A Jones Act case involving an injury to a Louisiana resident in Louisiana will proceed in a Harris County district court, according to a recent opinion by the Houston [14th] Court of Appeals.
Marquette Transportation Company, LLC and Marquette Transportation Company Gulf-Inland, LLP (No. 14-21-00729-CV; filed December 13, 2022) arose from a stroke suffered by plaintiff while working on Marquette’s vessel in Louisiana waters. Plaintiff sued Marquette in Harris County for claims under the Jones Act, for unseaworthiness, and for maintenance and cure. Marquette filed a special appearance, arguing that plaintiff’s injuries did not arise from Marquette’s minimum contacts with Texas. The trial court denied the special appearance. Marquette filed an interlocutory appeal.
Marquette’s principal place of business is in Louisiana, but it maintains an office in La Porte. According to the jurisdictional evidence presented by plaintiff, Marquette conducts various safety and inspection activities from the La Porte office, the vessel on which plaintiff was injured makes regular calls at Texas ports, and the company’s decision to deny plaintiff benefits for maintenance and cure came from the La Porte office. Marquette agreed that, for personal jurisdiction purposes, the company “purposefully avails itself of conducting activities in the forum state,” and that “traditional notions for fair play and substantial justice are [not] offended by the exercise of jurisdiction” (citations omitted). But, Marquette argued, plaintiff’s claims did not “arise from or relate to” Marquette’s contacts with the forum state, as required by the second independent prong of the test enunciated by SCOTX precedent.
The problem was, however, Marquette failed to offer any specific evidence, despite the trial court giving it an opportunity to do so, beyond its claims manager’s bald assertion that none of the operative facts of the litigation occurred in Texas. Marquette neither adduced evidence negating plaintiff’s showing that the company’s safety and training activities in Texas were unrelated to plaintiff’s claims, nor that its decision to deny maintenance and cure benefits occurred outside of Texas. Based on this record, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the special appearance.
This case seems to us to be more about the lawyering than the substantive law. Courts of appeals are frequently asked, as the 14th Court was here, to reverse a trial court when one of the parties has neither developed the record nor cited any case authority for their position (the defendants didn’t do that either in this case). And this gets to the point of why we try to go more deeply into appellate decisions than simply the outcome. Some might be tempted to consider this decision as “pro-plaintiff” when it is nothing of the sort. Legitimate criticisms of some appellate decisions can and should be made, but, candidly speaking, these are few and far between. Before we make too many overgeneralizations about the jobs certain courts or justices are doing, we need to look more closely at the specific subject matter, the state of the evidence actually before the court, and the quality of the lawyering the court has to deal with in that case. That’s what we’re trying to do here, albeit imperfectly because we can’t look at everything.