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Skoglund v. Petrosaudi Oil Services Venezuela Ltd.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 20, 2018

ELLIS SKOGLUND
v.
PETROSAUDI OIL SERVICES VENEZUELA LTD., PETROSAUDI OIL SERVICES LTD., SATURN DRILLSHIPS PTE. LTD

         SECTION: “B” (4)

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Defendants PetroSaudi Oil Services (Venezuela) Ltd., Petro Saudi Oil Services Ltd. and Saturn Drillships Pte. Ltd. (collectively “PetroSaudi”) filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for lack of personal jurisdiction, or alternatively on the grounds of forum non conveniens. Rec. Doc. 16. Plaintiff timely filed an opposition. Rec. Doc. 19. Defendants then sought, and were granted, leave to file a reply. Rec. Doc. 26. Plaintiff sought leave to file a surreply but was denied. Rec. Doc. 33.

         For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED and Plaintiff's claims against Defendants are DISMISSED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Ellis Skoglund filed a complaint against defendants Petrosaudi Oil Services (Venezuela) Ltd., Petrosaudi Oil Servies Ltd., Procurement Services (Delaware) Inc, & Saturn Drillships Pte. Ltd. alleging negligence under the Jones Act, unseaworthiness, and failure to fulfill maintenance and cure obligations. Rec. Doc. 1. Plaintiff Skoglund was employed as a deck foreman by PetroSaudi aboard the Petrosaudi Saturn, a drillship located in waters off Venezuela. See Id. at 2. Plaintiff alleges that he was moving equipment below deck on the PetroSaudi Saturn, per his superior's orders, when the hoist and trolley failed, dropping the equipment on his foot and resulting in the loss of several toes, a traumatic brain injury, a brain bleed, legal blindness, and other injuries. See Id. at 3. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants transported him to Trinidad and Tobago for emergency medical treatment, and then to Houma, Louisiana for additional treatment. See Id. at 4.

         Plaintiff argues that defendants are his Jones Act employer and are therefore liable for their negligence, and that of their employees, which caused his injuries. See Id. at 5. Defendants filed their answer (Rec. Doc. 5), denying plaintiff's claims and arguing, among other things, that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them as foreign defendants and that plaintiff's claims are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of England and Wales pursuant to a forum selection clause and choice-of-law clause included in the employment contract. See Rec. Doc. 5 at 8. Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss (Rec. Doc. 16)[1]. Plaintiff filed a response asserting that this court has general jurisdiction over defendants pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(2) and that the forum-selection clause is unenforceable.

         THE PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         Defendants PetroSaudi Oil Services (Venezuela) Ltd, Petro Saudi Oil Services Ltd. and Saturn Drillships Pte. Ltd. (collectively “PetroSaudi”) filed the instant motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction or alternatively on the grounds of forum non conveniens. Rec. Doc. 16. Defendants argue that the case against them should be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction because none of the PetroSaudi defendants are incorporated or have their principal place of business in Louisiana, and their contacts with the United States are not so continuous and systematic as to render them at home in the United States. See Rec. Doc. 16-1 at 8-13. Furthermore, defendants assert that plaintiff's employment agreement contains an enforceable forum selection clause, identifying the Courts of England and Wales as the proper forum for all claims, and a choice of law clause selecting English law. See Id. at 14-16. Therefore, defendants argue that the case should be dismissed under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. See Id. at 16-19.

         Plaintiff argues that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(2) provides the Court jurisdiction because defendants do not concede to the general jurisdiction of any specific state but their contacts with the United States as a whole satisfy due process. See Rec. Doc. 19 at 7. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that he was recruited to work for PetroSaudi in Louisiana, and that Petrosaudi has a practice of recruiting other workers within Louisiana. Id. at 4. Additionally, plaintiff alleges Petrosaudi operates a de facto business office in Houston. Id. at 5. Plaintiff claims that both the Human Resources Manager who managed his healthcare after his injuries occurred, Nysia Henderson, and the individual who recruited him, Chris Hudson, are based in Houston. Id. at 4. Plaintiff asserts that the forum selection clause in the employment contract, coupled with a choice of law clause, amounts to a prospective waiver of a statutory right and therefore is void as against public policy. Id. at 8. Plaintiff further asserts that the forum selection clause was not feely negotiated and was not negotiated by parties with equal bargaining power. Id. at 11.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Defendants move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). In a 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, “the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction, but need only present prima facie evidence.” Patterson v. Aker Sols. Inc., 826 F.3d 231, 233 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Revell v. Lidov, 317 F.3d 467, 469 (5th Cir. 2002)). The Court is not restricted to pleadings and may consider “affidavits, interrogatories, depositions, oral testimony, or any combination of the recognized methods of discovery.” Revell, 317 F.3d at 469 (5th Cir. 2002). The allegations of the complaint, except as controverted by opposing affidavits, are taken as true and all factual conflicts are resolved in the plaintiff's favor. See Thompson v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 755 F.2d 1162, 1165 (5th Cir. 1985). The Fifth Circuit has stated that although the plaintiff must make out a prima facie case of general jurisdiction, conclusory allegations of contacts with a forum, even if uncontroverted, cannot establish general jurisdiction. See Panda Brandywine Corp. v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 253 F.3d 865, 869 (5th Cir. 2001). The Supreme Court has established that a court may assert general jurisdiction over foreign corporations when their “affiliations with the State are so continuous and systematic as to render them essentially at home in the forum State.” BNSF Ry. Co. v. Tyrrell, 137 S.Ct. 1549, 1558 (2017); see also Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, (2014); Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919, (2011). The paradigm forums in which a foreign corporate defendant is considered to be at home are the place of incorporation, and the principal place of business. See BNSF, 137 S.Ct. at 1558. Additionally, the Court has held that there may be an “exceptional case” where a corporate defendant's contacts with another forum are “so substantial and of such a nature as to render [it] at home in that State.” Id. (quoting Daimler, 571 U.S. at 139 n. 19). The Court will analyze whether there is a sufficient basis for the assertion of personal jurisdiction over defendants or whether dismissal under Rule 12(b)(2) is appropriate below.

         Plaintiff asserts that this Court has personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(2). Rule 4(k)(2) provides for personal jurisdiction in any district court “for cases arising under federal law where the defendant has contacts with the United States as a whole sufficient to satisfy due process concerns and the defendant is not subject to jurisdiction in any particular state.” Adams v. Unione Mediterranea Di Sicurta, 364 F.3d 646, 650 (5th Cir. 2004). To satisfy due process, the defendant's contacts with the United States must be so continuous and systematic as to render it essentially at home in the United States. See Patterson, 826 F.3d at 234. The Court will analyze whether Rule 4(k)(2) provides for personal jurisdiction over the defendants in this case.

         Defendants alternatively move for dismissal under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, in light of the forum selection clause contained in plaintiff's employment agreement. The Supreme Court has held that the proper way to enforce a forum-selection clause pointing to a foreign forum is through the doctrine of forum non conveniens, and courts should evaluate the clause in the same way as they would a clause pointing to a federal forum. See Atl. Marine Const. Co. v. U.S. Dist. Court for W. Dist. of Texas, 571 U.S. 49, 61 (2013). The Fifth Circuit applies a strong presumption in favor of enforcing mandatory forum-selection clauses, which can only be overcome “by a clear showing that [the clause] is unreasonable.” See Al Copeland Investments, L.L.C. v. First Specialty Ins. Corp., 884 F.3d 540, 543 (5th Cir. 2018). Factors to consider in determining whether a forum-selection clause is unreasonable include: 1) whether the incorporation of the forum-selection clause into the agreement was the product of fraud or over overreaching; 2) whether the party seeking to escape enforcement will, for all practical purposes, be deprived of its day in court because of the grave inconvenience or unfairness of the selected forum; 3) whether the fundamental unfairness of the chosen law will deprive the plaintiff of a remedy; or 4) whether the enforcement of the clause would contravene a strong public policy of the forum state. See Haynsworth v. The Corporation, 121 F.3d 956, 963 (5th Cir. 1997). In applying the doctrine of forum non conveniens, normally a court determines whether there is an adequate alternative forum, and if so, decides which forum is best suited to litigation based on private and public interest factors, giving weight to the plaintiff's choice of forum. See Barnett v. DynCorp International, L.L.C., 831 f.3D 296, 300 (5th Cir. 2016). However, this analysis differs when there is a valid forum selection clause. See Atlantic Marine, 571 U.S. at 63. In the presence of a forum-selection clause, courts should give no weight to the plaintiff's choice of forum and should not consider arguments about parties' private interests because when parties agree to a forum-selection clause, “they waive the right to challenge the preselected forum as inconvenient or less convenient for themselves or their witnesses, or for their pursuit of the litigation.” Id. at 582 (2013). Therefore, a court may consider arguments about public-interest factors only. The Court will analyze the forum selection clause to determine whether it is enforceable and whether dismissal is appropriate under forum non conveniens.

         A. This Court cannot exercise general personal jurisdiction overdefendants and therefore dismissal ...


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