Published: July 22, 2013
By: Frederick B. Goldsmith
In Parker Drilling Offshore USA LLC v. Lee, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100271 (W.D. La. June 6, 2013), a federal Magistrate Judge recommended that Parker Drilling’s Declaratory Judgment Act suit against its Jones Act seaman employee, Andrew Lee, be dismissed in deference to Lee’s later-filed Texas state court suit against Parker Drilling. In the federal case, Parker Drilling sought “a judgment declaring (1) that Lee is not entitled to additional maintenance and cure since his back/leg complaints did not manifest in the ‘service of the vessel’ and predate his alleged accident, (2) that Lee is not entitled to maintenance and cure benefits based on the alleged willful concealment of a pre-existing condition and the applicability of McCorpen v. Central Gulf S.S. Corp., 396 F.2d 547 (5th Cir. 1968), and (3) that Parker acted in good faith toward Lee and its actions have not been ‘arbitrary, capricious or callous.'”
Parker Drilling filed its federal court suit less than three months after Lee’s alleged accident aboard Parker Drilling Rig 50B, which was then operating in Louisiana coastal waters. Lee claimed he injured his lower back in the accident. Lee filed his Texas state court suit, which sought damages for his injuries under the Jones Act (for negligence) and under the general maritime law (for unseaworthiness and maintenance and cure), just a few days after Parker Drilling filed its federal suit.
The federal Magistrate Judge noted that while the federal court had jurisdiction to hear Parker Drilling’s case, it also had discretion under the Declaratory Judgment Act to abstain from exercising jurisdiction over Parker Drilling’s case. Magistrate Judge Hanna found the questions in controversy between the parties could be better settled in the state court action and that the federal court action did not serve a purpose beyond duplicating the claims of the parties. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge found:
Magistrate Judge Hanna concluded:
“…the interests of fairness and judicial efficiency are better served if the declaratory judgment action is dismissed. This finding is consistent and in accord with other cases addressing similar issues in dismissing an employer’s preemptive declaratory judgment action regarding maintenance and cure benefits in a maritime personal injury case ….. The interests of comity, judicial economy and deference to the traditional plaintiff’s choice of forum weigh in favor of allowing the Texas court to adjudicate the entirety of this dispute.”