Lack of court jurisdiction denied in $1 Million lawsuit
Timothy Jones and F/V Leah Dawn also known as F/V Albacore — named as defendants in a close to $1.1 Million lawsuit — are denying the claims of maintenance and cure, unseaworthiness, negligence and retaliatory termination. The response to the claim filed by Fineaso Leota was filed through Jones’s lawyer Mark Ude.
In defendants’ response, it notes the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and Leota’s inability to satisfy one or more of the prima facie elements of a claim is an absolute bar to that claim.
Ude added that if and to the extent that Leota has suffered the damages alleged in their complaint, it was his own negligence and/or willful misconduct that directly and proximately caused or contributed to some or all of the damages claimed.
He noted that Leota is guilty of ‘unclean hands’ and failed to exercise reasonable diligence to mitigate the alleged damages and/or injuries. “To that extent, Plaintiff may not recover damages from Defendant.”
The response further states that because of the plaintiff’s negligent or improper conduct, acts and omissions, each of his purported causes of actions is barred by the doctrine of waiver.
(Samoa News mistakenly reported in yesterday’s issue that Leota’s claim is for $1.5 million, it is for close to $1.05 million.)
LACK OF COURT JURISDICTION
The response in particular notes that the High Court of American Samoa does not have jurisdiction over the matter as it occurred in the Territorial Waters of the Cook Islands aboard a foreign flagged vessel.
Ude also filed a dismissal motion with the trial court noting that the High Court of American Samoa does not have jurisdiction over this matter, given that Leota is not a legal resident of the Territory of American Samoa.
Further, the defendant Timothy Jones is improperly named as a party, and the incident described in the Complaint in Admiralty allegedly occurred outside the three mile limit of the Territory of American Samoa.
“American Samoa's "coastal zone management area" is defined as including the entire island of Tutuila, along with all the other islands and all coastal waters and submerged lands for a distance of three nautical miles Sea ward.”
The F/V Leah Dawn or F/V Albacore, furthermore, is nota United States Flagged Vessel, and the Jones Act therefore does not apply, the response states.
Ude in his motion states that under the Trial Court Rules of Civil Procedure (TCRCP) statute, it allows a plaintiff, who is not a resident of the Territory of American Samoa to file suit in the High Court of American Samoa.
However, he may only file if the cause of action arises from the circumstances alleged so as to provide the court with jurisdiction. “Nowhere in the Complaint do the alleged injuries sustained by the plaintiff occur within the stated jurisdiction.”
The Trial Court has denied the motion to dismiss the lawsuit from the bench and the matter is now pending in court for further proceedings.
JONES ACT ISSUE
Ude noted that the court of American Samoa is able to address Jones Act claims properly brought before it to provide relief to injured parties.
Defendant in personam Timothy Jones has submitted an affidavit stating that the F/V “LEAH DAWN” was sold through probate and also that a corporation owns “ALBACORE 1” and his name does not appear on either title.
Since the F/V Leah Dawn, also known as F/V Albacore, is not a United States Flagged Vessel, the Jones Act therefore should be found by this Court to deny jurisdiction to Leota and the doctrine of forum non convenient to determine whether or not the case must be dismissed.
“There are Judicial Courts that Plaintiff may seek relief from in both the Independent State of Samoa where he resides, or in the Courts of the Cook Islands, where the owner Pacific Dawn Ltd was incorporated.”
Ude noted in his dismissal motion that nothing prohibits the plaintiff from attempting to seek compensation from the defendants for his alleged injuries in those country’s judicial systems and nothing indicates that Leota would be unable to address any wrongs in the Cook Islands Judiciary.
He stated the ability of Leota to enforce any subsequent judgment is more likely to succeed in the Cook Island Courts and Judicial System.
If, however, the High Court takes the position that agrees in favor of the plaintiff and finds such remedies are denied him, the High Court should still find this matter should be dismissed so as to avoid meaningless intervention into a complicated matter.
There is no reason why the High Court should further entertain jurisdiction over the F/V Albacore or its owner located in the Cook Islands, Ude states, and defendants believe the High Court should dismiss this matter with prejudice for lack of jurisdiction.