Jurisdiction over jurisdictional issue; choice of law affirmance

In National Union v. American Eurocopter, a contribution suit arising from settlement of claims about a helicopter crash, a Hawaii district court found no personal jurisdiction and transferred venue to Texas.  No. 11-10798 (Aug. 27, 2012).  The appellant challenged that ruling, and the Fifth Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction over that issue.  Id at 4 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1294, defining appellate jurisdiction as reaching “appeals . . . [f]rom a district court of the United States to the court of appeals for the circuit embracing the district”).  On the merits, the Court affirmed a dispositive choice-of-law ruling for Texas law, noting a Texas choice-of-law provision in a relevant contract, a rough balance between the place of the accident (Hawaii) and the defendants’ headquarters (Texas), and the relatively weak interest of an out-of-state insurer.  Id. at 5-7 (noting Beech Aircraft v. Jinkins,  739 S.W.2d 19 (Tex. 1987)).

Role of “commercial context” in construing unambiguous contract

The parties in Ballard v. Devon Energy disputed when a provision in an oil field joint operating agreement, about the effect of “surrendering” certain leases, would apply.  No. 10-20497 (April 19, 2012)  The Court affirmed the denial of leave to amend the plaintiff’s contract claims to add a fiduciary duty count, based on a lengthy delay in raising the issue.  Op. at 6.  The Court then, applying Montana law, concluded that while the parties had both advanced “facially plausible” readings of the provision in isolation, the defendant’s reading was more persuasive in the overall context of the entire development project.  Id. at 12-15.  The Court affirmed summary judgment for the defendant, although it criticized the trial court for considering “extrinsic evidence” before attempting to construe the document on its face.  Id. at 9-10.

Reversal on choice-of-law grounds

A bankruptcy trustee sued to avoid an alleged fraudulent transfer, in the form of payments under a guarantee, in MC Asset Recovery v. Commerzbank AG, No. 11-10070 (March 20, 2012).  The Court found that the trustee had standing, even though the debtor’s creditors had been paid in full, because recovery would benefit the estate.  Op. at 7.  Then, applying the Restatement’s “significant relationship” framework and focusing on policy issues, the Court applied New York fraudulent conveyance law (which reached guarantees) as opposed to Georgia law (which did not).  Op. at 12-13.  The lower court’s dismissal of the case was vacated and reversed.