Winne Banta recently scored a significant litigation victory for its client, a major airline, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. The Court dismissed the Complaint against the airline, finding that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. Also, the Court declined the plaintiff’s request to transfer the case to a different Federal Court.

The Court determined that it lacked personal jurisdiction over the airline in a suit filed by a passenger in his home county in upstate New York for an alleged injury that occurred while aboard a flight from Florida to New Jersey. Winne Banta removed the case to Federal Court and immediately moved on behalf of the airline to dismiss the Complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. A Federal Court can exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant in two main ways – by general (all-purpose) jurisdiction or specific (incident-based) jurisdiction. Courts acquire general jurisdiction over corporate defendants only in their states of incorporation or where they are headquartered. Since the airline was neither incorporated nor headquartered in New York, the Court concluded that it lacked general jurisdiction over the passenger’s claim. Courts acquire specific jurisdiction over a defendant, even a non-resident corporate defendant like an airline, if there is a substantial nexus between the subject incident and the state in which suit is filed. In this case, even though the plaintiff was not injured in New York, he argued that the airline was subject to specific jurisdiction on the theory that the purchase of his airline ticket from his home in New York and his round-trip travel that initiated in upstate New York were sufficient to establish a nexus to New York, for purposes of conferring jurisdiction over the airline. The Court rejected this argument, holding that the purchase of a ticket in New York was not sufficiently related to the cause of the alleged injury, which occurred out of state.

Alternatively, the passenger requested that the Court transfer his case to another federal district, rather than dismissing the action. He argued that a dismissal, rather than a transfer, would likely bar him from re-filing elsewhere because of statute of limitations issues. The Court denied the request, concluding that a transfer would unduly reward the passenger for his lack of diligence in prosecuting the action (he filed suit just before the statute of limitations expired), and for his selection of a forum (New York), which he knew or should have known had no “colorable basis for venue.”

The firm’s insurance defense practice is led by partners Carolyn Geraci Frome and Michael J. Cohen.

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