Texas Court Addresses Forum Selection Clause After Foreign National is Injured on Drilling Vessel

We live in a world in which employees frequently cross county, state, and even national borders in order to perform their duties. Employers may be local, national, or international. In a Dallas employment case, complications can arise when the litigants are from different nations, or when the event giving rise to the litigation happened outside the United States.

In some cases, an employment agreement may control the resolution of some of these issues – or at least determine the forum in which they will be litigated.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case that went up to the court of appeals from the Harris County District Court, the plaintiff was a foreign national who was injured while working as an assistant mechanic aboard a vessel owned by the defendants, a Bermuda-based drilling company and related companies. The accident happened in 2015 while the vessel was stationed in Spain for repairs. The plaintiff’s lawsuit included claims of negligence and unseaworthiness under the Jones Act. The defendants sought dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims, based on a forum-selection clause contained in an employment contract signed by the plaintiff and based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s action on the defendants’ motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

Holding of the Court of Appeals

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals of Texas reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court. On appeal, the plaintiff asserted only a single issue:  that the trial court abused its discretion when it determined that certain defendants who did not sign the employment contract could rely upon the forum-selection clause contained therein.

The appellate court began its analysis by observing that the general rule in Texas is that a forum-selection clause (or arbitration agreement) cannot be invoked by a non-party to such a contract. However, the court noted that there are some circumstances in which an exception may be made. Ultimately, the court must determine the parties’ intent as expressed in the agreement in order to decide whether non-signatories have a right to rely upon a forum-selection clause.

The court went on to find that the scope of the forum-selection clause at issue was specifically limited to enforcement by the parties to the contract. It only covered disputes by the plaintiff against the one particular party named in the agreement – rather than the related companies named as defendants in the case at bar. The court went on to find the defendants’ equitable estoppel theories unavailing, since neither the “substantially-interdependent and concerted-misconduct” doctrine nor the “intertwined-claims” form of estoppel asserted by the defendant was applicable herein.

Get Reliable Legal Advice

Dallas employment litigation cases can involve a multitude of complex issues. If your business has been sued or is facing possible litigation, the experienced business and employment law attorneys at Key Harrington Barnes are here to help you defend against those allegations. Call us at 214-615-7925 to discuss your situation. We represent clients throughout the greater Dallas area.

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