Chevron Can't Parry Suit by Captain Captured by Pirates

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By Bernie Pazanowski

Aug. 12 — A captain who was tortured after being captured by pirates off the coast of Africa while sailing at the behest of Chevron U.S.A. Inc., may amend his pleadings to include maritime common law claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held Aug. 11 ( Thomas v. Chevron USA Inc., 2016 BL 260362, 5th Cir., No. 15-20490, 8/11/16 ).

Captain Wren Thomas gave sufficient notice of his intent to amend after Chevron removed the case to federal court, and his amendment wouldn't be futile, Judge James L. Dennis said for the court.

Thomas was held and tortured by the pirates for 18 days.

He sued Chevron in state court under the Jones Act, but Chevron removed the suit to federal court.

Thomas then filed a motion to amend his pleadings to clarify his general maritime claims against Chevron.

The district court granted Chevron summary judgment.

Abuse of Discretion

The appeals court said that although Thomas's motion wasn't well organized, it complied with the circuit's liberal application of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2).

Among other things, it said Thomas gave notice of the substance of his proposed amendments, provided a plausible basis for liability and claimed basically the same damages as those outlined in his state petition.

Thomas's efforts also weren't futile, the court said.

He alleged that Chevron failed to heed warnings about the pirates in the area, negligently and intentionally sent his ship into the pirate-infested waters and failed to provide adequate security for him and his crew, it said.

Judges Patrick E. Higginbotham and Edith Brown Clement joined the opinion.

Brian A. Beckom represented Thomas. Jones Day represented Chevron.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at

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