Statutory Amendments Open the Door to Allow Removal of Previously Un-Removable Maritime ClaimsOn May 13, 2013, a federal district judge in the case Ryan v. Hercules Offshore, Inc. denied a motion to remand filed by the widow of a man who died after he experienced cardiac arrest while working for Wild Well Control, Inc. ("Wild Well") on a Leg Cantilever Jack-Up vessel drilling off the coast of Nigeria.
On November 19, 2010, Mark Ryan, an employee of Wild Well, experienced cardiac symptoms, went into cardiac arrest and died. Ryan's widow filed suit in Texas state court asserting claims against Wild Well, Nobel Drilling, Inc. and others for negligence and unseaworthiness, pursuant to the Death on the High Seas Act, general maritime law, and the Sieracki seaman doctrine claiming that the crew of the vessel failed to properly administer CPR, failed to use a defibrillator on the vessel and did not have a helicopter available to take Ryan to shore.
B. Removal and plaintiff's effort to remand
Wild Well removed the case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas based on the court's original jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff sought to have the case remanded maintaining that general maritime claims, like the ones asserted, cannot be removed. Defendants opposed the motion by pointing out that a plain reading of recent amendments to 28 USC §1441 make previously un-removable claims removable and that plaintiff's claims meet the requirements for removal under the amended statute.
The Court noted that Congress amended 28 U.S.C. § 1441 effective January 1, 2012. After reviewing the case law and amendments to 28 U.S.C. §1441 the Court determined that (1) federal courts have original jurisdiction over admiralty claims; (2) the saving to suitors clause does not preclude federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over admiralty claims originally brought in state court; (3) the old version of Section 1441(b) was relied upon as the "Act of Congress" that precluded federal courts from exercising removal jurisdiction unless the requirements of section 1441(b) were met; and (4) admiralty cases do not arise under the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States, so admiralty cases were considered "any other such actions" under the prior version of section 1441(b) and thus removable only under certain circumstances.
The Court concluded that because Congress made substantive changes to 28 U.S.C. §1441(b) which are clear and dispositive 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) is no longer an "Act of Congress" prohibiting removal of admiralty claims. Removal was proper because the Court had original jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff's motion to remand was denied.
E. Why is this important?
Prior to January 2012, general maritime claims could be removed only when there was a separate basis of jurisdiction. The ability to remove a case from state court to federal court is a valuable procedural tool that can be used to dramatically affect the outcome of a case. This case illustrates why the statutory amendments discussed above provide a basis to remove previously un-removable maritime cases.
Article written by W. Brett Mason and Saul R. Newsome.