If a Massachusetts driver hired by a Missouri-based carrier is killed in a crash that occurred in Oklahoma, in which state does the impending lawsuit take place? That question was the center of a recent district court opinion in a lawsuit involving New Prime and the estate of a trucker killed during driver training.
The case dates back to 2016 when Jose Moura Jr. of Worcester, Mass., began a driver training program with Springfield, Mo.-based New Prime Inc. Moura received his initial training at New England Tractor Trailer Training School, where he was recruited by New Prime. New Prime gave Moura a bus ticket to Pennsylvania to begin training with the company.
New Prime put Moura in a truck owned by the company but leased to another driver as an independent contractor. Moura completed his training in December 2016 near New Prime’s Salt Lake City terminal, making him no longer a trainee, but he had not yet signed an employee agreement.
On Dec. 14, 2016, Moura and his trainer were headed eastbound on Interstate 35 near Purcell, Okla., with the trainer in the driver’s seat. The trainer struck another truck at high speeds, killing the trainer at the scene and leaving Moura seriously wounded. Six days later, Moura died while being transported to another hospital.
Moura’s estate filed a lawsuit against New Prime and the estate of the trainer in the state of Massachusetts in December 2017. However, New Prime motioned to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, citing Massachusetts’ “long-arm statute” and the Due Process of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Massachusetts’ long-arm statute dictates when an out-of-state company can be sued within the state. Essentially, a company can be sued in Massachusetts if it:
- Transacts any business in the state.
- Contracts to supply services or things in the state.
- Causes tortious injury by an act or omission in the state.
- Causes tortious injury in this commonwealth by an act or omission outside the state if it regularly does or solicits business, or engages in any other persistent course of conduct, or derives substantial revenue from goods used or consumed or services rendered, in the state.
New Prime argues that the plaintiff cannot claim the first condition of transactions in the state since the alleged cause of action did not arise from its transaction of business in Massachusetts. Regarding subsections (b) through (d), New Prime made similar arguments, stating none of the conditions apply since the alleged act did not arise from those conditions in Massachusetts.
“A plaintiff seeking to establish jurisdiction under Section 3(a) must prove that the defendant’s purposeful transaction of business in the commonwealth was the first step in a series of events leading to the plaintiff’s claims,” New Prime argued. “The plaintiff alleged that the defendant transacted business in Massachusetts by calling a Massachusetts resident and sending three draft letters to that Massachusetts resident.”
Even if the long-arm statute applies, New Prime argued, the 14th Amendment kicks in. More specifically, the company claims it is not subject to general jurisdiction in Massachusetts and the facts of the case do not support the court’s exercise of specific jurisdiction.
The court disagreed with New Prime’s arguments.
In its decision for the motion to dismiss, the court pointed out the following:
- New Prime has received permission for 275 large tractor trailers to be present on roads in Massachusetts to deliver alcohol.
- Those trucks have driven 42.7 million miles on Massachusetts roads and generated $63.1 million in revenue in the last five years. New Prime has employed 45-60 drivers in Massachusetts over the last five years.
“New Prime does not include its contacting and training drivers as part of its transaction of business in the Commonwealth,” the judge opined. “I find, however, that contacting, contracting with, and training Mr. Moura was part of New Prime’s transaction of business in the Commonwealth. Further, it is clear that but for this transaction, plaintiff would not have been harmed. Indeed, it was the first step in the train of events that led to his death. Therefore, I find that asserting jurisdiction is proper under the Massachusetts long-arm statute.”
Regarding the 14th Amendment, the court ruled that keeping the case in Massachusetts does not result in a burden of appearance for New Prime. Also, the state has a personal interest to keep its citizens safe and is more convenient for the plaintiff.
The case will continue in Massachusetts. No further court dates have been scheduled as of publication time.
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