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Maritime Update: The Tide has Turned on Removal of General Maritime Law Claims

After the 2011 amendment to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 eliminated the diversity requirement for maritime claims, courts re-examined the notion that admiralty claims could not be removed to federal court.  The earliest decisions interpreting the amended 28 U.S.C. § 1441 found in favor of a defendant’s right of removal.  See, e.g., Wells v. Abe’s Boat Rentals Inc., 2013 WL 3110322, (S.D. Tex. June 18, 2013); Ryan v. Hercules Offshore, Inc., 945 F.Supp.2d 772 (S.D. Tex. 2013);  Bridges v. Phillips 66 Co., 2013 WL 6092803 (M.D. La. Nov. 19, 2013).  As we previously reported, there were also cases in which the courts remanded to state court.  See, e.g., Barry v. Shell Oil Co., (E.D. La. Feb. 25, 2014);  Coronel v. AK Victory, 1 F.Supp.3d 1175 (W.D. Wash. 2014).   These decisions were discussed at our March 21, 2014 Maritime Law Update.

Since then, the majority of lower courts addressing this issue have declined to follow the line of decisions spawned by Ryan.  See See Bisso Marine Co., Inc. v. Techcrane Int’l LLC,  2014 WL 4489618  (E.D. La. Sept. 10, 2014); Riley v. Llog Exploration Co. LLC, 2014 WL 4345002  (E.D. La. Aug. 28, 2014); Henry J. Ellender Heirs, LLC v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 2014 WL 4231186 (E.D. La. Aug. 26, 2014);  Bartman v. Burrece, 2014 WL 4096226 (D. Alaska Aug. 18, 2014); Gregoire v. Enter. Marine Servs., LLC, 2014 WL 3866589 (E.D. La. Aug. 6, 2014); Grasshopper Oysters, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock, LLC, 2014 WL 3796150 (E.D. La. July 29, 2014); Cassidy v. Murray, 2014 WL 3723877 (D. Md. July 24, 2014); Porter v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 2014 WL 3385148 (W.D. La. July 9, 2014); Figueroa v. Marine Inspection Servs., 2014 WL 2958597 (S.D. Tex. July 1, 2014); In re Foss Maritime Co., 2014 WL 2930860 (W.D. Ky. June 27, 2014); Alexander v. Seago Consulting, 2014 WL 2960419  (S.D. Tex. June 23, 2014); Pierce v. Parker Towing Co., Inc., 2014 WL 2569132 (S.D. Ala. June 9, 2014); Gabriles v. Chevron USA, Inc., 2014 WL 2567101 (W.D. La. June 6, 2014); Perrier v. Shell Oil Co., 2014 WL 2155258 (E.D. La. May 22, 2014); Rogers v. BBC Chartering Am., LLC, 2014 WL 819400 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 3, 2014).  Some of these decisions favoring remand were based upon the reasoning in Coronel, i.e., the saving-to-suitors clause, § 1333 does not grant federal jurisdiction over maritime actions that are prosecuted on the law side of the admiralty docket in state court.  Others relied upon the Barry decision, reasoning that because the plaintiff’s claims were solely in admiralty, there was no mechanism for plaintiff to request a jury trial in federal court on his maritime claims.   As a result, the saving-to-suitors clause required remand in order to preserve the plaintiff’s common-law right to a jury trial.

The Court in Dyche v. US Environmental Services, LLC, 2014 WL 5473238 (E.D. Tex. Sept. 29, 2014) recently remanded a personal injury claim brought in state court in Texas, following the Coronel rationale.  The Court stated that the amendment to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 incorporates provisions governing diversity jurisdiction into a single subsection instead of placing them in different subsections, which suggests that the amendment was not designed to expand the removability of maritime claims, but instead “to make it easier to locate the provisions that apply uniquely to diversity removal.”   The Court further acknowledged the Supreme Court’s directive that any “doubts regarding whether removal jurisdiction is proper should be resolved against federal jurisdiction”.  The Dyche Court stated that the Fifth Circuit has not overruled its longstanding precedent that federal courts do not have admiralty jurisdiction over maritime claims filed in state court pursuant to the saving-to-suitors exception to original admiralty jurisdiction. Thus, the Court ruled that it will continue to adhere to the established rule that maritime cases brought in state court are not subject to removal due to the “saving-to-suitors” clause of § 1333 and, therefore, are not removable under § 1441(a).

Removal of general maritime law claims remains a hotly contested issue.  The clear trend, however, is to remand these claims back to state court.



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