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Hazel Credle As Administratrix of the Estate of Frankie v. United States of America and

December 14, 2011

HAZEL CREDLE AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF FRANKIE ELIJAH CREDLE, ET AL. , PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND
SCIENCE SYSTEMS AND APPLICATIONS, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

IRENAS , Senior District Judge:

OPINION

Presently before the Court is Defendant Science Systems and Applications, Inc.'s ("Science") Motion to Dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. *fn1 (Dkt. No. 21) For the following reasons, the Court will deny the Motion to Dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, dismiss the Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim and transfer the case to the District of Maryland.

I.

Plaintiffs are administratrices of four deceased crew members of the F/V Lady Mary who perished when the vessel sunk off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey on March 24, 2009. The vessel was equipped with a 406-MHz emergency position-indicating radio beacon ("Beacon"), which is a tracking transmitter that aids in the detection of distressed ships. (Compl. ¶ 18) Each Beacon is assigned a personalized fifteen character hex-ID, which aids in locating and contacting the vessel. ( Id. at ¶ 20) Once activated, the Beacon sends a signal that is detected by satellites. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ("NOAA") monitors these signals and alerts the United States Coast Guard of ships in need of emergency assistance. ( Id. at ¶ 21)

NOAA contracted with Science to register and enter each Beacon's hex-ID into NOAA's database. ( Id. ) Plaintiffs allege that in January 2007, one of Science's clerks entered the F/V Lady Mary Beacon's hex-ID incorrectly. ( Id. at ¶ 22) As a result, on the day the vessel began to sink, the computer could not immediately identify the location of the F/V Lady Mary to send emergency assistance. ( Id. at ¶ 23)

To locate the F/V Lady Mary, the NOAA had to wait for a low-earth orbiting satellite to pass over the vessel. ( Id. at ¶ 24) This delay caused the Coast Guard to receive the emergency assistance request eighty-seven minutes later than if the technology had operated correctly. ( Id. at ¶ 25) By the time the Coast Guard arrived, two crew members were still alive, only one of whom survived. ( Id.

Plaintiffs allege causes of action for negligence, breach of contract and wrongful death. ( See Compl. Counts I-V) Defendant Science moves this Court to dismiss pursuant to 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction and 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. ( See Dkt. No. 21)

II.

Plaintiff bears the burden of presenting evidence establishing a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction over each defendant. Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith , 384 F.3d 93, 94 (3d Cir. 2004). "'[P]laintiff must sustain its burden of proof in establishing jurisdictional facts through sworn affidavits and competent evidence. . . At no point may a plaintiff rely on the bare pleadings alone in order to withstand a defendant's Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Once the motion is made, plaintiff must respond with actual proofs, not mere allegations.' " Machulsky v. Hall , 210 F. Supp. 2d 531, 537 (D.N.J. 2002) (quoting Patterson v. Fed. Bureau of Investigation , 893 F.2d 595, 603-04 (3d Cir. 1990)). In the absence of an evidentiary hearing, only a prima facie showing is required and plaintiff is "entitled to have its allegations taken as true and all factual disputes drawn in its favor." Miller Yacht Sales , 384 F. 3d at 97.

The framework for analyzing jurisdiction over the parties is well-known. A federal court sitting in New Jersey has jurisdiction over the parties to the extent provided under New Jersey state law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(e). New Jersey courts may exercise personal jurisdiction to the extent permitted by the United States Constitution. Miller Yacht Sales , 384 F. 3d at 96.

Due process requires that each defendant have "minimum

contacts" with the forum state (in this case New Jersey) and that the Court's exercise of jurisdiction over the parties comports with "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington , 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). "Minimum contacts must have a basis in 'some act by which the defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, thus invoking the benefits and protection of its laws." Asahi Metal Indust. Co. v. Sup. Ct. of Cal. , 480 U.S. 102, 109 (1987) (quoting Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz , 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985)).

Within this framework, personal jurisdiction may be examined under two distinct theories: general and specific jurisdiction. See Remick v. Manfredy , 238 F. 3d 248, 255 (3d Cir. 2001). "General jurisdiction is based upon the defendant's continuous and systematic contacts with the forum and exists even if the plaintiff's cause of action arises from the defendant's non-forum related activities. In contrast, specific jurisdiction is present only if the plaintiff's cause of action arises out of defendant's forum-related activities, such that the defendant should reasonably anticipate being haled into court in that forum." Id. at 255 (citations omitted). "A 'relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation' is the ...

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