Important recent decision regarding personal jurisdiction over foreign corporations


By: Sean Phelan

In the recent Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas matter, Knox v. Seven Seas Cruises, No. 525, August Term 2020 (C.P. Phila. Co. Aug. 21, 2021 New, J.), the trial court issued a Rule 1925 Opinion requesting the Superior Court to affirm the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The case involved a claim for monetary damages against an international cruise line regarding a cruise which was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic. The cruise in question had been scheduled to embark in San Diego and to disembark in Miami.

The Plaintiffs filed suit in Philadelphia County, claiming the Pennsylvania trial court had specific jurisdiction because the financial harms which the Plaintiffs allegedly sustained were related to the Panamanian cruise line’s contacts in Pennsylvania, specifically, the cruise line’s solicitation of the Plaintiffs’ business and that of other Pennsylvania residents. After the filing of timely Preliminary Objections asserting the issue of personal jurisdiction, the court held that, even though the Defendant cruise line admittedly and directly solicited business from Pennsylvania residents, including the Plaintiffs’ themselves, the court lacked specific personal jurisdiction over this foreign corporation because the alleged injury-causing incident involving the Defendant did not occur in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and, as such, the Defendant’s “affiliations within the state [were] not so continuous and systematic as to render [it] essentially at home in the forum state”. Goodyear v. Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 131 S.Ct. 2846 (2011).

Moreover, despite the Plaintiffs’ having Pennsylvania residency – coupled with the Defendant’s direct solicitation of business in Pennsylvania – this was not sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction over the Defendant. Thus, the trial court requested that the Superior Court affirm its decision on appeal. Provided the trial court’s ruling is affirmed on appeal, this case will provide significant precedent for foreign corporations that are sued in the plaintiff-friendly venue of Philadelphia County, in order to prevent improper forum shopping and ensuring general personal jurisdiction is actually established.

The litigation attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP stay constantly attuned to updated legal developments such as these to best assist our hospitality and entertainment industry clients in defending actions with attenuated relationships to the Plaintiff’s chosen forum.