Plaintiff, a Honduran citizen, injured his back while working as a mason aboard a Carnival vessel. The injury required surgery and eventually led to “serious orthopedic and neurological problems, including numbness in both legs, difficulty urinating, need for a catheter, sexual dysfunction, and psychological problems.” Plaintiff worked for employer under a Seafarer Agreement. The Agreement included an arbitration clause requiring the arbitration of all disputes (except wage disputes). After his injury, Plaintiff asserted claims of Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness, and failure to provide adequate maintenance and cure. Acting on a motion to compel arbitration filed by the Defendant, the district court “granted the motion, dismissed as moot all other pending motions, and closed the case for administrative purposes.”
Plaintiff appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, which was called upon to answer a jurisdiction question and a substantive question. First, the court addressed the jurisdiction question, which addressed whether the Eleventh Circuit even had jurisdiction to consider this appeal (with internal citations omitted):
The pertinent question we address in this case is not whether the district court’s administrative closure is the functional equivalent of a dismissal, but rather, whether the district court’s order, on the record before us, ended the litigation on the merits and left nothing more for the district court to do by execute the judgment. . . . Although the district court did not dismiss the case, the court’s order left all further merits determinations to the arbitrator. Thus, the order effectively “end[ed] the litigation on the merits and [left] nothing more for the [district] court to do but execute the judgment.”
. . .
The slight distinction between an administratively closed case and a dismissed case does not resolve the question of finality. What matters is whether the case, in all practicality, is finished. In this case, the district court not only administratively closed the case, but it also denied all pending motions as moot and compelled arbitration. The district court’s order was a functionally final and appealeable decision because it left nothing more for the court to do but execute the judgment. Accordingly, we conclude that the order compelling Martinez to arbitrate his claims was “a final decision with respect to an arbitration,” and we have appellate jurisdiction.
Second, the Eleventh Circuit addressed the substantive question–namely whether the Seafarer Agreement required arbitration. Plaintiff argued that the termination provision of the Seafarer’s Agreement had terminated before the dispute arose. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, finding that parties can arbitrate “the very issue of ‘arbitrability’ . . . .” Finally, as an alternative argument, Plaintiff contended that “his claim for medical negligence falls outside the scope of the arbitration clause in his employment contract because it did not arise under the Seafarer’s Agreement. Again, the court disagreed:
In determining whether a dispute arises out of a contract, “the focus is on whether the tort or breach in question was an immediate, foreseeable result of the performance of the contractual duties.” Doe v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., 657 F.3d 1204, 1218 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). In Doe, we held that claims arising under the Jones Act “are dependent on [the plaintiff’s] status as a seaman employed by the cruise line and the rights that [the plaintiff] derives from that employment status.” Id. at 1221. See also O’Boyle v. United States, 993 F.2d 211, 213 (11th Cir. 1993) (“[I]n order to recover damages under the Jones Act, [a plaintiff] must have the status of a seaman.”). Although the Jones Act dictates Carnival’s duty of care, that duty extends to Martinez only because he was employed by Carnival as a seaman under the contract. In addition, the terms of the Agreement, which specifically reference[s] Carnival’s obligation to provide medical treatment aboard the vessel or ashore, contemplated that Carnival would provide shoreside medical care for injuries Martinez sustained while on the job. Accordingly, we conclude that Martinez’s dispute with Carnival clearly arose out of or in connection with the Seafarer’s Agreement and is subject to arbitration.
Martinez v. Carnival Corp., — F.3d —- (2014).
(Note: I originally published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore and Defense Base Act Blog.)