SUING AN INTERNATIONAL SHIPYARD IN FLORIDA? NOT SO FAST, SAYS APPELLATE COURT
In a decision that will impact international shipyards, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal directed the trial court in Meyer Werft GMBH & Company, KG, v. Humain to grant Meyer Werft’s motion to dismiss Humain’s complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction.
In March 2016, Jocelyne Humain, who had been hired as a seamstress by the Cintas Corporation to make and repair uniforms for Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd., flew to London to work aboard the Ovation of the Seas before it was put into service as a cruise ship. While the ship was at sea off the coast of Denmark, Humain tripped over some electrical cords under her desk and broke her wrist. Humain initially filed suit against Cintas and Royal Caribbean. In her second amended complaint, Humain added Meyer Werft, the German shipbuilder that constructed the Ovation of the Seas.
Humain’s complaint alleged three counts against Meyer Werft: (I) Jones Act negligence based on Humain’s alleged status as Meyer Werft’s employee, (II) unseaworthiness of the vessel, and (III) negligence (in the alternative) based on Humain’s alleged status as a passenger. Meyer Werft specially appeared and moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction or, in the alternative, for forum non conveniens. Following a non-evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied Meyer Werft’s motion to dismiss. The shipyard appealed.
Meyer Werft contested all the jurisdictional allegations in the complaint by way of a sworn declaration, thereby shifting the burden to Humain to refute the evidence by affidavit or other sworn proof. Humain failed to do so. As a result, the appellate court found that Humain was unable to establish the minimum contacts necessary for general or specific jurisdiction under Florida’s long-arm statute. With respect to general jurisdiction, Humain also failed to establish that the German shipyard’s affiliations with Florida were so “continuous and systematic” as to render it essentially at home in the forum State.