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Boakye v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd.

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

March 7, 2018

KWABENA BOAKYE, Plaintiff,
v.
NCL BAHAMAS LTD., et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS W. THRASH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a Jones Act case. It is before the Court on the Plaintiff Kwabena Boakye's Motion to Remand [Doc. 7] and the Defendants NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., NCL America Holdings, LLC, NCL America, LLC, and Pride of America Ship Holdings, LLC's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 3]. For the following reasons, the Plaintiff's Motion to Remand is GRANTED and the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is DENIED as moot.

         I. Background

         The Plaintiff is an American seaman and is a Georgia resident.[1] The Defendant NCL (Bahamas) Ltd. (“NCL Bahamas”) is a Bermuda corporation that has its principal place of business in Miami, Florida.[2] The Defendants NCL America, LLC, NCL America Holdings, LLC, and Pride of America Ship Holdings, LLC are Delaware limited liability companies with their principal places of business in Miami, Florida.[3]

         According to the Complaint, the Plaintiff was employed by the Defendants as a crew member on the “Pride of America, ” a United States flagged cruise ship.[4] During the course of his employment, the Plaintiff was responsible for washing dishes in the utility galley.[5] The Plaintiff claims that he was provided with equipment that was not ergonomically sound, that he was not provided with an adequate back belt, and that he was not provided adequate help or support personnel to carry out his duties.[6] At some point, the Plaintiff sustained a back injury that required two spinal surgeries and continued physical therapy.[7] The Plaintiff claims that he still suffers from pain and discomfort in his back and legs.

         As a result of his injuries, the Plaintiff filed this action in the State Court of Gwinnett County, Georgia, alleging three counts against each of the Defendants: (1) negligence under the Jones Act, (2) unseaworthiness, and (3) failure to provide maintenance and cure. The Defendants removed the action to this Court, then moved to dismiss the action. The Plaintiff has since filed an Amended Complaint, and now moves to remand this action back to state court.

         II. Legal Standard

         The authority of federal courts is limited; that is, they may only hear those cases which the Constitution and the Congress of the United States have authorized them to hear.[8] “Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, ” any action originally filed in state court may be removed by a defendant to federal court if it would otherwise meet the constitutional and statutory requirements for original federal jurisdiction.[9] “A removing defendant has the burden of proving the existence of federal jurisdiction.”[10] Due to the limited nature of federal jurisdiction, “removal statutes are construed narrowly; where plaintiff and defendant clash about jurisdiction, uncertainties are resolved in favor of remand” to the originating state court.[11]

         III. Discussion

         The Plaintiff has moved to remand this case back to state court for lack of subject jurisdiction. In their Notice of Removal, the Defendants cited two bases for removal: diversity and the federal admiralty jurisdiction.[12] The Defendants have since abandoned their diversity argument, and now exclusively argue that the Plaintiff's non-Jones Act claims are removable under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) because of the Court's original jurisdiction over admiralty claims.[13]Consequently, the only question before the Court is whether the Plaintiff's maritime claims are removable based solely on the Court's admiralty jurisdiction.

         28 U.S.C. § 1333 grants district courts original jurisdiction over all cases of “admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.” This means that while federal courts have original jurisdiction over admiralty cases, which involve unique procedures and remedies, plaintiffs still have the right to pursue common law remedies in state court. This effectively gives a plaintiff, such as this one, alleging an in personam maritime claim three options: “(1) file suit in federal court under admiralty jurisdiction; (2) file suit in federal court under diversity jurisdiction (or some other applicable jurisdictional basis); or (3) file suit in state court pursuing common law remedies.”[14]

         Historically, when a plaintiff has chosen the third option, federal courts have refused to allow defendants to remove those cases. Some courts, such as the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, reached this conclusion based exclusively on the language of the removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441.[15] Prior to 2011, the removal statute provided that any civil action could be removed to federal court if a federal court would have had original jurisdiction, as long as either (1) none of the defendants were being sued in their home state, or (2) it was based on federal question jurisdiction.[16] Because maritime claims do not on their own raise questions of federal law, [17] “the practical effect of these provisions [was] to prevent the removal of admiralty claims pursuant to [the removal statute] unless there [was] complete diversity of citizenship (predicated upon out-of-state defendants).”[18] Thus, in cases where there was not complete diversity, some courts felt perfectly comfortable relying solely on the language of section 1441 in rejecting removal.

         But in 2011, Congress amended the removal statute so that it now reads, in relevant part:

(a) Generally.-Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.
(b) Removal based on diversity of citizenship.-

         (1) In determining whether a civil action is removable on the basis of the jurisdiction under section 1332(a) of this title, the citizenship of defendants sued under fictitious names shall be disregarded.

(2) A civil action otherwise removable solely on the basis of the jurisdiction under section 1332(a) of this title may not be removed if any of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought.[19]

         Practically speaking, this amendment limited the old “home state rule” to only those cases where removal was based on diversity alone. Whereas before the amendment, no case could be removed if a defendant was in his home state, unless there was a federal question, now, all cases involving a home state defendant in which a federal court could have had original jurisdiction can be removed unless jurisdiction is based solely on diversity.

         With this change in the removal statute, however, the reliance by some courts on section 1441 alone led to some unfortunate confusion regarding removal of maritime cases. In particular, a few district courts in the Fifth Circuit, believing the only bar to removal had been the home state defendant rule in the old version of the statute, held that maritime cases were now removable solely on the basis of federal admiralty jurisdiction.[20] For example, in the first opinion to take this approach, Ryan v. Hercules Offshore, Inc., the district court reasoned 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 ...

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