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Linda Dejana, As Personal Representative of the Estate of Philip Dejana, Deceased v. Marine Technology

September 26, 2011

LINDA DEJANA, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF PHILIP DEJANA, DECEASED,
AND WILLIAM T. GRAFF, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF KEVIN GRAFF, DECEASED,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MARINE TECHNOLOGY, INC., AND RANDY M. SCISM, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seybert, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This suit arises out of a fatal 2008 boating accident in the Great South Bay near Patchogue, Long Island. Plaintiffs Linda Dejana and William T. Graff (collectively, "Plaintiffs") are the personal representatives of decedents Philip Dejana ("Dejana") and Kevin Graff ("Graff"), respectively. Plaintiffs sued Defendants Marine Technology, Inc. ("Marine") and Marine's CEO and sole shareholder, Randy M. Scism ("Scism" and, with Marine, "Defendants") for products liability. Pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. (Docket Entry 17.) For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that it does not have personal jurisdiction over Defendants and, in the interest of justice, transfers this action to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

BACKGROUND

In 2008, Dejana and Graff were racing a speedboat called the "Aero Express" in the "Battle of the Bay" offshore powerboat race on the Great South Bay. (Am. Compl. ¶ 56.) The "Aero Express" capsized as it approached the course's second turn, and its canopy collapsed upon impact with the water. The cockpit flooded, and both operators were killed. (Id. ¶¶ 64-67.) On behalf of Dejana and Graff, Plaintiffs sued Marine, the Aero Express' manufacturer, and Scism, Marine's president, asserting causes of action for design defect, manufacturing defect, and failure to warn. The thrust of Plaintiff's case is that the Aero Express' canopy did not meet industry requirements. (See id. ¶¶ 39, 66.)

Defendants argue that they are not subject to this Court's jurisdiction. Marine is a Missouri corporation with its principal place of business in Wentzville, Missouri. (Randy Scism Affidavit ("Scism Aff.") ¶ 3.) Scism is a Missouri domiciliary. (Id. ¶ 1.) Marine designs and builds custom-ordered powerboats and sells them either directly to consumers or through a Tennessee boat dealer. (Id. ¶ 9.) It sells approximately ten boats per year, mostly in Missouri and Tennessee. (Id. ¶ 6.) Since 1989, Marine has sold three boats to New York residents (id. ¶ 9), but these boats were purchased and delivered in either Missouri or Tennessee. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 10.)

Marine attracts customers through a website and through its attendance at various boat shows, none of which are held in New York. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 14-14.) Its website boasts that Marine's boats have an exceptional performance record in powerboat races worldwide. (See Pl. Ex. 5, Summ. Defs.' Website ¶¶ 4-5, 8.) Although customers cannot complete a sale through the computer, the website provides information regarding models, prices, and further contact information. (Id. ¶ 5.) The prices quoted on Marine's website range from $199,000 to $899,000 per boat. (Id. ¶ 6.b, f.)

Dejana bought the Aero Express from Slug Hefner, a Missouri resident and longtime customer, in 2007, (see Am. Compl. ¶ 25), and the parties dispute whether Marine or Scism helped orchestrate the sale. There is no question that Marine sold Hefner the boat in 2004,*fn1 but the parties disagree whether Marine was "instrumental" in facilitating the sale from Hefner to Dejana (Plaintiffs' view) or whether Marine learned of the deal only after it had been completed (Defendants' view). (See Hefner Aff. ¶ 14 (stating that Dejana told him that Marine had been "instrumental" in the sale).) According to Plaintiffs, Scism "personally spoke to [Dejana] on more than one occasion touting [the Aero Express'] design, construction history, speed, handling and performance capabilities." (Pl. Opp. 5.) Plaintiffs claim that Scism's encouragement was the primary factor in Dejana's final purchase decision. (Id.) Additionally, they maintain that Scism tried to sell Dejana a new Marine boat at the time of his purchase from Hefner. (Id.) Defendants deny any involvement in the re-sale. (Scism Aff. 20.)

Plaintiffs also assert that Defendants have had extensive contact with New York since Dejana bought the Aero Express from Hefner. They claim that Supercat Rigging, which is partially owned by Scism, performed $22,000 of service on the boat and billed Dejana in New York. (Pl. Opp. 18.) They also claim that Defendants are highly active in powerboat racing circles, and that Dejana and Graff raced the Aero Express in several Offshore Powerboat Association events, including one in New York, prior to August 2008. (Id.) Relatedly, Plaintiffs assert that Dejana spoke with Scism about re-outfitting the Aero Express to compete in a different class of New York races. (Id. 11.)

DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction. Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Robertson-Ceco Corp., 84 F.3d 560, 565 (2d Cir. 1996). The Court has "considerable procedural leeway" in resolving these motions; it may decide the motion on the basis of the parties' affidavits, "permit discovery in aid of the motion; or . . . conduct an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the motion." Marine Midland Bank v. Miller, 664 F.2d 899, 904 (2d Cir. 1981). A plaintiff's precise burden depends on how the Court elects to address the jurisdiction issue. Marine Midland Bank v. Miller, 664 F.2d 899, 904 (2d Cir. 1981). Short of a "full-blown evidentiary hearing on the motion, the plaintiff need make only a prima facie showing through its own affidavits and supporting materials." Id. "Eventually, of course, the plaintiff must establish jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence, either at a pretrial evidentiary hearing or at trial. But until such a hearing is held, a prima facie showing suffices, notwithstanding any controverting presentation by the moving party, to defeat the motion." Id.; see, e.g., Drake v. Lab. Corp. of Am. Holdings, No. 02-CV-1924, 2007 WL 776818, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 13, 2007).

"A plaintiff can make this [prima facie] showing through its own affidavits and supporting materials, containing a good faith averment of facts that, if credited . . . would suffice to establish jurisdiction over the defendant." In re Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether Prod. Liab. Litig., 399 F. Supp. 2d 325, 330 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (quoting Whitaker v. Am. Telecasting, Inc., 261 F.3d 196, 208 (2d Cir. 2001) (internal quotations omitted)). When the issue is addressed on affidavits, all allegations are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all doubts are resolved in the plaintiff's favor. Id.; DiStefano v. Carozzi N. Am., Inc., 286 F.3d 81, 85 (2d Cir. 2001). Thus, the Court accepts Plaintiffs' evidence as true. See In re Ski Train Fire, 343 F. Supp. 2d 208, 213 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) ("[A] court may consider materials outside the pleadings, but must credit the plaintiff's averments of jurisdictional facts as true.").

I. Determining Personal Jurisdiction

Whether or not a defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction involves a two-part inquiry. First, the Court asks whether the defendant's acts bring him within reach of the long-arm statute of the state in which the Court sits. FED. R. CIV. P. 4(k)(1)(a); Asahi Metal Indus. v. Superior Court of C.A., Solano Cnty., 480 U.S. 102, 108-09, 107 S. Ct. 1026, 1030, 94 L. Ed. 2d 92 (1987). Second, if the state's long-arm statute permits the Court's exercise of jurisdiction, then the ...


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