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U.S. District Court Examines Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) Standard
Paul Seegar v. Thomas P. Anticola, et al.,
In Paul Seegar v. Thomas P. Anticola, et al., a case involving a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) in a tort action related to a 2011 plane crash, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware concluded that the Plaintiff had established sufficient contacts between the Defendants and the State of Delaware to warrant the court exercising personal jurisdiction over the Defendants. Thus, Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark denied the Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.
By way of factual background, on November 17, 2011 Plaintiff Paul Seegar was a passenger on a small, twin-engine aircraft piloted by Defendant Thomas P. Anticola, as the agent of Defendants EKL Leasing Corp. ("EKL") and Peter Lane. Mr. Lane, a New York resident, was the CEO of EKL, the FAA-registered owner/operator of the airplane. The airplane crashed in Ulysses, Pennsylvania while en route from New Castle County, Delaware to Buffalo, New York. As a result of the accident, Mr. Seeger suffered extensive personal injuries, mental distress, and financial damages. On November 13, 2013, Mr. Seegar filed a complaint in the Superior Court in and for New Castle County, Delaware, alleging that the Defendants acted negligently in inspecting and operating the airplane, and that the Defendants’ negligent conduct caused the crash. On December 13, 2013, the Defendants removed the action to the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. On January 10, 2014, the Defendants moved for dismissal of all claims for lack of personal jurisdiction, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) directs the court to dismiss a case when it lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendant. First, the court explained that determining the existence of personal jurisdiction generally requires a two-part analysis. First, the court analyzes the long-arm statute of the state in which the court is located. See IMO Indus., Inc. v. Kiekert AG, 155 F.3d 254, 259 (3d Cir. 1998). Next, the court must determine whether exercising jurisdiction over the defendant in this state comports with the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. See id. Due Process is satisfied if the court finds the existence of "minimum contacts" between the nonresident defendant and the forum state, "such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945).
Next, the court explained that once a jurisdictional defense has been raised, “the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence and with reasonable particularity, the existence of sufficient minimum contacts between the defendant and the forum to support jurisdiction.” See Provident Nat'l Bank v. Cal. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 437 (3d Cir. 1987); Time Share Vacation Club v. Atl. Resorts, Ltd., 735 F.2d 61, 66 (3d Cir. 1984). To meet this burden, the plaintiff must produce "sworn affidavits or other competent evidence," since a Rule 12(b)(2) motion "requires resolution of factual issues outside the pleadings." Time Share, 735 F.2d at 67 n.9; see also Philips Elec. N Am. Corp. v. Contee Corp., 2004 WL 503602, at *3 (D. Del. Mar. 11, 2004). If no evidentiary hearing has been held, a plaintiff "need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction." O'Connor v. Sandy Lane Hotel Co., Ltd., 496 F.3d 312, 316 (3d Cir. 2007); Mellon Bank (E.) PSFS, Nat'l Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir. 1992).
The Defendants argued that they were not subject to personal jurisdiction in the District of Delaware because none of the sections of Delaware's long-arm statute were applicable. Specifically, the Defendants contended that DEL. C. ANN. TIT. 10 §§3104(c)(3), (5), and (6) were inapplicable, as there was no tort alleged to have been committed by the Defendants in Delaware, the Defendants did not own or use real property in Delaware, and Plaintiff's claims did not involve any contract for insurance with the Defendants. The Defendants also argued that specific jurisdiction could not be exercised over them under § 3104(c)(1) or (2), because they had not contracted to supply goods or services in Delaware, and because “a single use of a Delaware airport is a contact too attenuated” to support a conclusion that they had "transact[ed] business" within Delaware.
Plaintiff argued that the court could exercise specific jurisdiction, under § 3104(c)(1) or (2) or both, over all three (3) Defendants, as follows: “(i) over Anticola as pilot of the airplane and agent of Lane and EKL; (ii) over EKL as owner/operator of the airplane and principal of Anticola; and (iii) over Lane, as principal of EKL and Anticola, and as owner/operator of the airplane.” Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Mr. Lane directed EKL/Mr. Anticola to transport Mr. Seegar to and from Delaware and, in the process, EKL/Anticola, as agents of Lane, used and paid fees to the New Castle County Airport, purchased aviation fuel, and contracted for the use of a rental car at New Castle County Airport.
The court agreed with Plaintiff that the refueling stop at New Castle County Airport provided sufficient minimum contacts in this case to permit the court to exercise personal jurisdiction over the airplane's pilot and owners. In reaching this conclusion, the court first discussed Nezan v. Aries Techs., Inc., 704 S.E.2d 631, 641 (W. Va. Supr. 2010). Nezan involved an airplane en route from Buffalo, New York to Florida. When the Canadian pilot encountered adverse weather, he elected to land at an airport in West Virginia. Although the pilot was not certified with an instrument rating, he refueled at the airport, filed an instrument flight rules plan, and then departed for Florida. The airplane encountered more adverse weather and crashed in Virginia, killing the pilot and passenger. The passenger's estate filed suit in West Virginia for wrongful death. The West Virginia Supreme Court found the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the Canadian owner of the airplane to be proper. In doing so, the West Virginia court cited as sufficient contacts with the state the use of the West Virginia airport and the pilot's allegedly negligent decisions that were made in West Virginia.
Next, the court explained that under the Delaware long-arm statute, the court "may exercise personal jurisdiction over any nonresident, or a personal representative, who in person or through an agent ... [t]ransacts any business or performs any character of work or service in the State." DEL. C. ANN. TIT. 10 §3104(c)(1). The court further explained that “specific personal jurisdiction may arise from a single transaction, if there is a nexus between that transaction and the claim at issue.” Jeffreys v. Exten, 784 F. Supp. 146, 151 (D. Del. 1992). Following the reasoning in Nezan, the court found that the alleged negligence that occurred on the ground in Delaware established a sufficient nexus between Plaintiff’s claims and the transactions that occurred there. Accordingly, the court concluded that Plaintiff had established a prima facie case supporting the court's exercise of specific jurisdiction over the Defendants.
Finally, the court found that its exercise of personal jurisdiction over the Defendants was not inconsistent with Due Process. Supporting that conclusion, the court noted that the activities the Defendants directed at Delaware, including “flying into and out of the state, undertaking a planned refueling stop in the state,” and “conducting a negligent pre-flight inspection in the state,” constituted sufficient minimum contacts with Delaware such that the maintenance of a suit arising directly from those activities did not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Additionally, the court noted that Delaware had “an interest in the promotion and enforcement of aviation safety, notwithstanding federal preemption.” Accordingly, the court denied the Defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.
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