Dominguez v. Gulf Coast Marine & Associates, Inc., 052810 FED5, 09-40685

Docket Nº:09-40685
Opinion Judge:FORTUNATO P. BENAVIDES, Circuit Judge
Party Name:MARIA SANTOS LOPEZ DOMINGUEZ, individually and A.N.F. to K.L., M.L., I.L. and Estate of Omar Guajardo Andrade; SANDRA PATRICIA PACHEO ROSADO, individually and as representative of the Estate of Leonardo M. Hernandez Pozo; TAYDE M. POZO ROBLE, parent of Leonardo M. Hernandez Pozo; JULISSA BOVIO CHAGOYA, individually and A.N.F. to D.B., J.B. and M.B.
Judge Panel:Before BENAVIDES, STEWART, and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:May 28, 2010
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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MARIA SANTOS LOPEZ DOMINGUEZ, individually and A.N.F. to K.L., M.L., I.L. and Estate of Omar Guajardo Andrade; SANDRA PATRICIA PACHEO ROSADO, individually and as representative of the Estate of Leonardo M. Hernandez Pozo; TAYDE M. POZO ROBLE, parent of Leonardo M. Hernandez Pozo; JULISSA BOVIO CHAGOYA, individually and A.N.F. to D.B., J.B. and M.B. on behalf of the Estate of Miguel Angel Solis Rodriguez; CARLOS BLAS CORTAZAR; SERGIO ROSADO CORTES; EUDOCIA A. JACOME GOMEZ; ALDO ANTONIO LOPEZ LORENZO; JORGE GUZMAN MARTINEZ; JESUS I. SUAREZ MATIAS; JUAN ANTONIO PALAFOX NAVARETTE; PASTOR GARCIA OCANA; OSCAR ROMERO ORTEGA; SERGIO SOLIS PONCE; JOSE PEDRO COBO QUIROZ; FERNANDO A. CERVERA RAMIREZ; JORGE A. JIMENEZ RANGEL; MARTIN ZUNIGA SALAZAR; GABRIEL GONZALEZ TORA; TEODOSIO RUEDA DE LEON; MIGUEL HERNANDEZ CHAN, parent of Leonardo M. Hernandez Pozo, deceased; ANTONIO MONTERO HERNANDEZ; LEONEL FERNANDEZ RIVERA; HERMILLO JIMENEZ CEPEDA; ALL PLAINTIFFS, Plaintiffs-Appellants

v.

GULF COAST MARINE & ASSOCIATES, INC.; GLEN CARTER; HALLIBURTON COMPANY; SCHLUMBERGER TECHNOLOGY CORPORATION; MATTHEWS-DANIEL COMPANY, Defendants-Appellees

No. 09-40685

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

May 28, 2010

REVISED June 3, 2010.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas (Lufkin Division)

Before BENAVIDES, STEWART, and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.

FORTUNATO P. BENAVIDES, Circuit Judge

In this case, we are asked to review the dismissal of an action seeking redress for injuries suffered in a deadly maritime accident off the coast of Mexico. However, at this time, we forego a ruling on the merits of the dismissal of this case for forum non conveniens. After plaintiffs filed this appeal, the district judge who presided over this case recused himself, calling into question the continued validity of his dismissal. Given the incomplete information in the record regarding the circumstances of the judge's recusal, we remand this case to the district court for the limited purpose of addressing whether the dismissal of this case should be set aside.

I.

On October 23, 2007, an unusually strong storm blew across the Gulf of Campeche, where the mobile drilling rig USUMACINTA was positioned over the oil production platform KAB-101, approximately ten miles north of the Mexican coast. As hurricane force winds battered the vessels, the USUMACINTA allided with the KAB-101, damaging the platform and causing oil and gas to leak from one of its wells. The workers onboard on the KAB-101 were unable to stop the leak and had to evacuate the platform. They boarded two lifeboats called mandarinas, both of which eventually capsizedin therough waters. Twenty-two workers drowned, along with two rescuers called to the accident.

The plaintiffs in this case are relatives of the workers who perished in the accident, representatives of their estates, and survivors of the accident. Each plaintiff is a resident of Mexico, and all of the individuals whose deaths or injuries are the subject of this lawsuit worked for Mexico's state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos ("Pemex") or Perforadora Central ("Perforadora"), a Mexican company that assists Pemex in oil exploration. At the time of the accident, Pemex owned the KAB-101 platform and was leasing the USUMACINTA rig from Perforadora.

In 2008, a year after the accident, plaintiffs initiated the present suit in federal district court in Lufkin, Texas, asserting negligence, gross negligence, and products liability claims. Neither Pemex nor Perforadora are defendants in this suit.1 Instead, plaintiffs have filed suit against four Texas companies, Gulf Coast Marine & Associated, Inc. ("Gulf Coast"), Schlumberger Technology Corporation, Halliburton Energy Services, Inc., and Matthews-Daniel Company. They have also filed suit against Glen Carter, an alleged employee of Gulf Coast and U.S. citizen resident in Louisiana. Plaintiffs allege that defendants are collectively responsible for the accident that occurred on October 23, 2007.

After limited discovery, on May 29, 2009 the district court issued an order dismissing this case for forum non conveniens, contingent on several conditions. Specifically, the order provided that:

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Defendants' Motions to Dismiss for Forum Non Conveniens . . . shall be CONDITIONALLY GRANTED subject to a return jurisdiction clause under the following conditions:

1) Defendants' agreement to appear and submit themselves to the jurisdiction of the Mexican courts, waiving any jurisdictional defenses they might normally possess;

2) Defendants' waiver of any statute of limitations or laches-related defenses that they did not possess at the time the Plaintiffs originally filed in this court; and

3) Defendants' agreement to submit to discovery in the Mexican forum in accordance with the procedural rules of the Mexican court.

The dismissal of this case from this court's docket shall become effective once the Defendants have tendered a written statement assenting to be bound by the foregoing conditions. Should the Defendants fail to do so by June 26, 2009, their forum non conveniens motions will be considered waived, and this case will proceed to trial in this court.

Should the courts of Mexico refuse to accept jurisdiction for reasons other than Plaintiffs' refusal to pursue an action or to comply with the procedural requirements of Mexican courts, this court may reassert jurisdiction upon timely notification of the same.

On June 26, 2009, defendants met the district court's deadline for filing a statement agreeing to return jurisdiction, submitting a stipulation with terms very similar to those mandated by Judge Clark. Three days later, on June 29, plaintiffs filed a notice appealing the court's May 29 order, as plaintiffs were concerned that the order could be construed as final and the thirty-day deadline for appeal had arrived. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(A) ("In a civil case, . . . the notice of appeal . . . must be filed . . . within 30 days after the judgment or order appealed from is entered."). Two days later, plaintiffs objected to defendants' stipulation, as defendants had only agreed to submit to jurisdiction in Mexico City. Shortly thereafter, defendants submitted a revised stipulation on July 6 and plaintiffs withdrew their objection, prompting the court to enter an order formally dismissing this case on July 7.

A week later, on July 13, 2009, Judge Clark convened a teleconference with counsel for all parties and informed them that he had just...

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