Case Name: Michael L. Sherwood v Marquette Transportation Co., LLC
Date of Judgment: 31st March 2009
Court: U.S.D.C. – S.D. Illinois
Judge: District Judge Gilbert
Citation: 2009 WL 839024 (S.D.Ill.)
Background: Plaintiff, Michael Sherwood (“Seaman”) was employed by defendant, Marquette Transportation Co. (“Employer”). Seaman worked on the M/V Justin Paul Exkstein (“vessel”) in navigation on the Mississippi River. Seaman was seriously injured one day while performing his duties.
In the employment agreement, the employer inserted a clause binding the seaman to resolve disputes through the Illinois Arbitration Act. This Act permitted Illinois courts to compel him to submit any disagreements to arbitration.
Seaman filed a complaint for damages recoverable under the Jones Act, and maintenance and cure under maritime law. Employer filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration, asserting that seaman agreed to arbitrate disputes arising from his employment. This had included all actions arising under the Jones Act.
Issue: Whether the Court will honor the agreement, and bind the seaman to his contract.
Employment contracts for seamen that contain an arbitration clause will be subject to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). The state arbitration statutes do not apply.
The FAA has a provision which protects all seamen from the binding effects of arbitration provisions in their contracts. Here, the Court held that the employer’s contract was not consistent with the FAA. Therefore, the Court refused to honor the employer’s agreement.
The Court gives special deference to the employment contracts that seamen engage in. The seamen are “wards of the court” and enjoy special protections. Like children, the Courts watch over the seamen’s actions, and step in when they feel it is necessary to prevent injustice.
A seaman will not be bound by a mandatory arbitration clause in his contract. The seaman is bound by the FAA, and not the state’s arbitration statutes.