United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
JANIS VAN MEERVELD
ORDER AND REASONS
D. ENGELHARDT United States District Judge
before the Court is a Motion to Strike Jury Demand filed by
Defendants, Starfleet Marine Transportation, Inc. and M/V MS.
LINDA LEE (Rec. Doc. 25). Plaintiffs, Roy Stanley and
Mitchell Mouton, filed an opposition to the Motion (Rec. Doc.
32), to which Defendants filed a reply (Rec. Doc. 34). Having
carefully considered the parties' submissions, the
record, and the applicable law, IT IS
ORDERED that the Motion (Rec. Doc. 25) is
GRANTED and the Request for Jury Trial (Rec.
Doc. 22) is hereby stricken from the record, and that the
trial in this matter will be held to the bench for the
reasons stated herein.
consolidated matter arises out of injuries that Plaintiffs,
two offshore employees, purportedly suffered while being
transported back to shore by Starfleet Marine Transportation,
Inc., the owner and operator of the M/V MS. LINDA LEE. On
August 10, 2016, Plaintiff, Roy Stanley, filed the instant
lawsuit. (Rec. Doc. 1). Therein, he pled that “this case
is cognizable under the admiralty and maritime laws of the
United States and this court is vested with
jurisdiction.” (Id.). On March 7, 2017,
Mitchell Mouton filed a similar complaint seeking damages
arising from the same incident, which included an identical
jurisdictional statement. (17-1926, Rec. Doc. 1). On May 12,
2017, this Court consolidated these two cases. (Rec. Doc.19).
On June 2, 2017, Plaintiffs filed an ex parte pleading
labeled “Request for Trial by Jury in All Consolidated
Matters.” (Rec. Doc. 22).
on September 7, 2017, Defendants filed the present Motion to
Strike Plaintiffs' Jury Demand, asserting that because
Plaintiffs brought their claims exclusively under admiralty
jurisdiction, invoking Rule 9(h), they waived their rights to
a jury trial. (Rec. Doc. 25). Further, Defendants assert that
given Plaintiffs' invocation of admiralty jurisdiction,
the clear maritime nature of the dispute, and Plaintiffs'
failure to “set forth any substantive rationale for why
they are entitled to a jury trial, ” the case is
properly before the Court under admiralty jurisdiction. (Rec.
Doc. 25-1 at p. 2). Moreover, Defendants contend that even if
diversity jurisdiction exists, which Defendants maintain
Plaintiffs failed to plead, there is no right to a jury trial
because Plaintiffs asserted their claims specifically under
admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. (Id. at p. 3).
Consequently, Defendants request that the Court strike the
request for jury trial on the grounds that Plaintiffs are not
entitled to a jury trial. (Id. at p. 4).
opposition, Plaintiffs assert that the jurisdictional
statement in the Complaint was ambiguous and that
“ambiguity should be considered as clarified by the
timely filed Request for Jury Trial on All Consolidated
Matters.” (Rec. Doc. 32 at p. 1). Further, Plaintiffs
deny that they pled admiralty or maritime jurisdiction;
instead, they contend that their jury trial request evidenced
their intent to proceed under the diversity jurisdiction of
this Court. (Id. at pp. 1-3). Additionally,
Plaintiffs question the timing of Defendants' filing of
the Motion after the deadline for filing amendments had
passed. (Id. at p. 2). Thus, Plaintiffs request that
the Motion to Strike Jury Demand be denied and,
alternatively, that the Court allow an out of time amendment
to the complaints “to allow the plaintiffs'
carefully preserved right to a trial by jury.”
(Id. at p. 4).
reply memorandum in support of the Motion to Strike Jury
Demand, Defendants assert that the jurisdictional statements
contained in Plaintiffs' Complaints are not ambiguous:
“Not only is there no reference whatsoever to diversity
jurisdiction…it is unclear how or which
portion…can even arguably be read as asserting
diversity jurisdiction.” (Rec. Doc. 34 at pp. 2-3).
Additionally, Defendants suggest that Plaintiffs had ample
time to amend their Complaints, noting that due to the
consolidation of cases, the deadline to amend was over one
year after Mr. Stanley filed suit. (Id. at. p. 2).
Finally, Defendants' argue that Plaintiffs have not
adequately supported their request to amend because (1) they
cannot preserve a right they have already expressly waived
and (2) they have not satisfied the good cause standard of
Rule 16. (Id. at p. 5).
LAW & ANALYSIS
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 9(h), a plaintiff
whose claim is cognizable within the Court's
“admiralty or maritime jurisdiction and also within the
court's subject-matter jurisdiction on some other
ground” may choose to designate the claim as an
admiralty or maritime claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(h). Designating a
claim as an admiralty or maritime claim under Rule 9(h)
carries with it “numerous and important
consequences.” T.N.T. Marine Serv., Inc. v. Weaver
Shipyards & Dry Docks, Inc., 702 F.2d 585, 586 (5th
Cir. 1983). Particularly, a plaintiff who elects to bring a
suit under admiralty jurisdiction is not entitled to a trial
by jury. Id. at 587; see also Becker v.
Tidewater, Inc., 405 F.3d 257, 259 (5th Cir. 2005).
express designation invoking Rule 9(h) is not necessary as
long as the complaint includes a simple statement identifying
the claim as an admiralty or maritime claim. T.N.T.
Marine, 702 F.2d at 587-88. “There is no right to
a jury trial where the complaint contains a statement
identifying the claim as an admiralty or maritime claim, even
though diversity jurisdiction exists as well.”
T.N.T. Marine, 702 F.2d at 587; accord Luera v.
M/V Alberta, 635 F.3d 181, 189 (5th Cir. 2011)
(“[A] plaintiff who asserts admiralty jurisdiction as a
basis for the court's subject matter jurisdiction over a
claim has automatically elected under Rule 9(h) to proceed
under the admiralty rules, even if she states that her claim
is also cognizable under diversity….”).
instant suit arises out of injuries two offshore workers
allegedly sustained when the vessel that was transporting
them back to shore, M/V MS. LINDA LEE, encountered rough
seas, causing Plaintiffs to be tossed about the interior of
the vessel. (Rec. Doc. 1 and 17-1926, Rec. Doc. 1).
Plaintiffs solely allege admiralty jurisdiction in their
Complaints: “This case is cognizable under the
admiralty and maritime laws of the United States and this
court is vested with jurisdiction.” (Rec. Doc. 1 at
¶ 2 and 17-1926, Rec. Doc. 1 at ¶ 2). Such a
statement is a Rule 9(h) election. Furthermore, Plaintiffs
failed to plead diversity jurisdiction in either of their
Complaints or First Amending and Supplemental Complaints.
masters of their Complaints, Plaintiffs opted to proceed in
admiralty. Thus, Plaintiffs have invoked the distinct
features and remedies of admiralty jurisdiction, including
the procedural consequence of a non-jury trial. Contrary to
Plaintiffs' assertions, the Court does not find ambiguity
in the Plaintiffs' identical jurisdictional statements.
Even if clarification was required, Plaintiffs do not provide
any legal support to suggest that a subsequent request for a
jury trial is indicative of a plaintiff's intent
to invoke diversity jurisdiction. Accordingly, this Court
finds in favor of the Defendants, striking the
Plaintiffs' jury demand on the grounds that the
Plaintiffs elected to proceed in admiralty, thus no right to
a jury trial exists.
the Court recognizes that a Rule 9(h) election is not
irrevocable, Plaintiffs have not provided sufficient
information for the Court to determine whether good cause
exists to permit an untimely amendment. See S&W
Enters., L.L.C. v. Southtrust Bank of Alabama, 315 F.3d
533, 536 (5th Cir. 2003) (“Rule 16(b) governs amendment
of pleadings after a scheduling order deadline has
expired.”). Plaintiffs merely state, in a footnote,
that there is a “reasonable reason” for their
noncompliance with the amendment deadline, but fail to
adequately identify the reason for their delay. Instead of
offering an explanation for their untimeliness, Plaintiffs
emphasize that the Defendants waited until the deadline for
amendments had passed to file their Motion to ...