Whittaker v. Vane Line Bunkering, Inc., et. al., 18-539, USDC for the Northern District of New York, Nov. 27, 2018

Jones Act and general maritime claims are not removable on their own.

This action involved an underlying lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Ulster County (state court), in which the plaintiff alleged violations of the Jones Act (46 U.S.C. § 30104), the General Maritime Law (including the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. § 905(b)), New York Labor Law § 200, and common law negligence claims. The defendants subsequently removed the action to the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, claiming diversity jurisdiction and “original and exclusive jurisdiction…pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1333 because the Complaint alleges in rem claims against the vessels DBL-25 and Ruby M.” In turn, the plaintiff filed a motion to file and serve a second amended verified complaint and to vacate the notice of removal. In his proposed second amended verified complaint, the plaintiff no longer included the vessels in the case caption and no longer asserted the “vessel negligence” claims. In deciding the motion, the federal court explained that Jones Act claims and general maritime claims are not removable on their own, such claims may be removed to federal court if joined with a claim that presents a federal question under Section 1331. As such, because the “vessel negligence” in rem claims were no longer being asserted by the plaintiff, the federal court no longer had exclusive federal jurisdiction. As such, the federal court remanded the case to state court “[o]ut of respect for the limited jurisdiction of the federal courts and the rights of the states.” 


Case Law Alerts, 1st Quarter, January 2019

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