A judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought on behalf of families of the seven sailors who drowned aboard the warship Fitzgerald in 2017.
Filed in November, the lawsuit sought damages from NYK Line, a Japan-based company to which the merchant vessel that struck the Fitz, the ACX Crystal, was chartered.
Ruling in favor of a motion to dismiss the case filed by the defense, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk found the court had no relevant jurisdiction over NYK Line since the company is incorporated and headquartered in Japan.
“Thus, to exercise general jurisdiction over NYK Line, the corporation’s contacts with the United States must make this an exceptional case,” Africk wrote in his June 4 ruling in the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District of Louisiana.
Attorneys for the Fitz families argued that the extent of NYK Line’s business in the United States and litigation history here satisfy the jurisdictional question, but Africk wrote that, among other factors, the company has not had a U.S. office for more than 25 years and its U.S. port calls represent just 6 to 8 percent of all its port calls worldwide.
Among other arguments, attorneys for the Fitz families contended that the company “has sued and been sued numerous times in U.S. federal courts, and that no court has ever dismissed a case against NYK Line for lack of personal jurisdiction,” the judge wrote.
But those other instances of NYK Line-involved litigation did not involve disputes over jurisdiction as in the Fitz case, Africk wrote.
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“Plaintiffs have not directed the Court’s attention to any case in which a court found that it had personal jurisdiction over NYK Line when jurisdiction was disputed,” the judge wrote. “Furthermore, plaintiffs do not cite any authority supporting the contention that a corporation’s willingness to submit to personal jurisdiction in one particular federal court for a particular type of dispute renders it subject to the jurisdiction of all United States courts for all disputes.”
Attorneys for NYK Line did not immediate respond to emails and calls seeking comment.
In a statement, David Schloss, an attorney for the families, said he plans to appeal the judge’s ruling next week.
“Despite the fact that NYK Line publicly apologized for the collision after it occurred, it nevertheless continues to use its vast resources to evade legal responsibility,” Schloss said.
“We are disappointed by the judge’s decision but confident in our jurisdictional arguments,” he said. “While my clients are well past the point where we expect NYK Line to ‘do the right thing’ from a legal and moral standpoint, we intend to vigorously pursue this matter for as long as it takes until justice is served.”
About Geoff Ziezulewicz
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at email@example.com.