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Castro v. TRI Marine Fish Co., LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

July 31, 2017

TRI MARINE FISH COMPANY, LLC, et al., Defendants.


          Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion to enforce a foreign arbitral award that was settled with plaintiff Michael D. Castro in February 2014.[1] Dkt. # 22. Plaintiff opposes the motion, arguing that the arbitral award is invalid. Dkt. # 27. After reviewing the parties' memoranda and exhibits, as well as the remainder of the record, the Court grants Defendants' motion for the reasons that follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 12, 2013, Defendants' Human Resources Administrative Manager, Eufemia Drandic, hired Plaintiff in American Samoa to work as a deck hand on Defendants' fishing vessel, the F/V Captain Vincent Gann. In Ms. Drandic's presence, Plaintiff signed an employment contract containing an arbitration clause.[2] Dkt. # 22-1 at 4; Dkt. # 22-2, ¶¶ 2-6.

         Roughly two weeks later, Plaintiff was injured while working aboard the vessel. Dkt. # 27-1, ¶ 5. Because Plaintiff is a citizen of the Philippines, Defendants arranged to transport Plaintiff to Manila, where Plaintiff traveled to his parents' home. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7. On August 19, 2013, Plaintiff underwent surgery to repair torn ligaments in his knee. Id. at ¶ 8. While Plaintiff was recovering from his knee surgery, he collected maintenance and cure payments from Defendants through Rhodylyn De Torres, an employee of Defendants' Manila law firm Del Rosario Pandiphil, Inc. (“Pandiphil”). Dkt. # 22-3, ¶¶ 3-6. Between September 2, 2013 and February 24, 2014, Plaintiff collected thirteen payments. Dkt. # 22-3, ¶ 6; id. at 5-32.

         On October 7, 2013, Plaintiff contacted Ms. Drandic about a potential $3, 000 advance on his future maintenance and cure payments. Dkt. # 22-1 at 1, 24. The request was approved and Plaintiff received $3, 000 on October 11, 2013. Dkt. # 22-1 at 18-23.

         On December 2, 2013, when collecting his regular maintenance payment from Ms. De Torres, Plaintiff expressed interest in a complete settlement with Defendants, as his monthly maintenance and cure payments were not sufficient. Dkt. # 22-3, ¶ 7. On January 4, 2013, Plaintiff also contacted Ms. Drandic about an additional cash advance. Dkt. # 22-2 at 7. He and Ms. Drandic communicated in English between January 4 and January 7, 2014. Dkt. # 22-2 at 5-7. On January 6, Plaintiff requested a $5, 000 advance. Dkt. # 22-2 at 6. On January 9, Ms. De Torres was informed that Defendants wanted to send Plaintiff a $5, 000 payment as an advance on any final settlement amount. Dkt. # 22-3, ¶ 10. Plaintiff collected this payment on January 15, 2014, accompanied by his girlfriend, April Castillo. Dkt. # 22-1 at 6.

         On February 14, 2014, Plaintiff and Ms. De Torres met and negotiated the amount of his final settlement. Dkt. # 22-3, ¶ 13. After determining from Plaintiff's physician that the cost of future physical therapy would be roughly $1, 160, Plaintiff and Ms. De Torres settled on a total settlement amount of $21, 160. Dkt. # 22-3, ¶¶ 13-14. This sum included the $5, 000 cash advance that Plaintiff had already received. Id. at ¶¶ 13-15.

         On February 28, 2014, Plaintiff and Ms. Castillo met with Ms. De Torres, along with Pandiphil Claims Executives Razelle Espana and Caren Yabut, at Pandiphil's offices to execute the settlement agreement. Dkt. # 22-4, ¶¶ 8-9. Pursuant to Pandiphil's standard procedure, Ms. De Torres gave Plaintiff a document explaining the rights and claims to which Plaintiff was entitled as a seafarer, and explained that if Plaintiff signed the papers necessary to receive the additional $16, 160 in settlement funds, he would be releasing all the parties named in the papers from any further liability. Ms. De Torres also translated the papers into Tagalog and gave Plaintiff an opportunity to ask questions. Dkt. # 22-4, ¶ 9; Dkt. # 22-5, ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiff reviewed and signed a “Receipt and Full Release, ” which repeatedly warned plaintiff that he was waiving all future claims against Defendants: for example, the document included this statement in bold, capital letters: “THIS IS A RELEASE[.] I AM GIVING UP EVERY RIGHT I HAVE.” Dkt. # 22-1 at 9-16. The release was witnessed by Ms. Castillo, Ms. Espana, and Ms. Yabut, and was notarized by Herbert A. Tria. Dkt. # 22-1 at 14.

         Immediately after signing the release, Plaintiff, Ms. Castillo, and Ms. Yabut brought the paperwork to the Office of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board for approval by Gregorio Biares, Jr., an accredited Maritime Voluntary Arbitrator. Dkt. # 22-5, ¶¶ 2-11; Dkt. # 22-6, ¶¶ 2-4. After reviewing the release documents, Mr. Biares explained in both English and Tagalog the legal implications of a compromise agreement, including that it would serve as a bar against any future claims against Defendants. Dkt. # 22-6, ¶¶ 4-5; Dkt. # 22-3, ¶ 15; Dkt. # 22-5, ¶¶ 8-9. Plaintiff indicated that he understood the implications of the documents he had signed. Dkt. # 22-6, ¶ 5. Accordingly, Mr. Biares entered an order finding that the signed release and resulting compromise agreement were “not contrary to law, morals, good customs and public policy” and dismissing the case between Plaintiff and Defendants. Dkt. # 22-1 at 8.

         Combining this $16, 160 settlement amount with the advances for $5, 000 and $3, 000, Plaintiff was paid a total of $24, 160.

         On November 22, 2016, Plaintiff sued Defendants in King County Superior Court for negligence, unseaworthiness, maintenance and cure, and statutory wages. Dkt. # 1 at 8-21. Defendants removed, and on February 27, 2017 moved to enforce the February 28, 2014 arbitral award barring Plaintiff's claims. Dkt. ## 1, 22.


         A. Standard and ...

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