United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
EMERALD MARINE HOLDINGS, LTD., BLUEWAVE INVESTMENTS, LTD., and BLUEWAVE MARINE HOLDINGS, LTD., Plaintiffs,
DAVID ANDERSON, Defendant.
D. WHITTEMORE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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
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. 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.
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. He has a separate claim against Johnson
for negligence under general maritime law. 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.
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
(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.
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
the strength of the state's interest in having the issues
raised in the federal declaratory action decided in the state
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. 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)).
whether the judgment in the federal declaratory action ...