Jones Act Cases - Seaman Cases, Decisions & Opinions
Law Office of William H. Lawson
Provision of 46 USCS Appx section 688 that jurisdiction shall be under court of district in which defendant employer resides or in which his principal office is located, applies only to federal courts. Bainbridge v Merchants & Miners Transp. Co. (1932) 287 US 278, 77 L Ed 302, 53 S Ct 159.
Assertion that 46 USCS Appx section 688 affords libelant right of recovery for negligence of his employer is alone sufficient to empower District Court to assume jurisdiction over case and determine whether in fact 46 USCS Appx section 688 does provide claimed rights. Romero v International Terminal Operating Co. (1959) 358 US 354, 3 L Ed 2d 368, 79 S Ct 468, reh den 359 US 962, 3 L Ed 2d 769, 79 S Ct 795.
In wrongful death actions for death of workers killed while working for drilling ship operating in national waters of Trinidad, dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is improper, where court failed to first address whether plaintiffs' decedents were Jones Act seamen or whether defendants were Jones Act employers. Ali v Offshore Co. (1985, CA5 La) 753 F2d 1327.
District Court properly dismissed employer's declaratory judgment action in Jones Act case where there was pending state court action which would resolve all issues, action strongly suggests forum shopping by plaintiff, and where permitting declaratory judgment action would effectively deprive seaman of right to jury trial. Torch, Inc. v LeBlanc (1991, CA5 La) 947 F2d 193.
Shipowner, naval entity of foreign nation, did not impliedly waive sovereign immunity in Jones Act case by filing notice of removal; action was purely defensive to preserve its right of removal and to avoid possibility of default judgment. Rodriguez v Transnave Inc. (1993, CA5 Tex) 8 F3d 284.
Suit by general liability insurer of seaman's employer against seaman to collect worker's compensation paid to him by employer's other insurance carrier was not improper attempt to assert subrogation claim for compensation payments; seaman was being asked to make restitution of worker's compensation benefits to which he was not entitled and insurer was simply seeking disgorgement. Commercial Union Ins. Co. v McKinnon (1993, CA8 Mo) 10 F3d 1352.
Pleading stating that deceased was seaman injured in scope of employment in violation of Jones Act and was borrowed servant of defendants was sufficient to allege Jones Act and to trigger nonremovability of suit. Lackey v Atlantic Richfield Co. (1993, CA5 Tex) 983 F2d 620, reh, en banc, den (CA5) 1993 US App LEXIS 4580.
Although Jones Act does not focus on location of vessel at time of injury, Jones Act jurisdiction still requires relationship to navigable waters; thus, ship with no connection to navigable waters is not source of Jones Act jurisdiction. Weaver v Hollywood Casino-Aurora, Inc. (2001, CA7 Ill) 255 F3d 379.
46 USCS Appx section 688 action against foreign vessel whose alien owner is absent cannot be maintained. The Roseville (1935, DC Wash) 11 F Supp 150, 1935 AMC 896.
515. "Jurisdiction" defined
"Jurisdiction" as used in 46 USCS Appx section 688 refers solely to venue. Branic v Wheeling Steel Corp. (1945, CA3 Pa) 152 F2d 887, 1946 AMC 66, cert den 327 US 801, 90 L Ed 1026, 66 S Ct 902; Harmon v Boland (1950, ED NY) 90 F Supp 559; Bailiff v Storm Drilling Corp. (1972, ED Tex) 356 F Supp 309.
Although 46 USCS Appx section 688 uses term "jurisdiction," it may be construed as venue statute; it incorporates venue provision of 28 USCS section 1391(c). De Mateos v Texaco, Inc. (1977, CA3 Pa) 562 F2d 895, cert den 435 US 904, 55 L Ed 2d 494, 98 S Ct 1449.
With regard to 46 USCS Appx section 688 providing that "jurisdiction . . . shall be under court of district in which defendant employer resides or in which his principal office is located," term "jurisdiction" means venue. Barrineau v Sub Sea Int'l (1996, ED Tex) 940 F Supp 153.
516. Admiralty jurisdiction
Admiralty has no jurisdiction of proceeding by injured seaman for compensation under 46 USCS Appx section 688 which imposes personal liability for such injuries, but gives no lien upon vessel. Plamals v S. S. Pinar Del Rio (1928) 277 US 151, 72 L Ed 827, 48 S Ct 457 (ovrld on other grounds Mahnich v Southern S. S. Co. 321 US 96, 88 L Ed 561, 64 S Ct 455).
Right of recovery under 46 USCS Appx section 688 for personal injuries is given to seamen as such, and, as in case of maintenance and cure, admiralty jurisdiction over suit depends not on place where injury is inflicted but on nature of service and its relationship to operation of vessel plying in navigable waters. O'Donnell v Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. (1943) 318 US 36, 87 L Ed 596, 63 S Ct 488; Swanson v Marra Bros., Inc. (1946) 328 US 1, 90 L Ed 1045, 66 S Ct 869, 1946 AMC 715.
Courts of admiralty are traditionally sensitive to seamen's rights, and before turning plaintiffs asserting 46 USCS Appx section 688 claims out of court, will satisfy themselves that there are no special circumstances which will leave them without adequate remedy. The Falco (1927, CA2 NY) 20 F2d 362; Jullien v The Marseille (1963, ED La) 214 F Supp 770, 1963 AMC 890; Volkenburg v Nederland-Amerik. Stoomv. Maats (1963, DC Mass) 221 F Supp 925, 1964 AMC 53, affd (CA1 Mass) 336 F2d 480, 8 FR Serv 2d 34.13, Case 12.
Dismissal for lack of jurisdiction of plaintiff's common law claim is proper absent sufficient nexus with traditional maritime activities to sustain admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. Shows v Harber (1978, CA8 Ark) 575 F2d 1253, 25 FR Serv 2d 601.
In action under 46 USCS Appx section 688 brought by merchant seaman, claiming negligence of shipowner and unseaworthiness of vessel, admiralty court has jurisdiction to entertain counterclaim, which is in nature of set-off, which shipowner seeks to interpose, looking for its recovery of maintenance and cure which it claims was procured by fraud; in interest of judicial economy where same issues are involved and plaintiff has demanded jury, issues raised in counterclaims may be determined by jury. Bergeria v Marine Carriers, Inc. (1972, ED Pa) 341 F Supp 1153, 16 FR Serv 2d 1268.
Jones Act (46 USCS Appx section 688) claim by seaman is within admiralty jurisdiction, whether injury occurs on vessel or on land. Koesler v Harvey Applicators, Inc. (1976, ED La) 416 F Supp 872.
Requirement that Jones Act claimant be seaman to recover benefits is jurisdictional; only one so situated can show maritime nexus necessary to invoke admiralty jurisdiction of federal courts. Hines v Saylor Marine Corp. (1985, SD Ga) 615 F Supp 33.
District Court did not have admiralty jurisdiction over suit by vessel owner to limit its liability for injuries suffered by crew members in accident in owner's vehicle on way home 45 minutes after they had debarked, even if crew members might have been able to bring claim against owner under 46 USCS Appx section 688, absent showing that accident was related to any particular activity aboard ship. In re Luhr Bros. (2000, ED Mo) 100 F Supp 2d 1156.
517. --Proceedings in admiralty or at law
Jones Act (46 USCS Appx section 688) affords injured seaman choice between suit in admiralty without jury and suit on civil side of docket with jury. Texas Menhaden Co. v Palermo (1964, CA5 Tex) 329 F2d 579.
Seaman having Jones Act (46 USCS Appx section 688) claim may elect remedy of suit in admiralty or civil action at law. Doucet v Wheless Drilling Co. (1972, CA5 La) 467 F2d 336, 16 FR Serv 2d 971.
Jones Act (46 USCS Appx section 688) does not withdraw injuries to seamen from reach and operation of maritime law, but, on contrary, it brings into that law new rules drawn from another system and extends to injured seamen right to invoke relief accorded by new rules; its effect is to enable seamen to maintain action for damages at law for personal injuries which formerly were within exclusive jurisdiction of maritime courts. Rowley v Sierra S.S. Co. (1942, DC Ohio) 48 F Supp 193.
Despite remedies provided by 46 USCS Appx section 688, jurisdiction in admiralty is quite separate and apart from jurisdiction at law, and admiralty is still separate field of law and has its own rules, methods, and procedure. Rowley v Sierra S. S. Co. (1942, DC Ohio) 48 F Supp 193, 1943 AMC 1025.
When plaintiff longshoreman brought action under 46 USCS Appx section 688 against several defendants, none of whom was his employer, United States District Court did not have jurisdiction on civil side, but would have had jurisdiction on admiralty side, under 46 USCS Appx section 741 et seq. Dell v American Export Lines, Inc. (1956, DC NY) 142 F Supp 511, 1956 AMC 1567.
518. --In rem or in personam proceedings
Suit under 46 USCS Appx section 688 cannot be brought in admiralty in rem; 46 USCS Appx section 688 does not undertake to impose liability on ship itself but against seaman's employer. Plamals v S. S. Pinar Del Rio (1928) 277 US 151, 72 L Ed 827, 48 S Ct 457 (ovrld on other grounds Mahnich v Southern S. S. Co. 321 US 96, 88 L Ed 561, 64 S Ct 455); Mahnich v Southern S. S. Co. (1944) 321 US 96, 88 L Ed 561, 64 S Ct 455; Lauritzen v Larsen (1953) 345 US 571, 97 L Ed 1254, 73 S Ct 921.
Maritime privilege or lien, though adhering to vessel, may prejudice creditors and purchasers without notice and is therefore stricti juris and cannot be extended by construction, analogy, or inference. The Josephine & Mary (1941, CA1 Mass) 120 F2d 459, 1941 AMC 1126.
Jones Act (46 USCS Appx section 688) modified prior maritime law of United States by giving to seamen injured through negligence right of action in personam against employer. Pate v Standard Dredging Corp. (1952, CA5 Tex) 193 F2d 498.
Rights under 46 USCS Appx section 688 may be asserted at law or in personam, in admiralty. Platt v Chesapeake & O. R. Co. (1948, DC Ohio) 82 F Supp 968.
Libel in rem to recover damages for death of seaman could not be maintained under 46 USCS Appx section 688. McLaughlin v Dredge Gloucester (1964, DC NJ) 230 F Supp 623, 1964 AMC 2123.
46 USCS Appx section 688 cases may be brought in federal courts in personam, but not in rem. Valentine v Wiggins (1965, ED NC) 242 F Supp 870.
Action brought under 46 USCS Appx section 688 to recover damages for injuries allegedly sustained in port of New York by citizen of Barbados who was seaman on vessel owned by British corporation, was dismissed as against vessel where nothing in record indicated that plaintiff was proceeding in rem or quasi in rem. Hazell v Booth S. S. Co. (1977, SD NY) 436 F Supp 561, adhered to (SD NY) 444 F Supp 85.
519. Actions against states
Eleventh Amendment bars federal jurisdiction over Jones Act claim by state employee against state for injuries sustained while state employee was assigned to vessel in course of duties as state agent. Smith v Louisiana, Dept. of Wildlife & Fisheries (1984, ED La) 586 F Supp 609.
Suit may not be brought against state in its own courts under 46 USCS Appx section 688 without its consent. Lyons v Texas A & M University (1976, Tex Civ App Houston (14th Dist)) 545 SW2d 56, writ ref n r e.
520. Choice of law
Similarity in function and purpose 46 USCS Appx section 688 and general maritime principles of compensation for personal injury admits of no rational differentiation for choice-of-law purposes. Romero v International Terminal Operating Co. (1959) 358 US 354, 3 L Ed 2d 368, 79 S Ct 468, reh den 359 US 962, 3 L Ed 2d 769, 79 S Ct 795.
Choice of law analysis for suits brought under 46 USCS Appx section 688 and those brought under general maritime law of United States is same. Vaz Borralho v Keydrill Co. (1983, CA5 Tex) 696 F2d 379, reh den (CA5 Tex) 710 F2d 207 and (disagreed with Tallentire v Offshore Logistics, Inc. (CA5 La) 754 F2d 1274, revd on other grounds (US) 91 L Ed 2d 174, 106 S Ct 2485).
Test for determining whether federal maritime law or foreign law governs maritime tort is not mechanical one in which court simply counts relevant contacts; significance of each factor must be considered within particular contacts of claim and national interest served by application of United States law. Fogleman v ARAMCO (1991, CA5 Tex) 920 F2d 278.
Substantive general federal maritime law will govern Jones Act (46 USCS Appx section 688) wrongful death claim brought under District Court's diversity jurisdiction, as opposed to state wrongful death law, because federal principles of maritime law constitute intended uniform body of maritime law for nation which should be applied to maritime claims in all courts. Neal v McGinnis, Inc. (1989, ED Ky) 716 F Supp 996.
521. Parties and standing
In determining whether or not person is proper party plaintiff or defendant, 46 USCS Appx section 688 and maintenance and cure cases may be read interchangeably; where there is negligence, 46 USCS Appx section 688 supplements remedy of maintenance and cure and employer may be liable under 46 USCS Appx section 688 for negligent failure to provide employees maintenance and cure. Mahramas v American Export Isbrandtsen Lines, Inc. (1973, CA2 NY) 475 F2d 165.
Survivors of Brazilian seaman who died as result of injuries sustained on board submersible drilling rig, located off Brazilian coast, have no standing to assert that court's distinction between drilling rigs and seagoing vessels discriminates against owners of seagoing vessels. Vaz Borralho v Keydrill Co. (1983, CA5 Tex) 696 F2d 379, reh den (CA5 Tex) 710 F2d 207 and (disagreed with Tallentire v Offshore Logistics, Inc. (CA5 La) 754 F2d 1274, revd on other grounds (US) 91 L Ed 2d 174, 106 S Ct 2485).
Seaman who owned 10 percent of defendant shipowner corporation along with his family members who owned remaining 90 percent could sue corporation under Jones Act where he was not active or influential in affairs of corporation. Rufolo v Midwest Marine Contractor (1993, CA7 Ill) 6 F3d 448, vacated, remanded 511 US 1050, 128 L Ed 2d 337, 114 S Ct 1609.
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