Cantu v. Orion Marine Grp., LLC

Decision Date30 December 2020
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 2:20-CV-247
Citation510 F.Supp.3d 453
Parties Jose CANTU, et al., Plaintiffs, v. ORION MARINE GROUP, LLC, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas

Joseph Frederick McGowin, IV, Kurt B. Arnold, Micajah Boatright, Roland Thomas Christensen, Arnold & Itkin, LLP, Houston, TX, for Plaintiffs.

Frank Anthony Piccolo, Chaffe McCall LLP, Houston, TX, for Defendants Orion Marine Group, LLC, Orion Marine Construction, Inc.

Brian George Walker, Kent M. Adams, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, LLP, Houston, TX, for Defendants EPIC Midstream Holdings, LP, GP EPIC Midstream Holdings, EPIC Crude Holdings, LP.

Patrick W. Mizell, Matthew Charles Hoffman, Vinson Elkins LLP, Houston, TX, David Evans Keltner, Kelly Hart and Hallman LLP, Fort Worth, TX, for Defendants Enterprise Products Operating, LLC, Enterprise Products Partners, LP.



Plaintiff Jose Cantu, a Texas resident and Jones Act seaman, suffered a serious injury when the vessel he was working on was consumed in an explosion and fire. (D.E. 31, p. 4). He and his wife, Stephanie Molina ("Plaintiffs"), elected to file this personal injury action, individually and on behalf of their minor children, in the County Court at Law No. 3, Nueces County, Texas. Id. at 1–9; (D.E. 3, p. 1). Defendant EPIC Midstream Holdings, LP removed the case to this Court, arguing that the Court has federal enclave jurisdiction, federal officer jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1442, and federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 pursuant to the Grable doctrine. (D.E. 3); see Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg. , 545 U.S. 308, 312, 125 S.Ct. 2363, 162 L.Ed.2d 257 (2005).

Pending before the Court is Plaintiffsmotion to remand for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. (D.E. 4). After considering the state court petition (D.E. 3-1, p. 1-9), the amended notice of removal (D.E. 3), and the motion to remand (D.E. 4), along with the response (D.E. 15), the Court GRANTS Plaintiffsmotion to remand. (D.E. 4). This action is REMANDED to the County Court at Law No. 3, Nueces County, Texas.

I. Background

Defendants Orion Marine Group, LLC and Orion Marine Construction, Inc. (collectively, "Orion") entered into a contract with Defendants Epic Midstream Holdings, LP, Epic Midstream Holdings GP, LLC, and Epic Crude Holdings, LP (collectively, "EPIC") to perform dredging work at the EPIC Marine Terminal. (D.E. 3, p. 2; D.E. 3-1, p. 2–5). Relevant to the case at hand, Orion had seamen employees working on the dredging project aboard the Waymon L. Boyd ("Vessel"). (D.E. 4, p. 10). Defendants Enterprise Products Operating, LLC and Enterprise Products Partners, LP (collectively, "Enterprise") operate a pipeline located in the Tule Lake Channel, which is within the Port of Corpus Christi Inner Harbor Security Zone. (D.E. 3, p. 2–3; D.E. 3-1, p. 5); 33 C.F.R. § 165.809. The United States Coast Guard is tasked with protecting the security zone. § 165.809. The Coast Guard's operational headquarters for this security zone is located at 249 Glasson Drive, Corpus Christi, Texas 78406. (D.E. 3-1, p. 17). The Coast Guard owns the real property at 249 Glasson Drive. Id.

On August 21, 2020, Enterprise's pipeline was struck during the dredging work Orion was performing for EPIC, resulting in an explosion that engulfed the Vessel. (D.E. 3-1, p. 5). Among those who were injured in the explosion was Plaintiff Jose Cantu, one of the seamen employed by Orion aboard the Vessel working on the dredging project at the time of the explosion. Id. at 4–5.

Plaintiffs commenced this lawsuit against the defendants seeking damages for personal injury. Id. at 5–7; (D.E. 4, p. 6, 10). Specifically, the state-court petition contains claims for negligence, gross negligence, unseaworthiness, and failure to pay maintenance and cure under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, and general maritime law. (D.E. 3-1, p. 5–7); (D.E. 4, p. 6, 10). EPIC, with the consent of Orion and Enterprise,1 removed the case to this Court, asserting that federal jurisdiction exists. (D.E. 3).

II. Legal Standard

A defendant seeking to remove any civil action from state court must include in its notice of removal "a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal." 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a). Because it purposely mirrors the pleading standard in Federal Rule of Procedure 8, "courts should apply the same liberal rules [to removal allegations] that are applied to other matters of pleading." Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens , 574 U.S. 81, 87, 135 S.Ct. 547, 190 L.Ed.2d 495 (2014) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). As such, a notice of removal need only include plausible allegations of federal jurisdiction. Id. at 89, 135 S.Ct. 547 ; Gonzalez v. Limon , 926 F.3d 186, 188 (5th Cir. 2019). Upon a motion to remand, the burden is on the removing party to establish removal was proper. Tenn. Gas Pipeline v. Hous. Cas. Ins. Co. , 87 F.3d 150, 152 (5th Cir. 1996). To determine whether removal was proper, federal courts can look beyond the face of the complaint. Baccus v. Parrish , 45 F.3d 958, 960–61 (5th Cir. 1995).

III. Analysis

Plaintiffs’ lawsuit contains claims against Orion pursuant to the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, and general maritime law, as well as state-law negligence claims against Orion, EPIC, and Enterprise. (D.E. 3-1, p. 5–7). The Court will first address whether PlaintiffsJones Act claims can be removed in this case. Second, it will examine whether Plaintiffs’ general maritime claims can be removed under 28 U.S.C. § 1333. Third, it will analyze whether Plaintiffs’ maritime claims and state law claims can be removed under federal enclave jurisdiction, federal officer jurisdiction, or federal question jurisdiction pursuant to the Grable doctrine.

A. PlaintiffsJones Act claims against Orion are not removable.

It is well established that Jones Act claims cannot be removed from state court because the Jones Act "incorporates the general provisions of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, including 28 U.S.C. § 1445(a), which in turn bars removal." Lackey v. Atlantic Richfield Co. , 990 F.2d 202, 207 (5th Cir. 1993). Thus, PlaintiffsJones Act claims against Orion are not removable and must be remanded.

B. Plaintiffs’ maritime tort claims against Orion are not removable under 28 U.S.C. § 1333 ; removal requires an independent basis of federal jurisdiction.

28 U.S.C. § 1333 grants federal district courts "original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled." § 1333(1). Had Plaintiffs elected to file their maritime claims in this Court, there is no doubt that original jurisdiction would exist over the maritime claims. See id. However, because Plaintiffs elected to file said claims in state court, they invoked § 1333(1) ’s "saving to suitors" clause, and the Court must determine its control here. See (D.E. 3-1, p. 1).

Historically, removing parties have not been permitted to remove maritime claims under § 1333, instead needing an independent basis of federal jurisdiction. See, e.g., Figueroa v. Marine Inspection Servs. , 28 F. Supp. 3d 677, 680 (S.D. Tex. 2014). "This was the result whether the court relied on the language of the removal statute ( 28 U.S.C. § 1441 ) or the saving to suitors clause of the jurisdictional statute ( 28 U.S.C. § 1333 )." Id. Defendants raise the issue of whether the 2011 amendments to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 effect this traditional understanding. (D.E. 15, p. 11–13). The Court holds that it does not. See Barker v. Hercules Offshore, Inc. , 713 F.3d 208, 219 (5th Cir. 2013) (explaining that § 1333(1) ’s saving to suitors clause exempts maritime claims from removal unless an independent basis of jurisdiction exists, "such as diversity of citizenship"); Figueroa , 28 F. Supp. 3d at 680–82 (finding that an independent basis of jurisdiction is required to remove maritime claims); see Rogers v. BBC Chartering Am., LLC , No. 4:13-CV-3741, 2014 WL 819400, at *1 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 3, 2014) ("It is well accepted that maritime cases filed in state court cannot be removed to federal court unless an independent basis for federal jurisdiction exists. Nothing in the 2011 amendments to the removal statutes altered this traditional understanding."); Belanger v. McDermott Int'l, Inc. , No. H-19-1591, 2019 WL 5595452, at *1–2 (S.D. Tex. Oct. 30, 2019).

Defendants, however, do not solely rely on § 1333 for removal. (D.E. 3). Defendants also argue that the Court has federal enclave jurisdiction, federal officer jurisdiction, and federal question jurisdiction under the Grable doctrine over the maritime claims and state law claims. Id. at 4–9. As such, because federal enclave jurisdiction, federal officer jurisdiction, or the Grable doctrine could provide an independent basis of jurisdiction, each must be analyzed.

C. The Court does not have federal enclave jurisdiction.

Defendants rely on federal enclave jurisdiction as an independent basis for jurisdiction. (D.E. 3, p. 4–5; D.E. 15, p. 5–7). "Under the Constitution the United States has the power to acquire land from the states for certain specified uses and to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over such lands, which are known as federal enclaves." Lord v. Local Union No. 2088, Intern. Broth. of Elec. Workers, AFL-CIO , 646 F.2d 1057, 1059 (5th Cir. 1981) (citing U.S. CONST. art. I, § 8, cl. 17 ); see also Lawler v. Miratek Corp. , No. EP-09-CV-252-KC, 2010 WL 743925, at *2 (W.D. Tex. Mar. 2, 2010) ("Federal enclave jurisdiction is a subspecies of federal question jurisdiction, which is a form of subject matter jurisdiction vested in federal district courts by 28 U.S.C. § 1331."). As a result, "federal courts have at least concurrent original jurisdiction" over "tort claims that...

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