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Ali v. Rogers

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

March 19, 2015

ABDULHALIM A. ALI and MOHAMED FAISAL ALI, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
ROBERT ROGERS, AKA Bob Rogers and WILLIAM BARTLETT, Defendants-Appellees

Argued and Submitted, San Francisco, California February 10, 2015.

Page 1230

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. D.C. No. 3:12-cv-00340-NC. Nathanael M. Cousins, Magistrate Judge.

SUMMARY[**]

Admiralty Law

The panel affirmed the dismissal for lack of jurisdiction of a civil rights action brought by two Yemeni-born Muslim seamen.

The first seaman's claims concerned conduct aboard a tanker ship owned by the United States Maritime Administration, an agency of the federal government, but operated by a private company under a contract. The panel held that the conduct complained of had such a sufficient maritime connection that the seaman's complaint included at least one claim that could have been brought as a " civil action in admiralty" against the private wrongdoers, and therefore, pursuant to the Suits in Admiralty Act and the Public Vessels Act, should have been brought against the United States. The panel held that these statutes, which are analogous to the Federal Tort Claims Act, waive the government's sovereign immunity in admiralty actions involving U.S. government-owned vessels, and in doing so provide the exclusive remedy for such actions.

The second seaman alleged that he was not hired to work aboard the ship because of his religion and national origin, violating both his constitutional rights and his union's collective bargaining agreement with the company. The panel held that because the seaman could have brought suit in admiralty for breach of the collective bargaining agreement related to the crewing of the U.S.-owned vessel, his exclusive remedy was against the United States.

Arnold I. Berschler (argued), Berschler Associates P.C., San Francisco, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Eric Kaufman-Cohen (argued), Trial Attorney, Civil Division/Torts Branch, United States Department of Justice, San Francisco, California, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: Mary M. Schroeder, Senior Circuit Judge, Barry G. Silverman, Circuit Judge, and Marvin J. Garbis, Senior District Judge.[*]

Page 1231

OPINION

SILVERMAN, Circuit Judge:

Abdulhalim Ali was a seaman aboard a tanker ship owned by the United States Maritime Administration, an agency of the federal government, but operated by a private company under a contract. At all material times, the ship was in navigable water. Ali alleges that the human resources director of the company operating the ship ordered the ship's captain to fire him because he is of Yemeni origin. Ali brought a civil rights lawsuit naming as defendants the H.R. director and the captain of the ship, but not the United States. We hold today, as the district court did, that the conduct complained of had such a sufficient maritime connection that the plaintiff's complaint includes at least one claim that could have been brought as a " civil action in admiralty" against the private wrongdoers, and therefore, pursuant to the Suits in Admiralty Act and the Public Vessels Act, should have been brought against the United States. These statutes, which are analogous to the Federal Torts Claim Act, waive the government's sovereign immunity in admiralty actions involving U.S. government-owned vessels, and in doing so provide the exclusive remedy for such actions. Because Abdulhalim Ali sued the H.R. director, rather than the United States, his complaint was properly dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. (The captain was never served.)

Page 1232

Mohamed Ali alleges that the day after Abdulhalim Ali was fired, he (Mohamed) was present in the hiring hall of the Seafarers International Union and saw a listing for a job aboard the same government-owned ship from which Abdulhalim Ali was fired. Mohamed Ali alleges that he was not hired on the orders of the H.R. director because of his religion and national origin, violating both his constitutional rights and his union's collective bargaining agreement with the company. He named only the H.R. director as a defendant. We also hold today that because Mohamed Ali could have brought suit in admiralty for breach of the collective bargaining agreement relating to the crewing of this U.S.-owned vessel, his exclusive remedy -- including for his civil rights claims, which he ...


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