General Jurisdiction Statement Supported Rule 9(h) Election

Plaintiff brought suit alleging general maritime law and admiralty jurisdiction, along with a prayer for a trial by jury.  Defendant argued that Plaintiff was not a Jones Act Seaman, and that therefore the court did not have jurisdiction under general maritime law.  In a subsequent amendment to his complaint, Plaintiff made an election under Rule 9(h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and added additional Defendants.  Under Rule 9(h), if a claim is within the admiralty or maritime jurisdiction of the court and also within the court’s subject matter jurisdiction on some other ground, the pleading may designate the claim as either an admiralty or maritime claim.  The effect of this designation will either allow or prohibit a trial by jury.

The newly added Defendants all claimed jurisdiction was proper only by diversity, and two of the added Defendants prayed for a jury trial.  Subsequently, Plaintiff moved to strike his jury demand, which motion was opposed by all of the Defendants.  The Defendants argued that Plaintiff lost his seaman status when he was re-assigned to a land-based rig; in turn the Defendants argued that because maritime jurisdiction did not attach, Plaintiff could not elect under Rule 9(h).

The court granted Plaintiff’s motion to strike, and held that admiralty jurisdiction may exist even if the injury occurred on land.  The court further held that a Plaintiff is the “master of his complaint,” and Plaintiff’s general assertion of an admiralty or maritime claim was sufficient to make a Rule 9(h) election.  Once the election is made, no right to a jury trial exists for the Defendant even though diversity of jurisdiction exists.  A general election, plus a demand for trial by jury, preserved Plaintiff’s right to determine the format of the litigation, whether by jury or bench.  The court noted that here there was no prejudice to the added Defendants who requested a jury trial, since “the pleading which named them also made a very explicit 9(h) designation.”  Id. at *5.  The court hinted that should such an election occur after parties who requested a jury trial were added, the right of the Plaintiff to control the format of the litigation might cease due to prejudicial effect.

Billiot v. Key Energy Services, No. 09-01023, 2011 WL 1628000 (W.D. La., April 27, 2011).