The Labors of Hercules: Federal District Court in Washington Rejects Free Removability of General Maritime Law Claims Under 28 U.S.C. 1441 and Ryan v. Hercules Offshore, Inc.

by Baker Donelson

As reported in two prior posts (The Removal of the Ancient Mariner - The Developing Jurisprudence Allowing Removal of General Maritime Law Claims under the Recent Amendments to 28 U.S.C. §1441(b) and The Removal of the Ancient Mariner - Reprising a Sea-Change in Admiralty Law) district courts within the Fifth Circuit have virtually unanimously adopted the reasoning of Judge Gray Miller's decision in Ryan v. Hercules Offshore, Inc., 2013 WL 1967315 (S.D. Tex. May 13, 2013), which overturned the half-century-old, formerly hornbook rule that general maritime law (GML) claims are non-removable and allowed removal of such claims under the recent amendments to 28 U.S.C. §1441. As the rule of Hercules continues to gain a broader foothold on the Gulf of Mexico, however, a sister court in the Pacific Northwest has rejected the sea change.

In Coronel v. AK Victory, --- F. Supp. 2d ---, 2014 WL 820270 (W.D. Wash. Feb. 28, 2014) the court held that a fishing vessel crewmember's GML claims of unseaworthiness and for maintenance and cure, as well as his related Jones Act claims, were non-removable, notwithstanding the removing defendant vessel owner's arguments under Hercules and the new provisions of §1441. The Coronel court's opinion provides a ranging survey of the historical differences - both procedural and substantive - between the admiralty and law sides of the federal courts, and ultimately concludes that the subtle but fundamental jurisdictional distinction between the two precludes removal even under what the court admitted was a "compelling" argument under Hercules and §1441.

To begin with, as a general matter, the Coronel court noted the formerly well-established rule derived from Romero and enshrined most clearly in the Fifth Circuit's decision in In re Dutile, 935 F.2d 61, 63 (5th Cir.1991), that GML claims were not removable based on federal question jurisdiction, notwithstanding that Article III of the Constitution and the Judiciary Act grant federal court's original jurisdiction over admiralty claims, and in light of Article III's "Saving to Suitors" Clause. In this regard, the court suggested that the "more than 200 years of precedent interpreting" the grant of admiralty jurisdiction must inform the removability question notwithstanding the changes to §1441. Moreover, the court acknowledged the fact that the legislative history of the amendments to §1441 indicated that the changes were not intended to change the non-removability of GML claims:

The portions of the legislative history that the court has reviewed do not express any intention to rework the removability of maritime claims. See, e.g., H.R.Rep. No. 112–10, at 11 (20110[.] Rather, it seems that Congress, to the extent it considered admiralty jurisdiction at all, assumed that admiralty cases were already not removable absent some other basis of federal jurisdiction and that nothing in the 2011 Amendments would change that. See H.R.Rep. No. 112–10 (indicating that the bill tracked a proposal by the American Law Institute, which in turn had expressly excluded claims removable solely due to admiralty jurisdiction based on the understanding that such an exclusion was settled law); see also Federal Judicial Code Revision Project, Part III at 334–35 (2004) (American Law Institute proposal).

2014 WL 820270 at *3 n.1.

Moving beyond these general concerns that, whatever their force, do not address the plain language of §1441, the Coronel court nonetheless relied on its historical analysis to ultimately decide the issue on the specific basis that a claim brought within the admiralty jurisdiction - of which the federal courts have original jurisdiction - is fundamentally different from a maritime claim brought at law - of which the federal courts do not have original jurisdiction under the admiralty grant in Article III. Specifically, under the Coronel court's analysis, Romero and its progeny essentially held that (i) only in rem claims fall inextricably within the discrete admiralty jurisdiction granted by Article III; (ii) GML claims brought at law could fall within the federal court's original admiralty jurisdiction if the plaintiff chooses to file the claims in federal court as admiralty claims; but (iii) federal courts do not have original subject matter jurisdiction over GML claims if a plaintiff exercises his right under the "Saving to Suitors" Clause to bring them at law in state court. In other words, as the Coronel court summarized, while GML claims can fall within the federal court's original admiralty jurisdiction, they are not exclusively within the admiralty grant of Article III because they can be brought at law under the "Saving to Suitors" Clause:

[T]hroughout the history of federal admiralty jurisdiction—from the Judiciary Act of 1789 through Romero and up to the present—courts have given no indication that maritime claims are cognizable on the law side of federal courts absent subject matter jurisdiction independent of 28 U.S.C. § 1333.

Turning to Plaintiff's claims, Section 1441(a) only permits removal of civil actions of which the district courts have "original jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). By definition, a party cannot bring a claim in admiralty in state court. As such, Plaintiff's claims for unseaworthiness, maintenance, cure, and lost wages filed in Washington state court are necessarily brought at law, not in admiralty.

But this court would not have had original jurisdiction over these claims at law had they initially been filed in federal court. As discussed above, 28 U.S.C. § 1333 alone does not provide federal subject matter jurisdiction over maritime claims on the law side of the court. The mere fact that these claims implicate general maritime law does not establish federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 [and there is no diversity]. . . Because Plaintiff could not have brought his maritime claims on the law side of the court in the first place, removal is not now appropriate.

2014 WL 820270 at *10 (citations omitted). In short, because a plaintiff's state court GML claims are by the very nature of their state court provenance non-admiralty claims at law, they are not removable based on original jurisdiction in the federal court because the federal court has no original jurisdiction over GML claims brought at law. Thus, because the plaintiff's GML claims were brought at law in state court, they were non-removable, and likewise (in turn) his related Jones Act claims (which are non-removable on their own by statute) were also non-removable.

To be sure, the Coronel court's esoteric (perhaps tortured) analysis is much less concise and precise than Judge Miller's incisive analysis in Hercules. Nonetheless, the analysis finds a Constitutional basis for avoiding what the Hercules court found to be a clear and unambiguous statutory result. That said, it is unclear whether and to what extent Coronel may find a foothold in courts within the Fifth Circuit. See, e.g., Taylor v. Bisso Towboat Co., Inc., 2009 WL 2707452 (E.D. La. Aug. 25, 2009) ("This Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 1331 which provides original jurisdiction over admiralty or maritime claims . . ."). Nonetheless, as Judge Miller's new rule continues to labor its way through district courts, en route to a virtually certain review by the Fifth Circuit and possibly the Supreme Court, Coronel provides a new and intriguing counterpoint to the sea change brought about by Hercules.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Baker Donelson | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Baker Donelson

Baker Donelson on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.