Jones Act Case Study: Bobby Kirk v Noble Drilling (U.S.), Inc.

Case Name: Bobby Kirk v Noble Drilling (U.S.), Inc.
Date of Judgment: 1st April 2009
Court: U.S.D.C. – S.D. Mississippi
Judge: District Judge Starrett
Citation: 2009 WL 910853 (S.D.Miss.)

Background: The plaintiff, Bobby Kirk (“Employee”) was hired by the defendant, Noble Drilling, Inc. (“Employer”).  Employee worked on a rig, the Jimmy Puckett. He asserted that the rig was a “vessel” and he was a “seaman” within the Jones Act meaning and general maritime law.

While performing his duties, the employee struck his hard hat on a horizontal bleed-off line from a mud pump. He allegedly sustained serious and permanent injuries as a result of the incident.

Employee filed a Complaint asserting claims under the Jones Act and maritime law, specifically maintenance and cure.

The employer removed the action to this Court. He contended that the employee’s claim for maintenance and cure was “separate and independent” from the Jones Act claim. This meant the Jones Act claim could be removed to federal court. Thus, the employer stated he had the power to remove the suit.

Issue: Whether the Court will permit the Jones Act claim to be removed to federal court.

Held:

Jones Act claims filed in state court are generally not removable. An exception exists when they are joined with claims arising under federal law, which are deemed “separate and independent” from the Jones Act claims.

However, the Fifth Circuit has held that claims for maintenance and cure are not separate and independent from Jones Act claims for removal purposes.

Following the Fifth Circuit precedent, the Court found the Jones Act claim was not removable to federal court.  This Court further concluded that the employee had received only one injury and sought compensation for that injury. All of his claims arose from this singular occurrence and his claims all involved the same facts. Thus, removal was inappropriate.

Significance:

A Jones Act claim is unable to be removed from the state court it is filed in. An exception exists where the claim is filed with other “separate and independent” claims. Often these are for maintenance and cure, or breach of contract.

It is important to check the Federal Circuit precedent before removal. The Fifth Circuit, as shown in this case, does not allow claims for maintenance and cure to be independent from the Jones Act claims for removal purposes.

Steve Gordon

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