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Trotter v. 7R Holdings LLC

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

October 12, 2017

MICHELLE TROTTER, Appellant
v.
7R HOLDINGS LLC; LUIS A. RUBI GONZALEZ; M/Y OLGA

          Argued May 2, 2017

         On Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands (D.C. Civ. No. 3-14-cv-00099) District Judge: Honorable Curtis V. Gomez

          Thomas F. Friedberg [ARGUED] Sarah L. Bunge Law Offices of Friedberg & Bunge Counsel for Appellant

          Jennifer P. Brooks Kelly Nicole H. Charles-Collins Michael J. Dono [ARGUED] Jennifer Quildon Miller Hamilton Miller & Birthisel, Counsel for Appellees

          Before: GREENAWAY, JR., SHWARTZ, and FUENTES, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          GREENAWAY, JR., Circuit Judge.

         In this appeal, we must determine whether the District Court properly exercised its power to dismiss a case pursuant to the forum non conveniens doctrine when it dismissed Appellant's claims under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104 (2012), and general maritime laws for unseaworthiness, negligence, and maintenance and cure. We shall affirm the District Court in two steps. First, we hold that the general presumption that "[t]he possibility of a change in substantive law should ordinarily not be given conclusive or even substantial weight in the forum non conveniens inquiry, " Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 247 (1981), applies to these claims (a) because the remedy provided by the alternative forum is not clearly inadequate and (b) because the Jones Act does not contain a special venue provision. Second, we hold that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in exercising its forum non conveniens power (a) because the District Court correctly determined that an adequate alternative forum existed and (b) because the District Court reasonably balanced the relevant private and public interest factors.

         I.

         This case arises from the following facts. Luis A. Rubi ("Rubi"), a U.S. citizen, serves as the Director of 7R Holdings, LLC, a limited liability company with its principal place of business in Puerto Rico. 7R Holdings holds 7R Charters Limited.[1] 7R Charters owned M/Y Olga, a yacht registered in the British Virgin Islands ("BVI"). Bernard Calot captains M/Y Olga. In a series of conversations over email and the telephone, Captain Calot, while in Puerto Rico, hired Michelle Trotter ("Trotter"), while in Florida, to work as a chef on M/Y Olga. On December 19, 2012, Trotter boarded M/Y Olga in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands ("USVI"). On December 24, 2012, M/Y Olga traveled to Scrub Island, BVI, and let down its anchor. Trotter allegedly sustained an injury while descending stairs that connected M/Y Olga to Scrub Island's dock. Shortly after the accident, Trotter received treatment for her alleged injuries at a BVI hospital and then flew back to Florida.

         Trotter sued Rubi, 7R Holdings, and M/Y Olga ("Appellees") in the District Court of the Virgin Islands pursuant to the Jones Act and general maritime laws for the personal injury that she claims that she sustained on Scrub Island. Appellees moved to dismiss Trotter's complaint for forum non conveniens.

         The District Court granted the motion. The District Court, relying on Eurofins Pharma U.S. Holdings v. BioAlliance Pharma SA, 623 F.3d 147 (3d Cir. 2010), divided its decision into two parts. First, it found that the alternative forum, the BVI, qualified as an adequate alternative forum. Second, it held that the balance of the public and private interests overcame Trotter's choice of forum.

         On appeal, Trotter raises two issues. First, Trotter argues that, as a matter of law, we should vacate the District Court's decision because the District Court failed to perform a choice of law analysis before dismissing Trotter's complaint pursuant to forum non conveniens. Second, Trotter asserts that we should vacate the District Court's decision because the District Court abused its discretion by granting the motion to dismiss pursuant to forum non conveniens. Appellees insist that these arguments lack merit. We agree and will affirm.

         II.[2]

         In resolving this case, we must address two issues. First, did the District Court err in failing to determine whether U.S. law applies before deciding forum non conveniens? Second, did the District Court abuse its discretion in dismissing Trotter's claims for forum non conveniens? We review the first question de novo, Maniscalco v. Brother Int'l (USA) Corp., 709 F.3d 202, 206 (3d Cir. 2013), and the second question for abuse of discretion, Kisano Trade & Invest Ltd. v. Lemster, 737 F.3d 869, 872 (3d Cir. 2013).

         A.

         The District Court did not err in failing to determine whether U.S. law applies before dismissing the case for forum non conveniens. This conclusion rests on the ...


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