Maritime jurisdiction? Swoon

A vessel captain was in a collision. He was fired. He hired-on with another company. He was about to transfer bunker fuel with his prior employer's vessel, but when the prior employer found out they said "nuh-uh. That first accident is still open." So his then-employer fired him. 

He filed suit in Harris County. His employer removed it to federal court, arguing that maritime claims can be removed (which, to be discussed elsewhere, is a theory that was all the rage a couple years ago but now it's fallen onto hard times. Once upon a time, your scribe won that argument, only to lose it six months later when the same judge, in a different case, reversed himself.)  

The employer, Navig8, also argued there was no jurisdiction against it in Texas. The district court, surprisingly, agreed. The Fifth Circuit then affirmed. This is impressive: it would have been easy for Judge Hughes in Houston just to send it back to state court, but instead he ruled that Navig8 didn't have adequate contacts in Texas for general jurisdiction (which was surely correct), and next, that it didn't purposefully avail itself enough to subject it to specific jurisdiction in Texas. But wait. Wasn't the captain working in waters for the Port of Houston, in Texas waters, when his former employer got him kicked off the job? Sure was, but that's not enough:

The contacts Cpt. Sangha identifies to support specific jurisdiction— email communications from two Navig8 representatives located outside the country to Cpt. Sangha’s then-supervisor in Alabama, an employment contract between Cpt. Sangha and Marine Consultants allegedly confected in Houston,2 that the email communications were targeted at a contract formed in Texas,and that the emails concerned work that was to be performed in Texas—are legally insufficient to support a finding of specific jurisdiction. Navig8’s contacts with the state have to be purposeful “and not merely fortuitous,” Walden, 134 S. Ct. at 1123 (noting that “[d]ue process requires that a defendant be haled into court in a forum State based on his own affiliation with the State, not based on the ‘random, fortuitous, or attenuated’ contacts he makes by interacting with persons affiliated with the State”) (quoting Burger King, 471 U.S. at 475). Even though Navig8’s email communications happened to affect Cpt. Sangha while he was at the Port of Houston, this single effect is not enough to confer specific jurisdiction over Navig8.

No personal jurisdiction? No lawsuit. 

The Fifth Circuit affirmed on all grounds

So we have a new loophole to get your jurisdictional arguments heard by federal courts instead of state courts! Remove it on a maybe-thin removal ground, then tell the district court it can rule on jurisdiction before it rules on the motion to remand. Only I suspect it will be the rare district court that follows Judge Hughes' pattern and does this - much more common will be judges who rule on the motion to remand, then you've removed for no reason and you're back arguing jurisdiction in state court.