Houston Court Finds No Personal Jurisdiction over Houma Company in Jones Act Suit

Published by The Pellegrin Firm August 30, 2020

On June 23, 2020, a Texas appellate court found that no personal jurisdiction existed over Houma, Louisiana-based Baywater Drilling, LLC in Texas state court. The case arose out of an alleged injury of a Jones Act plaintiff in waters off of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. Baywater Drilling is a Delaware limited liability company, but its principal place of business is in Houma, Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana.

In his petition for damages, the plaintiff alleged that he was injured while in the service of a vessel and Baywater Drilling was his employer under the Jones Act. Baywater entered into a “Daywork Workover Contract” with Hilcorp Energy Company, a Texas company, to do work in Louisiana. Baywater agreed to provide workover rigs to Hilcorp while Hilcorp performed drilling work in Terrebonne Parish.

The plaintiff alleged that Baywater had sufficient minimum contacts with Texas so as to satisfy the requirements of due process and the Texas long-arm statute. The appellate court disagreed, finding that Baywater does not have sufficient contracts with Texas so as to provide general or specific jurisdiction in Texas state court. Baywater has no offices, bank accounts, or assets in Texas.

There was a choice-of-law clause in the contract between Baywater and Hilcorp, but that choice-of-law clause stated that general maritime law would apply to incidents on navigable waters and Texas law would apply to anything else. Because the plaintiff’s petition alleged he was injured on navigable waters, the court found that entering into the contract alone did not amount to Baywater purposefully availing itself of  the privilege of conducting business in Texas. The case is Baywater Drilling, LLC, v. Benjamin Ratliff, No. 01-19-00706-CV, 2020 WL 3422207 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] June 23, 2020).