X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
In the 1999 case Stier v. Reading & Bates Corp., the Texas Supreme Court addressed the issue of what claims can be made by a foreign seaman injured in a locale other than the territorial waters of the United States. According to the opinion, the plaintiff, Hans-Henning Stier, was a German citizen who resided in Brazil. When his injury occurred, Stier was a mechanic aboard an American flagged, mobile drilling vessel, operating in the territorial waters of Trinidad. Stier was a 17-year employee of Texas-based Reading & Bates Drilling Co.’s offshore drilling business. In addition to being brought to the United States periodically for training, Stier had frequent contact with Reading & Bates by mail and telephone. Nevertheless, throughout his years of employment for the Texas company, Stier had never received a work assignment in the United States or its territorial waters. At the time of the accident, the rig was docked in Trinidad waiting for another assignment. According to the opinion, Stier was dismantling and reassembling the crown block on the deck of the rig when he was struck by a hook and sling operated by another employee of Reading & Bates. Stier sustained head injuries and was transported to Florida for hospitalization and later received treatment from Houston hospitals and health care providers. Stier sued Reading & Bates and its parent company in state district court in Houston. Stier’s claims were based on the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. �688, and the general maritime law theories of negligence, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure. Stier also asserted claims based on Texas law and in the alternative, the laws of Trinidad. As noted in the opinion, Reading & Bates moved for summary judgment based on two contentions: The Jones Act precludes any claims based on federal statutes or federal common law because Stier had remedies under the laws of Brazil, Germany and Trinidad; and �688(b) of the Jones Act pre-empts all of Stier’s other claims based on Texas substantive law and the laws of Trinidad. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment and Stier appealed. Stier conceded that he could not pursue any federal claims because they were precluded by �688(b) of the Jones Act. Nevertheless, Stier contended �688(b) did not foreclose the pursuit of remedies in a Texas court based on state law or, in the alternative, remedies under the laws of Trinidad. The Houston Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s granting of Reading & Bates’ motion for summary judgment in all respects. AVAILABLE REMEDIES In analyzing Stier’s contention that he could pursue remedies under Texas law and Trinidad law in a Texas state court, the Texas Supreme Court considered the Jones Act, its 1982 amendment, the legislative history concerning the amendment, and case law addressing the scope of the act when applied to foreign seamen. Prior to the 1982 amendment, the Jones Act did not make a distinction among seamen based on where they were from or where they lived, yet there was an assumption by courts that the act did not apply to all foreign seamen. The court went on to note that prior to the amendment, Stier would not have had a cause of action in some federal circuits but might have been able to sustain the same action in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 1982 amendment to the Jones Act addressed foreign seamen, particularly foreign, nonresident seamen engaged “in the offshore drilling and exploration industry who were injured while over the continental shelf or in the territorial waters of another country.” The U.S. Supreme Court held that Congress, through the Jones Act, has determined the remedies available to foreign seamen, such as Stier. The court held that foreign seamen “must first look to the laws of the nation in which they were injured or the laws of the nation in which they are citizens or are domiciled.” The U.S. Supreme Court’s holding was not affected by a choice of law provision contained in Stier’s employment contract because the provision only applied to the interpretation and enforcement of the contract. The court reasoned that the provision did not “purport to encompass all disputes between the parties or to encompass tort claims. The claims that Stier asserts arise under Texas tort law” and had nothing to do with the interpretation of the contract, the court wrote. The court found that the Jones Act did not pre-empt Stier’s claims under Trinidad law but instead the Jones Act directs Stier to look to the laws of Trinidad, Germany or Brazil. The court was then confronted with the issue of whether a state court could “entertain claims based on the laws of another nation in light of section 688(b)” of the Jones Act. The court reasoned that states are free to apply their own forum non conveniens laws and can therefore exercise jurisdiction over claims of a seaman based on the laws of another nation without pre-emption by the Jones Act. The court remanded the case to the trial court for consideration of whether forum non conveniens applies, or if Stier’s claims based on Trinidad law should proceed in a Texas court. STATE PROCEDURAL LAW Justice James A. Baker issued a dissent that was joined by Justices Deborah G. Hankinson and Alberto R. Gonzales. In dissent, Baker argued that federal law does not pre-empt state law in this case because there is not explicit legal pre-emption and there is no implied pre-emption because the “Jones Act does not prescribe a comprehensive regime for foreign workers.” Under Baker’s analysis, a foreign seaman such as Stier could pursue any state and foreign law claims in state court under state procedural law. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider this case and to date there have been no published opinions by any of the federal appellate courts discussing it. So for now a foreign seaman such as Stier who seeks relief in Texas courts can only do so based on the laws of his place of citizenship, domicile or place of injury, subject to forum non conveniens analysis.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.