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Mongaya v. AET MCV Beta, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 19, 2018

MERVY LLOYD MONGAYA and RICHARD J. DODSON
v.
AET MCV BETA, LLC

         SECTION “F”

          ORDER AND REASONS

          MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are two motions: (1) the plaintiffs' motion to remand; and (2) the defendant's motion to dismiss. For the reasons that follow, the plaintiffs' motion to remand is GRANTED, and the defendant's motion to dismiss is DENIED for lack of jurisdiction.

         Background

         This consolidated lawsuit[1] finds its genesis in the personal injuries sustained by a Filipino seaman who worked aboard a Marshall Islands flag vessel while on navigable waters off the coast of Florida.

         On March 1, 2016, Mervy Lloyd Mongaya, a citizen of the Philippines, entered into a Philippine Overseas Employment Administration Contract of Employment with AET Shipmanagement Pte Ltd (“AET”). In accordance with the requirements of the Philippines, Mongaya's employment contract contains both an arbitration clause and a choice of law provision.[2] Pursuant to the contract, Mongaya served as a seaman aboard the M/T EAGLE TEXAS, a vessel registered in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. However, neither the vessel owner or the vessel operator were signatories to his contract.

         On August 4, 2016, Mongaya allegedly sustained severe head injuries aboard the M/T EAGLE TEXAS while off the coast of Florida, for which he claims to be permanently paralyzed from the chest down. This single incident has generated a number of lawsuits in many courts.

         First, on March 14, 2017, Mongaya filed suit in the Marshall Islands High Court against the vessel owner and several other entities, asserting claims of negligence, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure (the “RMI Litigation”). The vessel owner and its co-defendants moved to stay that lawsuit and compel arbitration pursuant to the arbitration clause in Mongaya's employment contract. On August 10, 2017, the Marshall Islands High Court granted the vessel owner's motion to stay, holding that, under Islands law, Mongaya must arbitrate his personal injury claims against all defendants, including non-signatories, in the Philippines. Mongaya, represented by Dodson & Hooks APLC, appealed the High Court's arbitration order, and on August 10, 2018, the Marshall Islands Supreme Court affirmed the order compelling arbitration in the Philippines as to all defendants, including the vessel owner. In so doing, the Islands court noted that the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “Convention”) did not apply to Mongaya's claims because the Islands had not enacted it into domestic law.

         In the meantime, Mongaya initiated arbitration proceedings in the Philippines. However, he elected not to include the vessel owner in the arbitration, despite the Islands court's ruling. On May 31, 2018, the arbitrator issued an award in favor of Mongaya, which he has appealed to the National Labor Relations Commission in the Philippines.

         On August 27, 2018, Mongaya, again represented by Dodson & Hooks APLC, sued the vessel owner in the 23rd Judicial District Court for the Parish of St. James, Louisiana (the “Louisiana Personal Injury Action”), alleging claims of unseaworthiness and negligence, and seeking damages stemming from the same alleged injury at issue in the RMI Litigation and the Philippines Arbitration. Mongaya also sought attachment of the M/T EAGLE TEXAS. To avoid detention of its vessel, its owner agreed to provide security for Mongaya's claims in the Louisiana Personal Injury Action in the amount of $9.5 million.

         In response, on September 6, 2018, the vessel owner filed a motion in the RMI Litigation, seeking to enjoin Mongaya and his counsel from maintaining the alleged duplicative Louisiana Personal Injury Action. In that motion, the vessel owner used the word “extortion” to describe Mongaya's acts of filing the repetitious Louisiana Personal Injury Action and demanding $9.5 million in security.[3] Not to be outdone, Mongaya and Dodson responded by jointly filing two additional lawsuits in Louisiana state court on September 10, 2018: (1) a suit seeking redress for the vessel owner's alleged defamatory statements in its motion filed in the RMI Litigation (the “Defamation Action”); and (2) a separate suit seeking issuance of a temporary and permanent restraining order to enjoin the vessel owner from maintaining its motion for injunctive relief before the Islands High Court (the “Injunction Action”).[4]

         On September 21, 2018, the vessel owner removed all three actions to this Court, pursuant to 9 U.S.C. § 205, invoking federal question jurisdiction under 9 U.S.C. § 203 and 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Following removal, this Court promptly consolidated the lawsuits.[5]Nearly a month later, Mongaya and Dodson moved to remand, and the vessel owner moved to dismiss all three lawsuits.[6] Most recently, on November 1, 2018, Mongaya voluntarily dismissed the Louisiana Personal Injury Action. Accordingly, only the Defamation and Injunction Actions remain pending.

         I.

         The Court first considers the plaintiffs' motion to remand. The plaintiffs contend that removal was improper under 9 U.S.C. § 205 because the arbitration clause upon which removal was based neither “falls under” the Convention, nor “relates to” any of the state court actions. Even if removal was not initially improper, they submit, because the arbitration clause in fact provides the vessel owner ...


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