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Branstetter v. Holland America Line N.V.

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

December 20, 2019



          Samuel H. Mays, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Kelsie Branstetter brings claims for negligence, unseaworthiness, and failure to pay maintenance and cure[1] under general maritime law and the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Before the Court is Defendant Holland America Line N.V.'s (“HAL”) Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction, filed October 4, 2019. (ECF No. 15.) Branstetter responded on October 30, 2019. (ECF No. 21.) HAL replied on November 13, 2019. (ECF No. 23.)

         For the following reasons, the Court lacks personal jurisdiction and TRANSFERS this action to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington.

         I. Background [2]

         In March 2017, Branstetter was a seaman employed as an Image Creator (photographer) on board a cruise ship, the MS NOORDAM. (Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶ 9.) Sometime between March 16 and March 19, 2017, while descending a staircase in the dining room of the MS NOORDAM, Branstetter fell and sustained injuries. (Id.) In May 2017, after working long hours on the MS NOORDAM, Branstetter sustained other injuries to her foot. (Id. ¶ 10.) These incidents left Branstetter with injuries to her lower back, left leg, left ankle, and left foot. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 10, 17.) On May 21, 2017, as a result of her injuries, Branstetter was declared medically unfit for duty and was sent home to Memphis, Tennessee, for medical treatment. (ECF No. 21-1 ¶ 8.) During Branstetter's employment with HAL, HAL arranged and paid for all of her travel to and from Memphis, Tennessee. (Id. at ¶ 15.) HAL also made Branstetter's travel arrangements and paid for her travel- related expenses on her return home to Tennessee after she had been declared medically unfit. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         All of Branstetter's medical treatment for her relevant injuries has been in Tennessee. (Id. ¶ 10.) HAL has selected every medical provider who has treated Branstetter for her injuries, with the exception of her current treating physician, Dr. Dean Jameson, who was selected by Branstetter but approved by HAL. (Id. ¶ 12.) HAL has paid for all of the medical treatment Branstetter has received. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         The MS NOORDAM is registered under the laws of the Netherlands. (ECF No. 15-1 ¶ 4.) The MS NOORDAM sails primarily in international waters and has never sailed in the waters of Tennessee. (Id.)

         HAL is the operator of the MS NOORDAM. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 2, 4; No. 15-1 ¶ 4.) HAL is a company organized under the laws of Curacao. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 3; No. 15-1 ¶ 3.) HAL's corporate office is in Seattle, Washington. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 3; No. 15-1 ¶ 6.) HAL is authorized to do business and has a registered agent for service of process in Tennessee. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 3; No. 15-1 ¶ 5.) HAL sells cruises to residents of all 50 states. (ECF No. 15-1 ¶ 5.) Decisions about the issuance of maintenance and cure are made at HAL's corporate headquarters in Seattle, Washington. (Id. ¶ 6.)

         II. Standard of Review

         HAL moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). (ECF No. 15.) Neither party contests the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction.[3]

         When a defendant challenges personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2), “[t]he plaintiff bears the burden of making a prima facie showing of the court's personal jurisdiction over the defendant.” Intera Corp. v. Henderson, 428 F.3d 605, 615 (6th Cir. 2005). A plaintiff “can meet this burden by ‘establishing with reasonable particularity sufficient contacts between [a defendant] and the forum state to support jurisdiction.'” Neogen Corp. v. Neo Gen Screening, Inc., 282 F.3d 883, 887 (6th Cir. 2002) (quoting Provident Nat'l Bank v. Cal. Fed. Sav. Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 437 (3d Cir. 1987)). A plaintiff may not rest on her pleadings, but must, by affidavit or otherwise, set forth specific evidence supporting jurisdiction. Carrier Corp. v. Outokumpu Oyj, 673 F.3d 430, 449 (6th Cir. 2012). Because the Court is relying solely on written submissions and affidavits to resolve this Motion, Branstetter's burden to establish a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction is “relatively slight.” Air Prods. & Controls, Inc. v. Safetech Int'l, Inc., 503 F.3d 544, 549 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Am. Greetings Corp. v. Cohn, 839 F.2d 1164, 1169 (6th Cir. 1988)). The Court construes the facts in the light most favorable to Branstetter. See id. (citing Theunissen v. Matthews, 935 F.2d 1454, 1459 (6th Cir. 1991)).

         When considering a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2), a federal court looks first to the long-arm statute of the state in which it sits to determine the state's limitations on personal jurisdiction. See Aristech Chem. Int'l Ltd. v. Acrylic Fabricators, Ltd., 138 F.3d 624, 627 (6th Cir. 1998). The court then assesses whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction, if any, would be appropriate under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A); see Bird v. Parsons, 289 F.3d 865, 871 (6th Cir. 2002); CompuServe, Inc. v. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257, 1262 (6th Cir. 1996).

         III. Analysis

         The jurisdictional limits of Tennessee law and federal due process are identical. See Parker v. Winwood, 938 F.3d 833, 839 (6th Cir. 2019); First Cmty. Bank, N.A. v. First Tenn. Bank, N.A., 489 S.W.3d 369, 384 (Tenn. 2015); Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-2-223(a)(6). The Court need only decide whether exercising personal jurisdiction over HAL is consistent with federal due process requirements. Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Still N the Water Publ'g, 327 F.3d 472, 477 (6th Cir. 2003).

         The Due Process Clause requires that a non-resident defendant have at least “certain minimum contacts with [the forum state] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Youn v. Track, Inc., 324 F.3d 409, 417 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). “There are two kinds of personal jurisdiction within the Federal Due Process inquiry: (1) general personal jurisdiction, where the suit does not arise from defendant's contacts with the forum state; and (2) specific jurisdiction, where the suit does arise from the defendant's contacts with the forum state.” Conn v. Zakharov, 667 F.3d 705, 712-13 (6th Cir. 2012).

         General jurisdiction allows a plaintiff to sue a defendant “on any and all claims, ” regardless of the connection (or lack thereof) between the claim and the forum. Maxitrate Tratamento Termico E Controles v. Super Sys., Inc., 617 Fed.Appx. 406, 408 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 754 (2014)). Specific jurisdiction “exposes the defendant to suit in the forum state only on claims that arise out of or relate to a defendant's contacts with the forum.” Kerry Steel, Inc. v. Paragon Indus., Inc., 106 F.3d 147, 149 (6th Cir. 1997) (quoting Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia S.A v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414-15 & nn.8-10 (1984)).

         A. General Jurisdiction

         A court may assert general jurisdiction over a defendant and hear any and all claims against it when its connections with the forum state are so “continuous and systematic” as to render it essentially “at home” in the forum state. Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011) (citing Int'l Shoe, 326 U.S. at 317). A corporation's principal place of business and place of incorporation are “paradigm . . . bases for general jurisdiction.” Daimler, 571 U.S. at 137 (internal citations and alteration omitted). Daimler and Goodyear brought a “sea change” to the general jurisdiction analysis. BNSF Ry. Co. v. Tyrrell, 137 S.Ct. 1549, 1560 n.1 (2017) (Sotomayor, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); see also Glob. Force Entm't, Inc. v. Anthem Sports & Entm't Corp., 385 F.Supp.3d 576, 581-82 (M.D. Tenn. 2019) (discussing change in depth), appeal denied, decision amended, No. 3:18-CV-00749, 2019 WL 3288474 (M.D. Tenn. July 22, 2019). Since Daimler, there must be an “exceptional case” for a court to assert general jurisdiction over a corporation in a forum “other than its formal place of incorporation or principal place of business . . . .” 571 U.S. at 139 n.19.

         Both parties agree that HAL is a company organized under the laws of Curacao, (ECF No. 1 ¶ 3; No. 15-1 ¶ 3), and that HAL's principal place of business is in Washington. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 3; No. 15-1 ¶ 3.) The Court does not have general jurisdiction over HAL on those “paradigm bases.”

         Branstetter argues alternatively that HAL made itself “at home” in Tennessee by: (1) recruiting, hiring, and employing Tennessee residents to sell its cruises in Tennessee;[4](2) forming and maintaining ongoing business relationships in Tennessee;[5] (3) being authorized to do business and having a registered agent in Tennessee;[6] (4) selling cruises to Tennessee residents; (5) making and paying for all of Branstetter's travel arrangements and travel-related expenses to and from Tennessee throughout her employment with HAL; (6) selecting Branstetter's medical professionals and making decisions about her medical ...

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