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Popli v. Air India Airline

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 5, 2017

CHAMAN POPLI, Plaintiff,
v.
AIR INDIA AIRLINE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          Paul S. Diamond, J.

         In this tort action, Defendant Air India Limited moves to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Pro se Plaintiff Chaman Popli cross-moves to transfer to the District of New Jersey. Because Air India is protected by sovereign immunity, I will dismiss.

         I. Background

         On March 9, 2016, while waiting for his flight in Air India's first-class lounge in Delhi, India, Plaintiff purchased food. (Compl., Doc. No. 1, Ex. A, at 4.) As alleged, the food was infested with live worms and bugs, causing Plaintiff immediately to vomit. (Id.) Plaintiff felt nauseated throughout the Air India flight to New York City, but never received assistance from the flight attendants. (Id.)

         On December 28, 2016, Plaintiff brought suit in Bucks County Magisterial District Court, seeking $11, 500 in damages. (Id. at 3.) Invoking the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Air India removed to this Court on January 24, 2017. (Doc. No. 1, ¶¶ 4-5); 28 U.S.C. § 1330(a).

         Air India has moved to dismiss for want of personal jurisdiction, arguing that it is not registered to do business in Pennsylvania and does not operate any business in the Commonwealth. (Doc. No. 10.) Rather than respond, Plaintiff cross-moved to transfer to the New Jersey District Court. (Doc. Nos. 12, 14.) Air India argues that transfer would be pointless because: 1) the New Jersey Court could not exercise personal jurisdiction; and 2) under the FSIA, the airline is immune from suit. (Doc. No. 15.)

         II. Legal Standards

         Personal Jurisdiction

         Although Plaintiff has declined to address personal jurisdiction, I am obligated to do so. “Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k), a District Court typically exercises personal jurisdiction according to the law of the state where it sits.” O'Connor v. Sandy Lane Hotel Co., 496 F.3d 312, 316 (3d Cir. 2007). Pennsylvania's long-arm statute permits the exercise of jurisdiction “based on the most minimum contact with th[e] Commonwealth allowed under the Constitution of the United States.” 42 Pa. C.S. § 5322(b). “Accordingly, in determining whether personal jurisdiction exists, [I] ask whether, under the Due Process Clause, the defendant has ‘certain minimum contacts with Pennsylvania such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 316-17 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)).

         “‘The burden of demonstrating the facts that establish personal jurisdiction' falls on the plaintiff.” Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc., 566 F.3d 324, 330 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings, Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 368 (3d Cir. 2002)). “‘[O]nce a defendant has raised a jurisdictional defense, ' the plaintiff must ‘prove by affidavits or other competent evidence that jurisdiction is proper.'” Id. (quoting Dayhoff Inc. v. H.J. Heinz Co., 86 F.3d 1287, 1302 (3d Cir. 1996)).

         Transfer

         “[W]hen a district court finds that it is lacking jurisdiction, the court shall, if it is in the interest of justice, transfer such action . . . to any other such court in which the action . . . could have been brought at the time it was filed or noticed . . . .” D'Jamoos ex rel. Estate of Weingeroff v. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., 566 F.3d 94, 106-07 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1631). “Transfer is preferred over dismissal, so [the Court should] decline to transfer the case only if [it] find[s] transfer to not be in the interest of justice.” Campbell v. Mars, Inc., No. 16-4035, 2016 WL 6901970, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 22, 2016) (citing Matthews v. Am.'s Pizza Co., LLC, No. 13-690, 2014 WL 1407764, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 10, 2014)). “An action can be brought only where the court has . . . jurisdiction over the defendant, and thus a court does not have authority to transfer a case” to a court that lacks jurisdiction. Pac. Emps. Ins. Co. v. AXA Belgium S.A., 785 F.Supp.2d 457, 475 (E.D. Pa. 2011) (citing Hunt v. Global Incentive & Meeting Mgmt., No. 09-4921, 2010 WL 3740808 at *8 (D.N.J. Sept. 20, 2010)).

         Immunity

         “The FSIA provides the exclusive source of potential subject matter jurisdiction over claims in United States courts against foreign states and their agencies or instrumentalities, ” which have “presumptive immunity from suits in federal courts, absent a demonstration by the plaintiff that the claim falls within a statutory exception to immunity.” Ezeiruaku v. Bull, 617 F. App'x 179, 180-81 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1604). Once the defendant makes a prima facie showing that it is an instrumentality protected by immunity, the “burden shifts to the plaintiff to produce sufficient evidence ...


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