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Emerald Marine Holdings, Ltd. v. Anderson

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

April 28, 2017

EMERALD MARINE HOLDINGS, LTD., BLUEWAVE INVESTMENTS, LTD., and BLUEWAVE MARINE HOLDINGS, LTD., Plaintiffs,
v.
DAVID ANDERSON, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JAMES D. WHITTEMORE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 5), Plaintiffs' response (Dkt. 6), and Defendant's reply (Dkt. 13). Upon consideration, the Motion (Dkt. 5) is GRANTED.[1]

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs, Emerald Marine Holdings, LTD ("Emerald"), Bluewave Investments, LTD ("B W Investments), and Bluewave Marine Holdings, LTD ("BW Holdings"), filed this declaratory judgment action seeking a determination of their rights, duties, and obligations owed to Defendant David Anderson ("Anderson") after receiving a demand letter from Anderson regarding injuries he sustained while employed as a captain of Emerald's vessel. Plaintiffs seek a declaration that pursuant to a choice-of-law provision in his employment agreement, Anderson waived his right to bring a Jones Act claim and an ongoing maintenance and cure claim against Plaintiffs by agreeing that Republic of Marshall Islands ("RMI") law applies to the agreement.[2] The Private Yacht Captain Employment Agreement ("EA-1") between Anderson and BW Investments and Amendment to Private Yacht Captain Employment Agreement ("EA-2") between Anderson and BW Holdings are attached as exhibits to the Complaint. (Dkts. 1-1, 1-2). EA-l includes the choice-of-law provision.

         Anderson has a lawsuit pending in Pinellas County Circuit Court against Emerald, BW Holdings, and Andrew Johnson, the alleged employer of Anderson and owner of Emerald and BW Holdings. (Dkt. 5-1). In state court, he sued Emerald, BW Holdings, and Johnson for Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure.[3] He has a separate claim against Johnson for negligence under general maritime law.[4] Anderson moves to dismiss, arguing that this Court should decline to exercise jurisdiction over this declaratory judgment action in favor of the parallel state court litigation.[5]

         II. Standard

         The Declaratory Judgment Act provides that, "[i]n a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction... any court of the United States... may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought." 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a) (emphasis added). It is an "enabling Act, which confers a discretion on the courts rather than an absolute right upon the litigant." Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 278 (1995). Federal courts, therefore, have discretion to entertain, stay, or dismiss a declaratory judgment action. Id. at 289-90. In exercising discretion to abstain from exercising jurisdiction over claims in favor of parallel litigation in state courts, there are number of factors to consider:

(1) the strength of the state's interest in having the issues raised in the federal declaratory action decided in the state courts; (2) whether the judgment in the federal declaratory action would settle the controversy; (3) whether the federal declaratory action would serve a useful purpose in clarifying the legal relations at issue; (4) whether the declaratory remedy is being used merely for the purpose of "procedural fencing"-that is, to provide an arena for a race for res judicata or to achieve a federal hearing in a case otherwise not removable; (5) whether the use of a declaratory action would increase the friction between our federal and state courts and improperly encroach on state jurisdiction; (6) whether there is an alternative remedy that is better or more effective; (7) whether the underlying factual issues are important to an informed resolution of the case; (8) whether the state trial court is in a better position to evaluate those factual issues than is the federal court; and (9) whether there is a close nexus between the underlying factual and legal issues and state law and/or public policy, or whether federal common or statutory law dictates a resolution of the declaratory judgment action.

Ameritas Variable Life Ins. Co. v. Roach, 411 F.3d 1328, 1330-31 (11th Cir. 2005). None of these factors are controlling and are merely "guideposts." Id. at 1331.

         III. Discussion

         Anderson contends that this action should be dismissed in favor of his state court litigation. Plaintiffs counter that the Ameritas factors weigh in favor of the case remaining in federal court. The sole issue raised in this action is contract interpretation, that is, whether by executing employment agreements with a choice-of-law provision, Anderson waived his right to bring a Jones Act claim and an ongoing maintenance and cure claim against Plaintiffs. In essence, Plaintiffs seek a determination of potential defenses to Anderson's state court claims. And, while none of the Ameritas factors are controlling, it is prudent to consider the following factors in determining whether to dismiss this case. Id. at 1331.

         (1) the strength of the state's interest in having the issues raised in the federal declaratory action decided in the state courts

         The first factor considered is the strength of Florida's interest in having the issues raised in this case decided in state court. This is the only factor considered that does not weigh in favor of dismissing the action. While this action involves a Florida resident whose job location is in Florida, his claims involve principles of federal maritime law or RMI law and the Plaintiffs are foreign companies. While Florida courts are "regularly required to apply principles of federal maritime law, " Florida does not necessarily have an interest in having these issues decided in state court.[6] Great Lakes Reinsurance (UK) PLC v. TLU Ltd., 298 F.App'x 813, 816 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing see Carnival Corp. v. Carlisle, 953 So.2d 461, 464 (Fla.2007)).

         (2) whether the judgment in the federal declaratory action ...


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