[B]Case Name: [/B]Taumaoe (“Tammy”) Utoafili v. Trident Seafoods Corporation, M/V Independence, et al.
[B]Date Decided: [/B]November 30, 2009
[B]Court: [/B]U.S.D.C. Northern District of California
[B]Judge: [/B]Judge Conti
[B]Citation: [/B]2009 WL 4545175 (N.D.Cal.)[B]Background:
[/B]Plaintiff, Tammy, has brought this suit under general maritime law and the Jones Act to recover for injuries sustained while employed as a seaman for defendant, Trident Seafoods Corporation (“Trident”).
Trident has moved to dismiss for improper venue alleging that Tammy cannot pursue her personal injury claims in California because her employment contract with Trident included a forum selection provision requiring all suits against Trident to take place in King County, Washington.
Previously, this Court rejected Tammy’s argument that a series of amendments to the Jones Act was intended to void forum selection clauses in employment contracts for seaman. However this Court did find a [I]potentially valid basis for finding the forum selection clause unreasonable[/I]…".
Tammy, the plaintiff, resubmitted evidence for further consideration in the matter.
Did this Court grant Trident’s motion to dismiss for improper venue or did it hold that the forum selection clause within the employment contract unreasonable?[/B]
[/B]The Supreme Court has emphasized that forum-selection clauses contained in form passage contracts are subject to judicial scrutiny for fundamental fairness.
Plaintiff, here, claimed that she would be effectively precluded from litigating this case in Washington because (1) her medical condition limits her mobility and (2) pursuing the action in Washington would be expensive because she was treated in northern California and she depended upon medical expert testimony from California.
Some days, plaintiff claimed, she cannot even leave the house because she is fearful of falling due to her back injury. She did visit Washington since her injury and testified that she suffered extreme pain, fear of falling, and other difficulties. Furthermore, she asserted that she has family in San Francisco that would help her during the trial process.
However, this Court found that it would be a mere “medical hardship” on the plaintiff to travel to Seattle for a prolonged court case. (Quotations from her primary physician). Her hardship simply does not give rise to fundamental unfairness nor does it preclude hr from attending the trial.
Moreover, Trident cited to a note, written by her former physical therapist, after a long distance trip than Tammy was “back from vacation + no falls…”. While her fear of falling may have been credible, it did not deter her from traveling.
Second, plaintiff’s counsel estimated that litigation in Seattle would cost between 34,000 and 74,400 more than litigation in San Francisco.
This Court found that given the plaintiff’s extremely limited financial means, the Court agreed she will face fundamental unfairness if the suit is dismissed and she is forced to proceed against Trident in Washington. The Court found that expert testimony would be nearly 3x the amount if the case were litigated in Washington and not in San Francisco.
Accordingly, this Court denied Trident’s motion to dismiss for Improper Venue.
The Jones Act does not prohibit forum selection clauses in employment contracts. However, as the Supreme Court has granted the courts with discretion to examine such clauses with scrutiny in order to determine if it would place an undue burden on the plaintiff or prejudice his/her ability to recover in court. [/B]
[B]The party moving to strike the clause as invalid, has the burden of showing that dismissal would prohibit a fair trial. [/B]