NYK Line released a vague letter from the Fifth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals yesterday dismissing an appeal regarding Lawsuits to claim damages against Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK). The letter addressed the court case of Douglass v. NYK.
The Douglass incident includes the ACX Crystal, a time-chartered ship from NYK, and the USS Fitzgerald, a U.S. Navy warship, colliding in Japanese territorial waters. Several Navy personnel were killed and hurt in the crash.
General jurisdiction over a defendant exists solely when its contacts with the U.S. are so continuous and systematic as to render the defendant at home. After applying an “essential home test” on NYK after learning that the Japanese company held no contacts within any of the U.S. states. Eventually, the case was dismissed due to NYK not having proper U.S. contacts.
A Fifth Circuit three-judge bench upheld the dismissal of the cases in April 2021. The written conclusion of the panel illustrated that it was hesitant to affirm after feeling confined by “prior case precedent.”
One judge believed that NYK should be subject to jurisdiction in this case as a “global corporation with extensive contacts with the United States,” so much so that they wrote a letter separately urging the Fifth Circuit to take the issue under consideration to “correct our course and undo the unnecessary limitation.”
The Fifth Circuit granted the request for a review en banc on July 2, 2021, overturning the three-judge panel’s April ruling.
In the en banc ruling, the 5th Circuit ruled that universal jurisdiction applies and that plaintiffs of those killed or injured in the USS Fitzgerald crash cannot bring an American lawsuit against the Japanese firm.
Due to a challenge to the federal courts’ typical application of general jurisdiction in civil actions involving U.S. interests where the injury occurred abroad, maritime interests have been closely watching them.
The decision came on July 6 when the Court delivered its final decision, once more dismissing the appeals made by the claimants in the initial instance, and got put into writing on August 16, 2022.