Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. v. Whitefield

Filing 34

ORDER GRANTING 31 Defendants Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge K. Michael Moore on 10/8/2009. (rg1)

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA Case No. 08-22785-CIV-MOOREISIMONTON ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES, LTD., Plaintiff, VS. EDUARDO WHITEFIELD, through MARIA INES MURILLO MARTINEZ, as personal representative, Defendant. I ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS THIS CAUSE came before the Court upon Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (dkt # 33). UPON CONSIDERATION of the Motion, the Responses, the pertinent portions of the record, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, the Court enters the following Order. I. BACKGROUND This case is a declaratory judgment action involving the right of a cruise ship employee to receive maintenance and cure benefits. Decedent Eduardo Whitefield ("Whitefield") was employed by Plaintiff Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. ("Royal Caribbean") until February 27, 2000. After Whitefield's employment ended, he received maintenance and cure benefits from Royal Caribbean for a number of health issues. In a letter dated February 28,2008 (dkt # 252), Royal Caribbean terminated Whitefield's maintenance and cure benefits on grounds that he had reached maximum medical improvement. On October 6,2008, Royal Carribean filed the instant Complaint (dkt # 1) seeking a declaration that it was under no obligation to continue Whitefield's maintenance and cure benefits after they were terminated in February of 2008. On October 15,2008, Whitefield filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit in and for Dade County, Florida, seeking relief under the Jones Act,' 46 U.S.C. $ 30104, and under general maritime law for failure to provide maintenance and cure benefits. Whitefield's Jones Act claim alleges negligent failure to provide adequate medical care. Whitefield died on February 4,2009. On July 14,2009, Royal Caribbean filed an mended Complaint (dkt # 26) substituting Whitefield's wife, Maria Ines Murillo Martinez ("Murillo Martinez"), as Defendant. Murillo Martinez is the personal representative of Whitefield's estate. 11. ANALYSIS A. Dismissal of Declaratory Judgment Action Based on a Parallel State Court Action Defendant claims that this case should be dismissed because there is a similar action pending in state court which permits this Court to properly exercise its discretion to dismiss the case. "The Declaratory Judgment Act is an enabling Act, which confers a discretion on courts rather than an absolute right upon the litigant." Ameritas Variable Life Ins. Co. v. -9 Roach 41 1 F.3d 1328, 1330 (1 1th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). "It only gives the federal courts competence to make a declaration of rights; it does not impose a duty to do so." Id. (citations omitted). "[Ilt would be uneconomical as well as vexatious for a federal court to proceed in a declaratory judgment suit where another suit is pending in a state court presenting the same issues, not governed by federal law, between the same parties." Id.(citation ' "A Jones Act claim is an in personam action for a seaman who suffers injury in the course of employment due to negligence of his employer, the vessel owner, or crew members." Lewis v. Lewis & Clark Marine. Inc., 531 U.S. 438,441 (2001). omitted). "The Supreme Court has warned that '[glratuitous interference with the orderly and comprehensive disposition of a state court litigation should be avoided."' Id.(citation omitted). Moreover, "the Supreme Court's decision in Wilton . . . vests the district courts with broad discretion in deciding whether to hear a declaratoryjudgment action." Atl. Cas. Ins. Co. v. GMC Concrete Co., Inc., No. 07-CV-0563-WS-B, 2007 WL 4335499, at *2 (S.D. Ala. 2007) (quoting Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. v. Doe, 140 F.3d 785,789 (8th Cir. 1998)). In Ameritas, the Eleventh Circuit provided direction concerning the exercise of discretion by district courts when deciding whether to entertain declaratoryjudgment actions when there is parallel state litigation pending. Ameritas, 41 1 F.3d at 1328. When deciding whether to entertain a declaratoryjudgment action, a court should consider: (i) the state's inte

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