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in a case of first impression, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held on Aug. 6 that a laborer on an offshore oil and gas rig was a seaman, and thus not subject to the provisions of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), regardless of whether his work pertained to interstate commerce. Brown v. Nabors Offshore Corp., No. 02-31138. After Stephen Brown, a laborer on an offshore oil and gas rig and an employee of Nabors Offshore Corp., was injured on the rig, he sued Nabors. Nabors, having previously informed Brown that, as a condition of his continued employment, he had to agree to settle disputes through binding arbitration, moved to dismiss the suit. Brown countered that, as a seaman, he was not subject to binding arbitration because he fell under a provision of the FAA, which exempted “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” After a district court held for Brown, Nabors appealed, arguing that, under the language of the FAA exclusion, Brown had to be involved in interstate commerce for the exclusion to apply. In affirming, the 5th Circuit rejected Nabors’ reading of the law. Holding that it was reasonable to assume that Congress specifically excluded seamen and railroad workers, the court said, “our analysis supports Brown’s argument that the limiting phrase ‘engaged in foreign or interstate commerce’ only applies to ‘any other class of workers’ and not to the specific categories of workers enumerated, seamen and railroad employees.”

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