Federal judge sides with KYTC on jurisdiction for lawsuit against employees of Foss Maritime Co.
Foss, owner of ship that damaged Eggners Ferry Bridge, sought to avoid jury trial
FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 27, 2014) – A federal judge today agreed with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) and ruled that a lawsuit against employees of Foss Maritime Co. should be heard in a state circuit court.
KYTC has sued seven current or former employees for their part in the crash of the Delta Mariner, a cargo vessel owned by Foss Maritime, into the Eggners Ferry Bridge on Kentucky Lake on the night of Jan. 26, 2012. An entire span of the bridge was demolished and had to be replaced. KYTC is seeking to recover more than $7 million in damages on behalf of Kentucky taxpayers.
The cabinet filed the lawsuit in Marshall Circuit Court and requested a jury trial. But Foss Maritime got the case removed to U.S. District Court and consolidated with its own “limitation of liability” action.
In seeking to have the case returned to Marshall Circuit Court, the cabinet argued in its brief that the defendants “improperly used the federal removal statute to thwart the role of the state courts and state common law.”
In a ruling today, U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell noted the cabinet’s desire for a jury trial.
“Were this case to be removed pursuant to the Court’s original admiralty jurisdiction, however, no such trial would be available: admiralty cases do not carry with them the right to a jury trial,” the judge’s ruling said.
The cabinet also contended that removal of the case to federal court violated the 11th Amendment to both the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions, precluding states from being brought into federal court without a waiver of immunity.
Judge Russell agreed that the “general maritime nature” of a case does not, by itself, justify its removal to federal court. “State courts ... remain competent to hear maritime causes of action so long as the defendant is a person, rather than a vessel,” the ruling said.