Waterman Steamship Corporation and Maersk Line, Ltd. v. Ruiz et al.
The appellees, crewmen on the M/V MAERSK ALABAMA, were injured by pirates. They sued Waterman Steamship Corp. and Maersk Line Ltd. for negligence under the Jones Act and general maritime law. After the trial court denied the appellants' special appearances, the appellant brought this interlocutory appeal. Waterman's Texas port calls are not substantial contacts sufficient to establish a court's general jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant. Mere purchases or their equivalent, even if occurring at regular intervals, are insufficient to warrant the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the non-resident defendant when the purchases do not relate to the cause of action. Any communication between Waterman and another entity providing services to Waterman's vessels is merely incidental to developing and carrying out the contractual obligations, and therefore does not constitute purposeful availment of the benefits and protection of Texas law. Evidence that Waterman employs Texas residents on its vessels is not sufficient for general jurisdiction. Waterman's payment of franchise taxes, which is based solely on the number of days Waterman vessels are in Texas ports per year and does not constitute a significant portion of its tax liability, does not establish general jurisdiction. Employees' trips to Texas in the performance of Waterman's contracts with Texas vendors, while a factor weighing in favor of jurisdiction, are not sufficient by themselves to establish general jurisdiction over Waterman. Waterman's website is passive advertising via the Internet and not a purposeful activity directed toward Texas residents. Waterman's special appearance evidence does not establish that Waterman has "continuous and systematic" contacts with Texas. Maersk does business with Texas entities, pays Texas franchise taxes, maintained eight bank accounts in Texas, has an interactive website, solicits future employees at the Texas A&M career fair and has, on one occasion, contractually reserved the right to sue a Texas company in Texas. Maersk has purposefully availed itself of the benefits and protections of Texas laws and has established sufficient minimum contacts with Texas to support the exercise of general jurisdiction. Maersk has failed to present a compelling case that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over it in Texas would violate traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Because this is a special appearance and there has not yet been a conventional trial on the merits, the trial court did not err in failing to file findings and conclusions. The trial court's judgment is affirmed in part, and reversed and rendered in part.
Waterman Steamship Corp.v. Ruiz, Houston's 1st Court of Appeals, No. 01-10-00516-CV, 08-25-2011.