Fitzpatrick & Hunt’s Dismissal for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction is Affirmed by the U.S. Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

Recently, the U.S. Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, affirmed the order dismissing Defendant, Sandals Resorts International, Ltd. (“Sandals”), for lack of personal jurisdiction. Fitzpatrick & Hunt, Pagano, Aubert, LLP, represented Sandals.

This lawsuit arose from a claim of personal injury wherein the Plaintiff allegedly suffered food poisoning after eating sushi at a restaurant in the Sandals resort in Turks & Caicos. On January 28, 2016, a complaint naming Sandals Resorts International, Ltd.; Sandals Resorts; and Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort & Spa was filed in the U.S. Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County. The complaint alleged the Defendants were negligent in the preparation and service of the food. There were also causes of action for strict liability, breach of warranty, and loss of consortium.

A motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue was filed on behalf of Sandals Resorts International. The Superior Court granted Sandals’ motion to dismiss on August 19, 2016. The Superior Court did not address the issue of general jurisdiction and noted the Plaintiff conceded that Sandals’ contacts with New Jersey did not reach the threshold for general jurisdiction. Of importance to this element, the Court noted that Sandals is both incorporated and has its principal place of business in Jamaica.

The Court presented the following framework to determine whether there was specific jurisdiction: 1) whether the Defendant purposefully directed its activities at the forum; 2) whether the litigation arose out of or related to at least one of the contacts; and 3) whether the exercise of jurisdiction otherwise comported with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

The Lower Court ruled there were no purposeful contacts with the state of New Jersey. Specifically, there were no personal emails or mailings sent from Sandals to the Plaintiff. Also, the training of travel agents to promote Beaches/Sandals is not akin to targeting New Jersey residents. Other factors the Court relied upon were the following: there is no physical presence in New Jersey; Sandals is not licensed to do business in New Jersey; Sandals does not earn revenue in the United States, does not derive any revenue directly from individuals or entities in the United States, and all activities related to food service takes place in Turks & Caicos.

The Superior Court also held that a finding of specific jurisdiction would violate interests of fair play and substantial justice because the injury occurred in Turks & Caicos, the injury allegedly occurred at a restaurant in the Sandals resort in Turks & Caicos, and all of the food was prepared in Turks & Caicos.

While the Lower Court did not make a specific finding as to venue, the Court cited to the invoice and Registration Information Card, which clearly stated that Turks & Caicos shall be the exclusive venue/forum for any proceedings.

The Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of the Lower Court, and the decision was affirmed by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, on February 12, 2018. The Appellate Court ruled there was no specific jurisdiction because the cause of action did not arise directly out of Defendant’s contacts with the forum state. The incident, and all activities relating to the incident, including the preparation and service of food occurred in Turks & Caicos. The Appellate Division also found that any contact with the travel agent in New Jersey does not establish specific jurisdiction because the cause of action still arose from conduct that occurred outside the forum.

The Appellate Court agreed with the Lower Court that there was no general jurisdiction because the contacts with New Jersey does not make Sandals “at home.” The Appellate Court states that Sandals’ place of incorporation and principal place of business is not New Jersey. There are no employees or agents in New Jersey, nor are there any physical locations in New Jersey. The alleged advertising and affiliation with travel agents does not render Sandals “at home” in New Jersey.

The Appellate Court also ruled there were no grounds for jurisdictional discovery because the Plaintiff could not suggest with reasonable particularity the possible existence of requisite contacts, nor establish a dispute as to any jurisdictional findings.

Similar to the Court below, the Appellate Court did not address the issue of venue after ruling there was no personal jurisdiction.

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Fitzpatrick & Hunt, Pagano, Aubert, LLP serves clients in diverse areas, such as aviation and aerospace; general products liability; premises/construction/labor law; cyber security; insurance coverage; entertainment/media and employment law. Our offices are based in New York City; White Plains, New York; Los Angeles; and New Jersey.