Case of the Day: Ganpat v. Eastern Pacific Shipping

Paul Revere
Happy Patriot’s Day! Letters Blogatory wishes all of the runners in today’s marathon good luck.

The case of the day is Ganpat v. Eastern Pacific Shipping Pte. Ltd. (E.D. La. 2022). I love this case. Kholkar Ganpat, an Indian national, was a seaman on the M/V Stargate, a ship operated by Eastern Pacific Singapore, a Singapore company. The vessel had traveled from Savannah, Georgia to Gabon, and then to Brazil. Ganpat alleged that he had contracted malaria in Gabon, a region with high malaria risk, and had begun to suffer symptoms on the high seas on the way to Brazil, where he was hospitalized and later repatriated to India. He alleged that Eastern Pacific had failed to provide sufficient anti-malarial medication for the vessel while it was docked at Savannah. He brought claims under the Jones Act, general maritime law, and under his contract with Eastern Pacific.

Eastern Pacific fought service of process for more than two years, but the court ultimately held that Ganpat had perfected service on it in Singapore. About 15 months into the US lawsuit, Eastern Pacific and its Indian affiliate sued Ganpat in the Indian court in South Goa, seeking an antisuit injunction to restrain the “vexatious and oppressive foreign legal proceedings,” namely, the Jones Act suit. They argued that the US proceedings were contrary to a contract between the parties, although the court noted that the agreement was actually between Ganpat and Ventnor Navigation, Inc., which I assume (the decision doesn’t say) was the company that actually employed Ganpat and the other crewmen. Anyway, the Indian court enjoined the US proceedings and held that the case should proceed in India rather than in the US.

Ganpat then sought an antisuit injunction in the US case on the grounds that the claims in the two cases were the same, that the US case was filed long before the Indian case, and that the injunction issued in the Indian case was intended to force him to abandon his rights under the Jones Act on pain of imprisonment. According to the testimony, this apparently wasn’t hyperbole. Ganpat testified that he was arrested and jailed after being pressured by Eastern Pacific’s lawyer to drop the US case or to settle.

The judge found that the Indian litigation was vexatious or oppressive. First, it noted the inconvenience, expense, and vexation resulting from the parallel proceeding. It found that the balance of convenience weighed in favor of the US case, and it noted that unlike in other cases, the plaintiff here had not also initiated proceedings abroad. Second, it noted that the Indian antisuit injunction would frustrate the case schedule in the US, which called for a November 2022 trial. Third, it found the two cases duplicative because they shared the same legal basis, and it noted that a decision in the plaintiff’s favor on the Jones Act claim would be dispositive of Eastern Pacific’s claim that a contractual limitation on liability governed.

The court rejected a comity argument. It recalled the Fifth Circuit’s dictum that a court need not “genuflect before a vague and omnipotent notion of comity every time it must decide whether to enjoin a foreign action.” And it suggested that the Indian court, which had enjoined the US case ex parte, had hardly acted with a lot of regard to comity.

Thus the court enjoined the Indian case. There are now, therefore, dueling antisuit injunctions. What will happen? I think it unlikely that Eastern Pacific will choose to ignore the command of the US court, especially given that it conceded personal jurisdiction, but we will see.

I’m not an admiralty lawyer, and the court didn’t discuss the case in these terms, but I suppose the decision, which seems right on the merits anyway, also reflects the courts’ special concern for the rights of seamen injured at sea.

Paul Revere

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