Federal District Court in Washington Dismisses Cases Arising out of AirAsia Flight QZ 8501 Crash on Jurisdictional Grounds

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington (Seattle) recently dismissed defendants AirAsia Berhad and Artus S.A.S. from wrongful death litigation arising out of the crash of AirAsia Flight QZ 8501 into the Java Sea on December 28, 2014. The plaintiffs filed their action in Seattle where they reside, alleging subject matter jurisdiction under the Multiparty, Multiforum Trial Jurisdiction Act.1  Relying upon the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman,2 defendants successfully moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

In granting dismissal, the district court agreed that general jurisdiction was lacking because the defendants were not “at home” in the forum (in this case, the U.S.).3 The court’s determination that jurisdiction was lacking was based on defendants’ affidavits establishing they were incorporated and had their principal places of business in foreign countries.  The court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that certain domestic business activities, such as hosting a website on a U.S.-based server, rendered each of the defendants “essentially at home” in the United States for jurisdictional purposes, finding such contacts “minimal.”4

The district court also determined specific jurisdiction did not exist based on plaintiffs’ failure to allege any causal connection between their claims and any U.S.-based conduct by either defendant.5

This decision follows the Northern District of Illinois’s dismissal of claims stemming from the same air crash in Siswanto v. Airbus Americas, Inc. Siswanto involved wrongful death claims against seven defendants, including the alleged owner of the aircraft and various component manufacturers.  The Illinois litigation was dismissed after the court granted motions to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction and forum non conveniens.6

Significantly, two cases currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County7 and BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrell,8 invite the Court to revisit the Daimler framework.  The decisions in those cases undoubtedly will affect how lower courts analyze personal jurisdiction in future cases.

1 See 28 U.S.C. § 1369.

2 134 S. Ct. 746, 761 (2014).

3 See Sia v. AirAsia Berhad, No. C16-1692 TSZ, 2017 WL 1408172 (W.D. Wash. Apr. 20, 2017) (order granting AirAsia Berhad and Artus, S.A.S.’s motions to dismiss).

4 See id. at *3.

5 See id. at *4.

6 See Siswanto v. Airbus, 153 F. Supp. 3d 1024, 1026 (N.D. Ill. 2015) (memorandum opinion and order dismissing Airbus, S.A.S. for lack of personal jurisdiction); Siswanto v. Airbus Americas, Inc., No. 15-CV-5486, 2016 WL 7178459 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 9, 2016) (memorandum opinion and order granting Thales Avionics’ motion to dismiss); Siswanto v. Airbus Americas, Inc., No. 15-CV-5486, 2016 WL 7178460 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 9, 2016) (memorandum opinion and order dismissing several U.S.-based defendants on the basis of forum non conveniens).

7 137 S. Ct. 827, 196 L. Ed. 2d 610 (Jan. 19, 2017) (order granting the petition for writ of certiorari).

8 137 S. Ct. 810, 196 L. Ed. 2d 596 (Jan. 13, 2017) (order granting the petition for writ of certiorari).