No Jurisdiction for Foreign Seafarers to Pursue Negligence Claims Resulting from Foreign Pirate Attack
In Chirag v. MT Marida Marguerite, The United States Court of Appeals for The Second Circuit affirmed the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, holding that the District Court correctly dismissed the case on forum non conveniens grounds and for lack of personal jurisdiction over the primary defendants.
Bahri Chirag ("Chirag") and Dangwal Sandeep ("Sandeep") sued the MT Marida Marguerite Schiffahrts ("MT Marida"), Marida Tankers, Inc. ("MTI"), and Heidmar, Inc. ("Heidmar") under a variety of tort and regulatory compliance theories, all of which "arise under the Jones Act, and the General Maritime Law of the United States." In the fall of 2010, Somali pirates commandeered the MT Marida, in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Yemen. The MT Marida was a German owned and operated, Marshall Island flagged vessel, staffed by Indian crew members. The vessel was sailing from India to Belgium at the time of its capture and remained under the control of Somali pirates for eight (8) months. The pirates tortured the crew in hopes of receiving ransom monies. The plaintiffs, Chirag and Sandeep, were two of the Indian crew members that were held hostage aboard the MT Marida.
The District Court dismissed the complaint with respect to the MT Marida due to lack of personal jurisdiction. First, the Second Circuit held that the District Court had not abused its discretion in denying jurisdictional discovery, as Plaintiffs had failed to even make a prima facie case for jurisdiction over the MT Marida and held that there was no American interest in the case. The Second Circuit found that the District Court correctly applied the law of the forum state, Connecticut to determine whether the Court had personal jurisdiction over the vessel. The Due Process Clause requires that for personal jurisdiction to exist over a nonresident defendant, certain minimum contacts must exist between the nonresident and the forum state such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. The Second Circuit held there was "no plausible allegation that the MT Marida had sufficient continuous and systematic contacts with Connecticut that invoked the protections and benefits of Connecticut's laws" and therefore the District Court did not err in dismissing the complaint against MT Marida.
The Second Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision to dismiss the complaint with respect to MTI and Heidmar on forum non conveniens grounds. Under Second Circuit law there are three (3) factors to consider when determining whether to dismiss a case for forum non conveniens. First, the Court must determine the degree of deference properly granted to the plaintiff's choice of forum. Second, the Court must consider whether the alternative forum proposed by the defendants is sufficient to adjudicate the issue. Third, the Court must balance the private and public interests implicated in the choice of forum. The Second Circuit held that the District Court properly found that the Plaintiff's choice of forum should receive less deference because Plaintiffs are nationals and residents of India. Furthermore, that an adequate and alternative forum exists in Germany as Defendants are amenable to process in Germany and the German courts are able to adequately adjudicate negligence claims. Finally, the private and public interests weigh in favor of litigating the case in an alternative forum, given the fact that the documents, exhibits, witnesses, etc. are all located in foreign countries and that there are no public factors in favor of maintaining a case which would require the application of foreign choice of law analysis and none of the parties, laws, or claims have a nexus to the United States.
To read a copy of the Second Circuit's decision, click here.
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