

         SECTION: “N” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          Kurt D. Engelhardt United States District Judge.

         In this action, Plaintiff Ergon Oil Purchasing, Inc., alleges that Defendant Southwest Shipyard, L.P. (“Southwest”) failed to properly strip and clean barge CBC 7078, prior to loading Plaintiff's cargo onto the vessel, which caused the cargo to be damaged and contaminated. Plaintiff thus seeks an award of damages.[1] Contending the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it, Southwest has filed, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the motion to dismiss (Rec. Doc. 13) now before the Court. Having carefully reviewed the parties' submissions, the record herein, and applicable law, IT IS ORDERED that the motion to dismiss is GRANTED for the reasons stated herein. Accordingly, IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's claims against Southwest be and hereby are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         BACKGROUND

         In May 2015, Plaintiff, a Mississippi corporation, chartered barge CBC 7078 from Defendant Canal Barge Company, Inc. (“Canal Barge”), a Louisiana corporation with its principal place of business in New Orleans, Louisiana. Pursuant to the charter, Plaintiff's cargo was to be loaded onto the barge in Texas City, Texas, for transport to and discharge at Plaintiff's Vicksburg, Mississippi terminal.[2] Thereafter, the barge was to be redelivered in Lake Charles, Louisiana.[3]

         In preparation for barge CBC 7078's voyage, Canal Barge contracted with Southwest for barge cleaning services to be provided at Southwest's Channelview, Texas facility prior to Plaintiff's cargo being loaded in Texas City.[4] Plaintiff, however, alleges that Southwest failed to follow cleaning instructions provided to it, leaving pre-existing substances within the barge's tanks that contaminated and damaged Plaintiff's cargo during transport.[5] As a result, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, seeking compensatory damages from Southwest and the other defendants. With the instant motion, Southwest, a non-resident Texas corporation with its principal place of business in Channelview, Texas, [6] asks the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against it for lack of personal jurisdiction.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         When a nonresident defendant moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that personal jurisdiction exists. See Stuart v. Spademan, 772 F.2d 1185, 1192 (5th Cir. 1985). When a court rules on the issue without a full evidentiary hearing, a plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction. See Wilson v. Belin, 20 F.3d 644, 648 (5th Cir. 1994). In determining whether a plaintiff has made a prima facie showing of jurisdiction, the court accepts the allegations in the complaint as true, unless controverted by opposing affidavits, and resolves all factual conflicts in favor of the plaintiff. Id. In making its determination, the court may consider “affidavits, interrogatories, depositions, oral testimony, or any combination of . . . recognized [discovery] methods.” Thompson v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 755 F.2d 1162, 1165 (5th Cir. 1985).

         In this instance, for the Court to have personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendant Southwest, the Louisiana long-arm statute must confer jurisdiction consistent with constitutional due process. Patin v. Thoroughbred Power Boats Inc., 294 F.3d 640, 652 (5th Cir. 2002). Louisiana's long-arm statute, Louisiana Revised Statute 13:3201, extends jurisdiction to the full limits of constitutional due process. See Dickson Marine Inc. v. Panalpina, Inc., 179 F.3d 331, 336 (5th Cir. 1999) (citing LSA-R.S. 13:3201(B); Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. v. Avco Corp., 513 So.2d 1188, 1191 (La. 1987)). Thus, the Court's inquiry is limited to whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Southwest comports with constitutional due process. Patin, 294 F.3d at 652.

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects a defendant from being subjected to “the binding judgments of a forum with which he has established no meaningful ‘contacts, ties, or relations.'” Burger King v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 471-72 (1985) (quoting International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 319 (1945)). The Due Process Clause thus requires that individuals have “fair warning that a particular activity may subject [them] to the jurisdiction of a foreign sovereign, ” to allow “potential defendants to structure their [] conduct with some minimum assurance as to where that conduct will and will not render them liable to suit.” Burger King, 471 U.S. at 472 (internal citations omitted). The requisite fair warning is satisfied when the defendant has established “minimum contacts” with the forum state and the suit does not offend “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” International Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 316.

         The minimum contacts analysis requires that a non-resident defendant have purposefully availed itself of the privileges of the forum state by conducting activities there, or purposefully directing activity toward that state, thus subjecting itself to suit in that forum. See Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 924 (2011) (internal citations omitted); World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980). The “defendant's conduct and connection with the forum State [must be] such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.” World-Wide Volkswagen Corp., 444 U.S. at 297. Thus, the necessary minimum contacts must not be “random, ” “fortuitous, ” or “attenuated, ” and must be initiated by the defendant and not a third party or the plaintiff. Burger King, 471 U.S. at 475 (internal citations omitted).

         Personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant may be general (“all purpose”) or specific (“case-linked”). Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco Cty., No. 16-466, 2017 WL 2621322, *6 (U.S. June 19, 2017) (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A., 564 U.S. at 919)). A court with general jurisdiction may hear any claim against that defendant even if all the incidents underlying the claim occurred in a different State.” Id. General personal jurisdiction exists, however, only when a non-resident defendant's contacts with the forum state, though unrelated to the cause of action at issue, are so continuous and systematic as to render the defendant “essentially at home” there. Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A., 564 U.S. at 919 (citing International Shoe, 326 U.S. at 317); see also BNSF Ry. Co. v. Tyrrell, 137 S.Ct. 1549, 1559 (2017) (more than 2, 000 miles of railroad track and more than 2, 000 employees in forum state insufficient to provide general jurisdiction because inquiry does not focus solely on magnitude of in-state contacts); Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408 (1984) (traveling to Texas for contract negotiation, accepting checks from Houston bank, purchasing helicopters from Texas corporation, and sending personnel to Texas for training did not confer general jurisdiction over non-resident defendant).

         On the other hand, a court has specific personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant when the litigation arises from the defendant's minimum contacts with the forum state. Burger King, 471 U.S. at 472 (litigation arising from non-resident's alleged breach of its contract with Florida corporation provided specific jurisdiction in Florida forum). That is, “specific jurisdiction is confined to adjudication of issues deriving from, or connected with, the very controversy that establishes jurisdiction.” Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., No. 16-466, 2017 WL 2621322, at *6).

         Here, Plaintiff first alleges Southwest's contacts with Louisiana are sufficiently continuous and systematic such that the Court has general jurisdiction over it. These contacts include three years (2015-2017) of annual golf tournament sponsorship for Junior Achievement of Greater New Orleans (JAGNO) and advertising in the accompanying tournament program; participation in JAGNO's 2017 bowl-a-thon; yearly attendance at the International Workboat Show in New Orleans; four or five annual sales calls in Louisiana; four fishing trips in Louisiana with Louisiana and Texas customers over the last two years; and contracts with other Louisiana businesses.[7]Applying the legal principles set forth above, the Court disagrees with Plaintiff. Annual participation in a couple of charitable events and a workboat show attended by industry members from numerous states, ...


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