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Baer v. King

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

December 12, 2013

M/V MELVIN L. KING, et al., Defendants.


DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Defendant Yazoo River Towing moves for a change of venue, arguing that this action should be transferred to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Western Division, because this Court is an improper venue and lacks personal jurisdiction over Yazoo. In the alternative, Yazoo argues that transfer would be convenient for the parties and witnesses and serve the interests of justice. In support of these assertions, Yazoo points out that its office, employees and records are located in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Court has original jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยงยง 1331 and 1333.

II. Factual and Procedural Background

Captain Joseph L. Baer (hereinafter "Captain Baer") is a Covington, Kentucky resident and former employee of Mississippi corporation Yazoo River Towing (hereinafter "Yazoo"). (Doc. # 8-1 at 3). Yazoo hired Captain Baer to work as a relief captain aboard the M/V Melvin L. King (hereinafter "M/V King"), located in Iberville Parish, Louisiana, from July 10, 2013 to August 8, 2013. ( Id. ). However, Yazoo terminated Captain Baer's employment four days after he boarded M/V King. ( Id. ). This prompted Captain Baer to bring suit against Yazoo under the Seaman's Wage Act and general maritime law. (Doc. # 1). He also initiated in rem proceedings against M/V King. ( Id. ).

Yazoo responded by filing a Motion to Change Venue. (Doc. # 8). In support of this Motion, Yazoo President Patrick Smith swore an affidavit stating that Yazoo's office, records and most of its employees are located in or around Vicksburg, Mississippi. (Doc. # 8-1 at 1). Among these employees, Smith believes that he and five others have personal knowledge of the company's policies and/or the circumstances surrounding Captain Baer's termination. ( Id. at 2). The affidavit indicates that Smith made the decision to hire and fire Captain Baer from the Vicksburg office and communicated this news to Captain Baer while he was working aboard the M/V King in Iberville Parish, Louisiana. ( Id. ). Smith also stated that neither Yazoo nor M/V King do business in the state of Kentucky. ( Id. ).

Captain Baer has also swore an affidavit, which he attached to his Response, countering three of Smith's assertions. (Doc. # 13-2). First, Captain Baer disagreed with Smith's contention that almost all of the witnesses live in Vicksburg, citing two potential witnesses who live in Kentucky and a third who resides in Missouri. ( Id. at 2). Second, Captain Baer maintains that Smith hired him in Covington, Kentucky rather than Vicksburg, Mississippi. ( Id. at 1). Third, Captain Baer believes that Yazoo does business with a number of Kentucky-based companies. ( Id. at 2). Captain Baer also believes that Kentucky has a significant public interest in having this case adjudicated locally because he was a Kentucky citizen. (Doc. # 13 at 6).

A second sworn affidavit from Smith accompanied Yazoo's Reply Brief. (Doc. # 14; Doc. # 14-1). Although Smith agreed that Baer's potential witnesses resided in Kentucky and Missouri, he noted that one of the Kentucky witnesses lived in Paducah, which is almost equidistant from Covington and Vicksburg, and the other was merely Captain Baer's personal friend. (Doc. #14-1 at 1-2). Smith clarified that Captain Baer contacted Yazoo about employment opportunities from his stated home of Cincinnati, Ohio, but he was not actually hired until his arrival in Vicksburg. ( Id. ). The affidavit also indicates that Yazoo occasionally delivers to customers along the Ohio River, but Smith has no knowledge that Yazoo conducts business with the Kentucky companies cited in Captain Baer's affidavit. ( Id. ).

III. Analysis

A. Applicable Law

When a plaintiff has a claim for relief "within the admiralty or maritime jurisdiction and also within the court's subject-matter jurisdiction on some other ground, the pleading may designate the claim as an admiralty or maritime claim for purposes of Rules 14(c), 38(e), and 82 and the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(h)(1). Claims cognizable only in admiralty or maritime jurisdiction are considered admiralty or maritime claims for purposes of the rules cited in Rule 9(h), whether or not so designated. Id. Admiralty or maritime claims under Rule 9(h) are not civil actions for purposes of the federal venue statute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 82.

Plaintiff brings a Seaman's Wage Act claim for unpaid wages and a general maritime claim for breach of the warranty of seaworthiness. He also proceeds in rem to enforce a maritime lien against M/V King. As acknowledged in Plaintiff's Complaint, these claims are cognizable only in admiralty or maritime jurisdiction. Plaintiff's claims are therefore properly considered admiralty or maritime claims for purposes of Rules 9(h) and 82. Accordingly, the Court will evaluate Defendant's Motion to Change Venue using venue rules specific to admiralty, rather than the general federal venue statute.

B. Propriety of the Current Venue

General admiralty practice merges the venue and personal jurisdiction analyses. Richoux v. R & G Shrimp Co., 126 F.Supp.2d 1007, 1009 (S.D.T.X. Dec. 22, 2000); Gipromer v. SS Tempo, 487 F.Supp. 631, 633 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 16, 1980). Therefore, venue lies wherever valid service ...

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