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Knox v. Hornbeck Offshore Services, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

July 16, 2019

CARLOS KNOX Plaintiff.
v.
HORNBECK OFFSHORE SERVICES, LLC Defendant.

          ORDER ON EQUITABLE VACATUR

          ANDREW M. EDISON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Admiralty Rule E Motion for Equitable Vacatur, for Damages Due to Wrongful Attachment, and to Transfer and Consolidate ("Motion for Miscellaneous Relief). See Dkt. 6. The Motion for Miscellaneous Relief was referred to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636. See Dkt. 12. After reviewing the motion, the response, and the applicable case law, the Motion for Miscellaneous Relief is GRANTED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         In August 2018, Plaintiff Carlos Knox ("Knox"), a Louisiana resident, "was employed by Encore Catering, working as a galley hand and member of the crew of the HOS BAYOU (the "Vessel"). Dkt. 1 at 2. Defendant Hornbeck Offshore Services, LLC ("Hornbeck Services"), "owned, operated and/or crewed the [Vessel]," which "operat[ed] in [the] navigable waters of the Gulf of Mexico." Id.

         While performing his duties in the service of the Vessel, Knox alleges that he slipped on the Vessel's stairs, causing him to "sustain[] severe injuries to his head and back, among other injuries." Id. at 3. As a result of his injuries, Knox filed this Jones Act suit on May 31, 2019, claiming that the injuries he suffered "were caused by the negligence and/or gross negligence of Defendant, and unseaworthiness of the [V]essel." Id.

         Several days after filing this Jones Act suit, Knox also filed an Ex Porte Motion for Issuance of Process of Maritime Attachment and Garnishment pursuant to Rule B of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims & Asset Forfeiture Actions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Supplemental Admiralty Rules"). See Dkt. 3. On June 5, 2019, United States District Judge George C. Hanks, Jr. granted the motion, issuing a Writ of Maritime Attachment and Garnishment ("Writ of Attachment") against "any and all funds, credits, or other property of whatsoever nature of [Hornbeck Services] in the custody or control of certain entities identified in an exhibit attached to the order, "up to including the value of Plaintiff s claim, $3, 000, 000." Dkt 4 at 1-2.

         After becoming aware of the Writ of Attachment, Hornbeck Services filed the Motion for Miscellaneous Relief, seeking to vacate the Writ of Attachment under the doctrine of equitable vacatur.[1] See Dkt. 6. In its memorandum supporting the Motion for Miscellaneous Relief, Hornbeck Services details several facts that it believes are relevant to the vacatur issue but were not revealed in Knox's Original Verified Complaint or Ex Parte Motion for Issuance of Process of Maritime Attachment and Garnishment. See Dkt. 6-1.

         First, Hornbeck Services notes that it maintains its "principal place[] of business in Covington, Louisiana, within the Parish of St. Tammany," id. at 3; Knox is a resident of "Houma[, Louisiana, within the] Terrebonne Parish," id. at 8; and St. Tammany and Terrebonne Parishes are both "within the bounds of the Eastern District of Louisiana." Id. at 9. Next, Hornbeck Services explains that on October 4, 2018, Knox originally filed suit in Harris County, Texas state court against it and a related entity, Hornbeck Offshore Operators, LLC (collectively "Hornbeck Entities"), for the same injuries at the heart of this suit. See Id. at 2-4. Hornbeck Services contends that the Hornbeck Entities moved to dismiss the state court lawsuit for improper venue, and on January 11, 2019, Knox voluntarily dismissed the suit without prejudice "apparently conceding that venue in Harris County was improper." Id. at 4. Lastly, Hornbeck Services reveals that a few days after Knox voluntarily dismissed his state court suit, which was several months before Knox filed this suit, the Hornbeck Entities, along with Encore Food Services, LLC, "filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment in the Eastern District of Louisiana to have the Court adjudicate whether Knox was entitled to maintenance and cure for the allegation that he was injured on the HOS BAYOU on August 10, 2018." Id.

         Based on these facts, Hornbeck Services argues that equitable vacatur is warranted because it is subject to suit in a convenient district, i.e., the Eastern District of Louisiana; Knox can obtain inpersonam jurisdiction over it in the district where he is located, i.e., the Eastern District of Louisiana; and, conveniently, Knox is already before the Eastern District of Louisiana as a result of its Complaint for Declaratory Judgment.

         HOW THE ATTACHMENT PROCESS WORKS

         A. Attachment under Supplemental Admiralty Rule B

         Supplemental Admiralty Rule B provides in pertinent part:

If a defendant is not found within the district when a verified complaint praying for attachment and the affidavit required by Rule B(1)(b) are filed, a verified complaint may contain a prayer for process to attach the defendant's tangible or intangible personal property-up to ...

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