Case Name: Azeem Modak v Alaris Companies, LLC
Date of Judgment: 17th April 2009
Court: U.S.D.C. – N.D. California
Judge: District Judge Wilken
Citation: 2009 WL 1035485 (N.D.Cal.)
Background: Plaintiff, Azeem Modak (“Seaman”) worked as a crew member aboard the vessel Frontier Discoverer. The defendants, Alaris Companies (“Employer”) and Frontier (“Owner”) operated the vessel. Seaman alleged that in October 2007 he suffered physical injuries while working aboard the vessel.
Employer is a U.S.-based company in the business of providing ship management, maritime staffing, vessel crewing and other services to customers in the maritime industry. Its offices are located in California. Owner is a Norwegian company who supplies on- and off-shore drilling and production services for customers in the oil industry. Frontier maintains offices in Texas.
Under the Jones Act, Seaman filed suit against employer and owner in the Northern District of California. As well, he filed suit under general maritime law, for unseaworthiness and maintenance and cure.
Employer and owner raised a 12(b)(3) motion, stating that venue in the Northern District of California was improper. Seaman asserted jurisdiction under the Jones Act and general maritime law, and maintained that the venue was proper.
Issue: Whether the venue in the Northern District of California was improper.
The Court stated that employer and owner’s 12(b)(3) motion for improper venue was inappropriate. Instead, a general venue statute, 28 U.S.C. §1391(b), would apply to seaman’s Jones Act claim.
A recent Supreme Court decision supported this Court’s use of the general venue statute. The decision affirmed that a seaman’s Jones Act claim could be maintained under the general venue statute. Pursuant to this, the employer and owner could be sued in any district in which they transacted business.
However, in this case the owner had no contacts or transactions in the Northern District of California. Therefore, it was inappropriate for the case to be heard there.
The Court transferred this action. No dismissal was given, as the seaman’s complaint stated a claim which, if proved, would entitle him to justice. The case will be transferred to any district in which it properly could have been brought. Thus, the Southern District of Texas received the case.
The Jones Act provides for a seaman who suffers injury in the course of employment due to negligence of his employer, the vessel owner, or crew.
Until recently, the Jones Act contained an independent venue provision that allowed venue only “in the judicial district in which the employer resides or the employer’s principal office is located.”
This provision is being repealed so that an action may be brought wherever the seaman’s employer or owner does business. It is necessary that the employer or owner has sufficient contacts or business conducted within the venue.