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Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 3, 2019

JOHN DOE I et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROYCE C. LAMBERTH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pursuant to an agreement with the Indonesian government, Exxon Mobil Corporation (EMC), a United States corporation, and several of its wholly owned subsidiaries, including Exxon Mobil Oil Indonesia Inc. (EMOI), operated a large natural gas extraction and processing facility in the Aceh Province of Indonesia. Plaintiffs are Indonesian citizens who claim Exxon's security forces engaged in extrajudicial killing; torture; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; and arbitrary detention in violation of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and committed various common law torts. Now before the Court are EMOI's motion for the Court to reconsider its prior ruling on personal jurisdiction and EMC and EMOI's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Def.'s Mot. for Recons. & Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 633 [hereinafter ECF No. 633]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny EMOI's motion for the Court to reconsider its prior personal jurisdiction ruling and will deny EMC and EMOI's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

         I. Background

         The Court gave a detailed discussion of the factual background in its opinion dismissing plaintiffs' ATS claims against Exxon also issued on this date. This section only recites the facts and procedural history relevant to personal jurisdiction.

         EMOI moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in its initial response to the complaint in October 2001. See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 13. This Court denied the motion without prejudice in 2005. Mem. Op., ECF No. 103. Following jurisdictional discovery, EMOI again moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in January 2008. See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 268. This Court denied the motion in July 2008. Mem. Op., ECF No. 340 [hereinafter ECF No. 340]. EMC has never challenged personal 'jurisdiction.

         In 2008, Judge Oberdorfer, who initially presided over this case, found plaintiffs had established this Court had personal jurisdiction over EMOI. Id. The Court determined specific jurisdiction existed based on D.C.'s long-arm statute. D.C.'s long-arm statute states a D.C. court "may exercise personal jurisdiction over a person, who acts directly or by an agent, as to a claim of relief arising from the person's- (1) transacting any business in the District of Columbia" or other specified contacts with D.C. D.C. Code § 13-423(a) (2012). Based on the D.C. Court of Appeal's interpretation of D.C.'s long-arm statute, the Court found the statute conferred jurisdiction if the suit sufficiently related to the defendant's contacts with D.C. ECF No. 340.

         The Court concluded the suit related to EMOI's contacts with D.C. EMOI had significant contact with Robert Haines, Exxon's Manager of International Government Affairs, in D.C. focused on EMOI's security policies and practices in Indonesia, which relate to plaintiffs' claims. Id. Further, a number of EMOI personnel attended Exxon's "Worldwide Security Conference" in D.C. Id. This conference included a management meeting on the "Asia/Pacific" region and provided training on security related issues, including on standards and training for security guards and using host government security. Id. The Court believed EMOI employed certain elements of the training provided at the security conference. Id. This led the Court to conclude it had personal jurisdiction over EMOI. Id.

         In July 2018, EMC and EMOI brought the present motions to reconsider the Court's prior ruling and to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction based on the Supreme Court's 2017 decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb. EMC and EMOI argue Bristol-Myers Squibb "significantly tightened and clarified the limits imposed by the Due Process Clause on a state's assertion of personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants." ECF No. 633. Thus, EMC and EMOI allege this Court has no basis under D.C.'s long-arm statute to assert specific jurisdiction.

         II. Discussion

         A. Personal Jurisdiction

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) directs a court to dismiss an action when the court lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). The Supreme Court has recognized two types of personal jurisdiction: general (sometimes called "all-purpose") jurisdiction and "specific" (sometimes called "case-linked") jurisdiction. Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011). "For an individual, the paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction is the individual's domicile; for a corporation, it is an equivalent place, one in which the corporation is fairly regarded as at home." Id. at 924. A court with general jurisdiction over a defendant "may hear any claim against that defendant, even if all the incidents occurred in a different State." Id. at 919. On the other hand, specific jurisdiction requires the suit to "aris[e] out of or relate[] to the defendant's contacts with the forum." Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 126 (2014) (quoting Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 n.8 (1984)). Therefore, "specific jurisdiction is confined to adjudication of 'issues deriving from, or connected with, the very controversy that establishes jurisdiction.'" Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 919.

         A personal jurisdiction defense is waived if it is not asserted. Neirbo Co. v. Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., 308 U.S. 165, 168 (1939); Ins. Corp. of lr. v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 703 (1982) ("Because the requirement of personal jurisdiction represents first of all an individual right, it can, like other such rights, be waived."). Once waived, this defense cannot be reclaimed by a defendant or restored by the court. E.g., O'Brien v. R.J. O'Brien & Assocs., Inc., 998 F.2d 1394, 1399 (7th Cir. 1993) (once the defendant has waived objections and submitted to the jurisdiction of the court, "the court is powerless to dismiss the suit for lack of personal jurisdiction"); Kabbani v. Int'l Total Servs., Civ. No. 91-0391, 1991 WL 251863, at *1 (D.D.C. Nov. 12, 1991). An exception to this waiver rule is where the defense was unavailable, as EMC argues here. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(g).

         B. Bristol-Myers Squibb

         EMC and EMOI contend the Supreme Court's 2017 decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb requires dismissal of this action. In Bristol-Myers Squibb, hundreds of non-California residents joined with California residents to sue Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMS), a global pharmaceutical company incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in New York, and another defendant in California state court for injuries allegedly associated with the BMS prescription drug Plavix. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco Cty.,137 S.Ct. 1773, 1777 (2017). Each plaintiff alleged serious side effects from ...


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