United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Fawzi was a cameraman for Al Jazeera in 2013 when he was
assigned to work in the network's Cairo office.
Apparently, the new post was more than he bargained for:
Fawzi ended up being arrested, and then tried in
absentia, for his ties to his employer-by then a vocal
critic of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Fawzi now
brings breach of contract and tort claims in this Court,
alleging that Al Jazeera failed to properly warn him about
the dangers of the Cairo assignment. However, the alleged
actions that give rise to Fawzi's suit have no connection
to this forum, nor can Al Jazeera be considered “at
home” here. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct.
746, 751 (2014). Accordingly, this Court lacks personal
jurisdiction over Fawzi's claims.
factual account that follows is based on the allegations
outlined in Fawzi's complaint. Fawzi, an Egyptian citizen
currently residing in Virginia, has worked as a cameraman
“in hot spots all over the globe.” See
Compl. ¶¶ 1, 3. In September 2013, Al Jazeera Media
Network (“Al Jazeera”)-a Qatari corporation with
its headquarters and principal place of business in Doha,
Qatar-requested that Fawzi travel to Egypt to work as a
cameraman at the network's Cairo bureau. See id.
¶¶ 1, 5, 63, 65. At the time, Al Jazeera was
accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood's efforts to
overthrow the then-nascent el-Sisi regime, and there was an
“extremely antagonistic relationship” between the
network and the Egyptian government. Id. ¶ 14.
For instance, in July and August of 2013, Egyptian security
forces conducted raids on Al Jazeera's Cairo office, and
they arrested Al Jazeera journalists. Id. ¶ 24.
In early September of that year, an administrative court
officially banned Al Jazeera from broadcasting in Egypt, on
the grounds that it was fabricating pro-Muslim Brotherhood
news. Id. ¶ 20. According to Fawzi, however, Al
Jazeera never informed him about any of this, or even
discussed with him the risks associated with working as an Al
Jazeera journalist in Cairo. Id. ¶¶ 13,
unaware of the above dangers, Fawzi took the Cairo
assignment. In December 2013, he was arrested and
interrogated by Egyptian security officers due to his Al
Jazeera connections, although he was released shortly
thereafter. Id. ¶¶ 15, 58. Perceiving that
“his life was endangered, ” Fawzi claims that he
then “immediately booked an airline reservation and
left the country.” Id. ¶ 16. He did not
return to Egypt, but in June 2014, Fawzi-along with a number
of his colleagues-were tried in an Egyptian criminal court
in absentia. Id. ¶ 50. Fawzi
“was sentenced to ten years in prison and was
designated as an international terrorist.” Id.
now claims that Al Jazeera's failure to warn or otherwise
advise him of the dangers surrounding his work in Egypt was
negligent and a breach of his employment contract. See
id. at 1. Citing lost wages due to his unemployment, as
well as the emotional trauma he experienced from his arrest
and in absentia conviction, Fawzi seeks $2.4 million
in compensatory damages, and an additional $5 million in
punitive damages. See id. ¶ 81. Al Jazeera
moves to dismiss his complaint for lack of personal
jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2),
asserting that Fawzi has shown no basis for either general or
specific personal jurisdiction over the Doha-based network.
Al Jazeera also argues for dismissal on grounds of
insufficient service of process and forum non
conveniens. The motion is ripe for review.
Standards of Review
plaintiff has the burden of establishing a factual basis for
the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the
defendant” when a challenge to the court's personal
jurisdiction is raised. Crane v. New York Zoological
Soc'y, 894 F.2d 454, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1990). See
also First Chi. Int'l v. United Exch. Co., Ltd., 836
F.2d 1375 1378 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (“[T]he general rule is
that a plaintiff must make a prima facie showing of
the pertinent jurisdictional facts.”). In making this
determination, the Court must resolve “factual
discrepancies appearing in the record” in favor of the
plaintiff. Crane, 894 F.2d at 456. However, the
Court “need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs
if such inferences are unsupported by the facts.”
Livnat v. Palestinian Auth., 851 F.3d 45, 57 (D.C.
Cir. 2017). Mere conclusions or “bare
allegation[s]” do not constitute the prima
facie case for jurisdiction that this standard requires.
requirements of due process impose certain limitations on the
power of a court to exercise jurisdiction over nonresident
defendants. See Helicopteros Nacionales de Colom., S.A.
v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 (1984) (citing Pennoyer
v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714 (1878)). In order for a court to
exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant, a plaintiff
must show that there are sufficient contacts between the
defendant and the forum such that the court's
jurisdiction “does not offend traditional notions of
fair play and substantial justice.” GTE New Media
Servs. Inc. v. BellSouth Corp., 199 F.3d 1343, 1347
(D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting International Shoe Co. v.
Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). The basis for
personal jurisdiction may be general, under which a court may
“hear any and all claims against [the defendant],
” or specific, under which a court may assert
jurisdiction only over claims arising from forum-related
contacts. Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v.
Brown, 564 U.S. 915 (2011). As explained below, Fawzi
has not established either general or specific personal
jurisdiction over Al Jazeera.
General Personal Jurisdiction
may assert general personal jurisdiction over a foreign
corporate defendant when the defendant corporation's
contacts with the forum state “are so constant and
pervasive ‘as to render [it] essentially at home in the
forum State.'” Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134
S.Ct. 746, 751 (2014) (quoting Goodyear, 564 U.S. at
919). Engaging in continuous and substantial business with
the forum jurisdiction is not sufficient to permit an
exercise of general jurisdiction. Instead, absent
“exceptional” circumstances, a defendant
corporation is “at home” only in the jurisdiction
where it is incorporated or has its principal place of
business. See id. at 760-61 & n.19.
a 1950 D.C. Circuit decision, Goldberg v. Southern
Builders, 184 F.2d 345 (D.C. Cir. 1950), Fawzi alleges
that general personal jurisdiction in this district is
established through Al Jazeera's operation of its
subsidiary Al Jazeera International (USA) Inc., and by
certain Al Jazeera employees with Washington, D.C. business
addresses. See Pl.'s Opp'n. 9-10. But these
factual allegations are plainly insufficient for establishing
general jurisdiction. In Daimler, plaintiffs relied
on contacts between the defendant's subsidiary,
Mercedes-Benz USA, and the state of California as their basis
for jurisdiction in the Northern District of California.
See Daimler, 134 S.Ct. at 751-52. The Supreme Court
held that even if the subsidiary were found to be at home in
California, and even if its contacts were assigned to its
corporate parent Daimler, “there would still be no
basis to subject Daimler to general jurisdiction in
California, for Daimler's slim contacts with the State
hardly render it at home there.” Id. at 760.
in his complaint, acknowledges that Al Jazeera is based in
Qatar, has its corporate headquarters in Qatar, and is owned
by the government and royal family of Qatar. See
Compl. ¶¶ 2-7. Clearly, Al Jazeera is “at
home” in Qatar. And nothing in the record appears to
show that this is an “exceptional case” where
general jurisdiction is appropriate in a forum state where
the corporate defendant is neither incorporated nor has its
principal place of business. See Daimler, 134 S.Ct.
at 755-56, 761 n.19 (citing as such a case Perkins v.
Benguet Consolidated Mining Co., 342 U.S. ...