Southern District of New York Finds No Personal Jurisdiction Over Foreign Airline for Injuries Sustained on a Connecting Flight for Round-Trip Travel to New York

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In H.B. v. China S. Airlines, Co., New York plaintiffs purchased round-trip tickets on China Southern Airlines for travel from JFK to India with a connection in China. Plaintiffs’ tickets were purchased in New York and issued from India.

A seatback tray table on the India to China leg of the return flight injured one of the plaintiffs, who received medical treatment in India and was rebooked to New York. The balance of plaintiff’s relevant medical treatment took place in New York. Plaintiffs brought Montreal Convention claims in the Southern District, alleging the injuries were caused by the failure to “maintain, inspect, monitor, and repair the aircraft properly.” The airline moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Plaintiffs argued the foreign airline was subject to general jurisdiction because it maintained an office and employees, advertised, and facilitated a ticket business in New York. The Court rejected this argument, holding the foreign airline was not subject to general jurisdiction in New York as it was a foreign company organized under Chinese law, incorporated in China, and headquartered in China. Moreover, the airline did not consent to general jurisdiction by registering to do business in New York.

Plaintiffs also argued the foreign airline was subject to specific jurisdiction because they purchased the tickets in New York, their travel was round-trip to New York, and the airline had significant business operations in New York. The airline argued the injuries at issue took place on the ground in India with service to China, not on a flight to or from New York.

The Court agreed with the airline, holding that, while plaintiffs did demonstrate the airline transacted business in New York at the time of the incident, plaintiffs “failed to allege a substantial connection between their claims and Defendant’s transaction of business in New York.” The plaintiffs’ purchase of the tickets in New York – where they reside – for air travel beginning and ending in New York was not sufficient to tie plaintiffs’ cause of action to New York based on an injury that occurred elsewhere while traveling on that ticket. As such, the Court did not have personal jurisdiction over the airline. The Court did not mention, or base its reasoning on, the Supreme Court’s recent Ford case, a decision widely viewed as expanding (or at least not narrowing) the scope of specific jurisdiction. H.B. v. China S. Airlines Co., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117313 (S.D.N.Y. June 23, 2021).

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