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At a Glance:
Title:
Autin v. Daniel Bruce Marine, Inc.
Date:
September 30, 1993
Citation:
862 S.W.2d 208
Status:
Published Opinion

Autin v. Daniel Bruce Marine, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas,

Beaumont.

Jerry Michael AUTIN, Appellant,

v.

DANIEL BRUCE MARINE, INC., Appellee.

No. 09–93–095 CV.

|

Sept. 30, 1993.

Attorneys & Firms

*208 Newton Schwartz, Houston, for appellant.

John Napolitano, Jr., Abbott & Meeks, Lafayette, for appellee.

Before BURGESS, JJ.

*209 OPINION

BURGESS, Justice.

Jerry Michael Autin filed this personal injury suit in state court under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.App. § 688, and under the general admiralty and maritime law of the United States. Defendant Daniel Bruce Marine, Inc., filed a special appearance which was overruled by the trial court and which is not subject to complaint by cross-point on appeal. Marine also filed a motion to dismiss based upon the federal doctrine of forum non conveniens. The trial court granted this motion and dismissed Autin’s case. The sole point of error contends the doctrine of forum non conveniens may not be applied in a personal injury action brought in a Texas state court.

Federal maritime law recognizes the doctrine of forum non conveniens. 502 U.S. 908, 112 S.Ct. 301, 116 L.Ed.2d 245 (1991).

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that the doctrine of forum non conveniens has been statutorily abolished in Texas as to death and personal injury actions. TEX.CIV.PRAC. & REM.CODE ANN. § 71.031 (Vernon 1986).1 The question before us is whether a Texas court must apply rules of federal forum non conveniens in a Jones Act case, for if not, this state does not recognize the doctrine for personal injury cases filed before September 1, 1993.

The United States Supreme Court considered a case which presented a federal pre-emption argument in connection with a savings-clause maritime case, but declined to resolve the issue when it ruled that argument had to be presented to the state court. Choo v. Exxon Corp., 821 S.W.2d 190 (Tex.App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1991, writ granted). The federal maritime claim was dismissed in federal court litigation years before and barred from relitigation in state court due to a federal injunction. Thus, the Choo saga presents a similar situation but does not answer the question which lies at the heart of this appeal: Does federal forum non conveniens law pre-empt state forum non conveniens law in a Jones Act case pursued in state court?

The Fifth Circuit’s Choo, 817 F.2d at 321. The primary rationale for the distinction seems to be that federal interest in maritime law is too important to let individual states *210 decide if they will entertain a particular maritime case on its docket. Why should the Fifth Circuit care that the State of Texas permits litigation of maritime cases which do not originate on its shore? The resulting flooded dockets would not affect the federal courts and the tide would no doubt be quickly stemmed by the Legislature. The decision to accept inconvenient, or even inappropriate, litigation is not an issue of substantive law but a matter of procedure.

The State of Louisiana has rejected the application of federal forum non conveniens law in maritime cases filed in state court. Id. at 180.

We look to the federal courts for guidance in determining the appropriate federal rule or decision, but as our high court has reminded us, we are obligated to follow only the higher Texas courts and the United States Supreme Court. Gulf Oil balanced both public and private pre-trial and trial concerns. There is nothing “maritime” about it; the issue is purely one of court administration and fairness to the litigants.

The issue before us does implicate the distribution of power between the state and federal courts. Regardless of the effect the doctrine has on the outcome of this particular suit, court administration is best left to the trial court. The policy determinations which establish the rules and principles the trial court must follow are best left to the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Legislature, not the Fifth Circuit. The disposition of this case cannot really affect the federal maritime law, because the application of the substantive federal law will be the same wherever the case is ultimately tried, the only difference being that the State of Texas is bound to be inconvenienced, at least temporarily, with some litigation which in the future must be filed in Louisiana.

We hold the state law of forum non conveniens applies to Jones Act cases filed in state court. Texas does not recognize the doctrine in personal injury actions filed before September 1, 1993. Therefore, the trial court erred in dismissing the case on grounds of forum non conveniens. Point of error one is sustained. We reverse and remand the judgment of the trial court.

REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Footnotes

1

No doubt in response to TEX.CIV.PRAC. & REM.CODE ANN. § 71.051).

End of Document
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