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Anderson Trucking Service Inc. v. Eagle Underwriting Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 23, 2018

ANDERSON TRUCKING SERVICE, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
EAGLE UNDERWRITING GROUP, INC., WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION, RIDGEWAY INTERNATIONAL USA, INC., AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM, Defendants.

          RULING ON MOTIONS TO DISMISS [DOCS. 32, 33, 47] AND ON MOTION FOR JURISDICTIONAL DISCOVERY [DOC. 39]

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Anderson Trucking Service, Inc. ("Anderson" or "Plaintiff"), brings this declaratory judgment action against Defendants Eagle Underwriting Group, Inc. ("Eagle"); Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution ("WHOI"); Ridgeway International USA, Inc. ("Ridgeway"); and the Australian National Maritime Museum ("Museum"). This matter involves a submersible owned by WHOI, on loan to the Museum, and in transit on Anderson's vehicle when it was damaged by fire. Anderson brings this suit seeking a declaration that it is not liable for any damage incurred by the submersible; or in the event it is found liable for such damage, its liability is limited. Each Defendant has moved to dismiss the Complaint; those motions are resisted by Plaintiff. In response to the motions to dismiss, Plaintiff has moved for leave to conduct jurisdictional discovery, a motion opposed by Defendants. This Ruling resolves the pending motions.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, which provides that "[i]n a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction . . . any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought." 28 U.S.C. §2201(a). This Act, however, "does not by itself confer subject matter jurisdiction on the federal courts. Rather, there must be an independent basis of jurisdiction before a district court may issue a declaratory judgment." Correspondent Servs. Corp. v. First Equities Corp. of Fla., 442 F.3d 767, 769 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal citation omitted).

         The Complaint, filed on May 17, 2017, alleges that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1337, as this action arises under the laws of the United States and under an Act of Congress regulating interstate commerce; specifically, the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act ("COGSA"), 46 U.S.C. § 30701; or, alternatively, the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, 49 U.S.C. § 14706, and the amount in controversy exceeds $10, 000. Complaint, Doc. 1 ¶ 8. Plaintiff also invokes the Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, asserting that the parties are completely diverse, and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs. Id. at ¶ 9.

         On November 21, 2017, WHOI filed an action in the District of Massachusetts against Anderson, Ridgeway, the Museum, and other defendants, seeking damages, fees and costs.[1] Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution v. ATS Specialized, Inc., 1:17-CV-12301(NMG) (D. Mass. 2017) ("Massachusetts Action").

         On November 22, 2017, in the instant matter, the Museum filed a motion to dismiss the declaratory judgment complaint, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Doc. 32. The Museum contends that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"). 28 U.S.C. §§ 1602 et seq.[2] Id. On November 30, 2017, Defendants WHOI and Eagle jointly filed a motion to dismiss, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2), for lack of personal jurisdiction; pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim; and pursuant to Rule 12(b)(7), for failure to join indispensable parties. Doc. 33. In the alternative, the motion seeks transfer of this action to the District of Massachusetts, and also urges the Court to abstain from exercising jurisdiction under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). Id.

         On December 22, 2017, also in this case, Anderson filed a motion seeking leave to conduct jurisdictional discovery. Doc. 39. On January 9, 2018, Ridgeway filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2), and for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Doc. 47. In the alternative, Ridgeway's motion states that to the extent that the complaint is dismissed against any co-defendant for lack of personal jurisdiction, or if any indispensable party cannot be joined, the complaint should be dismissed. See id.

         On February 23, 2018, the Court held oral argument on the pending motions. Doc. 72.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The following facts are derived from the Complaint, Doc. 1.

         Anderson, the declaratory Plaintiff, is a Minnesota corporation with its principal place of business in Minnesota. Doc. 1 ¶ 1.

         As for Defendants: Eagle is an insurance company organized and existing and with its principal place in Canada. Id. ¶ 2. WHOI is a corporation organized and existing in Massachusetts, with its principal place of business in Massachusetts. Id. ¶ 3. Ridgeway is a corporation organized and existing in New York, with its principal place of business in New York. Id. ¶ 4. The Museum is an agency or part of the Commonwealth of Australia, with its principal place of business in Australia. Id. ¶ 5.

         The Complaint does not allege any specific facts which would allow the Court to establish jurisdiction over the Defendants, beyond the allegations that Defendants Eagle and the Museum are "authorized to conduct business" in the United States and in Connecticut. Id. ¶¶ 2, 5.

         Anderson alleges that WHOI and/or the Museum contracted with Ridgeway, a freight forwarder, or a Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier ("NVOCC"), to arrange for the transport of a "used submarine" from Woods Hole, Massachusetts to Australia. Doc. 1 ¶ 13. The submarine was to be provided without charge to the Museum by WHOI. Id. ¶ 14. According to Anderson, the transport of the submarine was to be one continuous movement "on a through, ocean, or combined transport bill of lading or waybill, subject to Ridgeway's terms of service." Id. ¶ 15-16. Those terms provide that WHOI and the Museum will not file any claim, or have any right of recovery against any subcontractor of Ridgeway for damage or loss. Id. ¶ 19.

         Anderson alleges that it was notified by Ridgeway that the value of the submarine was five million dollars. Id. ¶ 23. Anderson informed Ridgeway that at the quoted price to transport the submarine, $1600, it would not accept liability for the full value of the vessel. Id. Anderson told Ridgeway that its customers should purchase insurance, and such insurance was indeed purchased from Eagle. Id. ¶ 24-5.

         Anderson alleges that Ridgeway arranged for the transportation of the submarine. Id. ¶ 20. With the authority to act as an agent for WHOI and/or the Museum, Ridgeway contracted with Anderson, a motor carrier, to transport the submarine on its first leg of the journey, from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to Baltimore, Maryland. Id. ¶ 21-22. The submarine was to then travel by ocean carrier from Baltimore to Australia. Id. ¶ 20.

         On July 23, 2015, Anderson and Ridgeway took possession of the submarine in Woods Hole. Id. ¶ 25. While en route on I-95 in Connecticut, Anderson's trailer caught fire, resulting in damage to the submarine. Id. ¶ 26.

         On April 1, 2016, Eagle and WHOI sent a claim to Anderson for damage to the submarine, in the amount of $8, 307, 101. Id. ¶ 27. "Upon information and belief," Eagle has at least partially indemnified WHOI and/or [the Museum] for the loss, "and is fully or partially subrogated to Woods Hole's and/or [the Museum's] claim against [Anderson] to the extent of this indemnification." Id. ¶ 28.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants raise a number of issues in support of their motions for dismissal, but common to each of the motions is the argument that the complaint should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction (subject matter or personal jurisdiction, depending on the Defendant involved).

         The Museum contends that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claims brought against it, pursuant to the FSIA. Defendants WHOI, Eagle, and Ridgeway argue that this action should be dismissed against them for lack of personal jurisdiction. In response to the Defendants' motions to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds, Anderson moves for leave to conduct jurisdictional discovery. Each of the motions presents questions regarding the scope of this Court's authority to hear this matter. The Court will address those questions in the first instance.

         A. The FSIA

         The Museum, a defendant in this matter, is a corporation "empowered to act on behalf of the Commonwealth" of Australia, and is owned by the Australian government. Declaration of Peter Rout, Doc. 32-2 ¶ 2. The Museum is funded by the Australian government and operates on a non-for-profit basis. Id. As an arm of a sovereign foreign state, the Museum asserts that it is immune from the jurisdiction of this federal court under the FSIA, 28 U.S.C. § 1602 et seq. Consequently, the Museum argues, this Court lacks jurisdiction over the claims asserted against it in this matter.

         On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff bears the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Aurecchione v. Schoolman Transp. Sys., Inc., 426 F.3d 635, 638 (2d Cir. 2005). "In considering such a motion, the Court generally must accept the material factual allegations in the complaint as true. The Court does not, however, draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Hijazi v. Permanent Mission Of Saudi Arabia to United Nations, 689 F.Supp.2d 669, 670 (S.D.N.Y.) (citation omitted), aff'd, 403 Fed.Appx. 631 (2d Cir. 2010).

         Under the FSIA, a "a foreign state shall be immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States," unless a statutorily enumerated exception applies. 28 U.S.C. § 1604. "The FSIA thus provides the sole basis for obtaining jurisdiction over a foreign sovereign in the United States." Republic of Argentina v. Weltover, Inc., 504 U.S. 607 (1992) (quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Atlantica Holdings v. Sovereign Wealth Fund Samruk-Kazyna JSC, 813 F.3d 98, 106 (2d Cir. 2016) (same), cert. denied sub nom., Sovereign Wealth Fund Samruk-Kazyna JSC v. Atl. Holdings, Inc., 137 S.Ct. 493 (2016). The FSIA "broadly immunizes foreign states from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States, ...


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