United States District Court, S.D. New York
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
J. NATHAN United States District Judge.
Forde and Charles originally filed this dram shop admiralty
lawsuit in New York state court. Defendants subsequently
removed the case to federal court, and Plaintiffs filed a
motion to remand. After Plaintiffs Forde and Charles filed
their motion to remand, another potential plaintiff
intervened to oppose remand and then later filed a complaint
against the same defendants. Because there was no basis for
removal beyond admiralty jurisdiction, the Court remands
Forde and Charles' case to state court. For largely
prudential reasons, the Court declines to exercise its
discretion to consider Intervenor Figueroa's complaint
and accordingly dismisses that complaint without prejudice.
dram shop tort action stems from a drunk driving accident
that occurred in the wake of a "booze cruise."
According to the allegations in the state court complaint, on
May 10, 2014, multiple people - including decedent Prince
Stoney, Plaintiff Taleisha Charles, decedent Peter Figueroa,
and Defendant Rafaella Maranhao - attended a "Rock the
Yacht - Saturday Night Party Cruise." Compl.
¶¶ 26, 41 (Dkt No. 1-1); Intervenor Compl. ¶
27 (Dkt No. 20). Referred to as "a 'booze
cruise' to nowhere, " the cruise started and ended
in New York City. Compl. ¶¶ 26, 34; Mot. at 2 (Dkt
No. 9). The ship was owned by Defendants Hornblower New York
LLC and Hornblower Yachts LLC. Compl ¶¶ 11, 13, 26.
Maranhao became intoxicated during this cruise. According to
the allegations in the complaint, the Hornblower Defendants
"served and continued to serve [Maranhao] intoxicating
liquor beverages even after they knew, or should have known,
that [Maranhao] had become intoxicated." Compl. ¶
40. After the cruise ended and the boat docked for the night,
Maranhao got into her car with Stoney, Charles, and Figueroa.
Compl ¶¶ 41-42. While driving home to New Jersey,
Maranhao lost control of the car, and it overturned.
Id. Stoney and Figueroa both died in the accident,
and Charles suffered serious injuries. Compl. ¶ 43;
Intervenor Compl. ¶¶ 42, 49.
4, 2016, this lawsuit was filed in New York Supreme Court by
the administrator of Stoney's estate (Crystal Forde) and
Charles (collectively, "Plaintiffs"). Dkt No. 1-1
at 2; Mot. at 3; Opp. at 3 (Dkt No. 15). The suit alleged
violations of New York Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws
§§65 and 117-a, among other state law claims, and
it named Maranhao, Hornblower New York LLC, and Hornblower
Yachts LLC as defendants. Compl. ¶¶ 47, 57. The
Hornblower Defendants subsequently removed the action to
federal court, asserting admiralty jurisdiction as the sole
justification for removal. Dkt No. 1.
30, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand. Dkt No. 7.
Plaintiffs argued that, because the tortious acts alleged in
their complaint "are not of a traditional maritime
character, " admiralty jurisdiction does not exist in
this case. Mot. at 1. The Hornblower Defendants opposed the
motion to remand. Dkt No. 15. On July 21, 2016, the Court
granted leave for the administrator of Figueroa's estate
to intervene, and Intervenor Figueroa also filed a brief
opposing the motion to remand. Dkt Nos. 16-17. Plaintiffs did
not file a reply. On September 8, 2016, Intervenor Figueroa
also filed a complaint against the Hornblower Defendants and
Maranhao. Dkt Nos. 19-20. Like Plaintiffs' complaint,
Intervenor Figueroa's complaint asserts a number of state
law causes of action. Intervenor Compl. ¶¶ 55, 69
(Dkt No. 20).
Standard of Review & Issue Presented
question presented is whether removal was proper in this
case. "Only state-court actions that originally could
have been filed in federal court may be removed to federal
court by the defendant." Caterpillar Inc. v.
Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987); see also 28
U.S.C. § 1441(a). The defendant typically bears the
burden of proving that removal was proper. See Bounds v.
Pine Belt Mental Health Care Res., 593 F.3d 209, 215 (2d
Cir. 2010); Phoenix Glob. Ventures, Inc. v. Phoenix Hotel
Assocs., Ltd., No. 04 Civ. 4991RJH, 2004 WL 2360033, *2
(S.D.N.Y. Oct. 19, 2004). In light of federalism concerns,
federal courts construe the removal statute narrowly and
resolve any doubts against removability. Shamrock Oil
& Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09 (1941);
Goel v. Ramachandran, 823 F.Supp.2d 206, 209
motion seeks remand solely on the ground that the alleged
wrongs "are not substantially related to traditional
maritime activities, " and therefore that admiralty
jurisdiction does not exist. Mot. at 7. However, as the
Hornblower Defendants point out in their opposition brief,
another jurisdictional issue exists. Opp. at 7-16. Even
assuming that the wrongs alleged in the complaint are
"related to traditional maritime activities" and
thus that admiralty jurisdiction exists, there is a separate
question of whether a defendant may remove an admiralty
action from state court absent a separate basis for
do not address this separate question. It was not mentioned
in their motion to remand, and Plaintiffs did not file a
reply to the briefs opposing remand filed by the Hornblower
Defendants and Intervenor Figueroa. Notwithstanding
Plaintiffs' failure to raise the issue, the Court has
"an independent obligation to examine [its] own
jurisdiction." FW/PBS, Inc. v. City of Dallas,
493 U.S. 215, 231 (1990); see also Joseph v.
Leavitt, 465 F.3d 87, 89 (2d Cir. 2006); Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(h)(3). "Subject matter jurisdiction cannot be
waived." Luo v. Mikel, 625 F.3d 772, 775 (2d
Cir. 2010). As a consequence, if jurisdiction is lacking in
this case, the Court must remand the case, notwithstanding
Plaintiffs' failure to raise the argument. See
28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) ("If at any time before final
judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject
matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.");
Newman and Cahn, LLP. v. Sharp, 388 F.Supp.2d 115,
118 (E.D.N.Y. 2005) ("Where a case has been improperly
removed and the Court has no subject matter jurisdiction, the
Court must remand the case sua sponte to the state
court where it originated." (citation omitted)).
The Court Lacks Subject Matter Jurisdiction
explained more thoroughly below, the Court concludes that an
admiralty case may be removed to federal court only if
another basis of jurisdiction exists. Here, Defendants
concede that there is no other basis for jurisdiction beyond
the admiralty jurisdiction statute. For this reason, the
Court remands Plaintiffs Forde and Charles's complaint to
state court. Additionally, for reasons outlined in more depth
below, the Court declines to exercise jurisdiction over
Intervenor Figueroa's complaint.
Because Admiralty Jurisdiction Was the Only Basis for
Removal, The Court Lacks Jurisdiction Over ...