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Court Rules Fishing Company of Alaska Cannot Move Injured Fisherman’s Case to Federal Court

Orlando Coronel was injured while working as a fish processor for Fishing Company of Alaska (FCA). Coronel was involved in two separate accidents aboard the F/V ALASKA VICTORY, injuring his shoulder and wrist. Coronel retained the maritime lawyers Beard Stacey and Jacobsen, who filed suit against the Fishing Company of Alaska in King County Superior Court, alleging Jones Act negligence and that the unseaworthiness of the vessel lead to his injury.

Utilizing procedural rules, the Fishing Company of Alaska (FCA) removed Coronel’s case to Federal Court, trying to shift the case to Federal Court in Seattle rather than face a King County jury. FCA argued that a minor change in the removal statue made in 2011 permitted removal of maritime cases from State Court to Federal Court. Arguing on behalf of Coronel, Beard Stacey and Jacobsen claimed that the Federal Court lacked original jurisdiction over maritime claims filed in State Court, and the Savings to Suitors clause prohibited removal of Jones Act claims from State Courts. Furthermore, Coronel argued that the Jones Act gave him an absolute choice to have his Jones Act claim heard in State Court rather than in Federal Court.

U.S. Federal District Court Judge for the Western District of Washington, Judge James Robart, heard the case and held that maritime cases for injured seaman such as Coronel cannot be removed from State Court. Judge Robart held that the Federal Court lacked original jurisdiction over such claims, and that the Savings to Suitors clause protected the injured seaman’s right to sue in State Court. According to Judge Robart’s decision, the Removal Statute did not apply to injured fisherman such as Coronel. Although a few U.S. District Courts had previously accepted the arguments made by FCA, the detailed and thorough analysis of Judge Robart’s decision is likely to be the adopted precedent by other District Courts throughout the United States. The full case can be found at Coronel v. Alaska Victory, 2014 WL 820270 (2014).