Case of the Day: Maroc Fruit Board v. M/V Almeda Star

The case of the day is Maroc Fruit Board, S.A. v. M/V Alemda Star (D. Mass. 2013). Like Maroc Fruit Bd. v. M/V Vinson, 2012 A.M.C. 2278 (D. Mass. 2012), which I covered last year, the case involved a claim of a shipment of fruit that went bad, but it seems that there were two separate incidents. In other words, today’s case doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the prior case.

Maroc sued Star Reefers Shipowning, Inc. and its ship, the Almeda Star. The claim was that Maroc had delivered thousands of boxes of fruit to the defendant at the port of Agidar, Morocco, for shipment to New Bedford, where the fruit was to be delivered to the order of Maroc’s consignees, Fresh Taste, a Toronto firm, and Barimex, a Quebec firm, in accordance with the bills of lading. At New Bedford, Maroc learned that some of the fruit had been contaminated by an oil leak. It sued for $930,000 for oil contamination and $4,000 for short delivery of cargo. In its answer to an amended complaint, Reefers Shipping raised arbitration as an affirmative defense, after the parties had engaged in extensive discovery and motion practice in the US action. Reefers Shipping sent an arbitration demand to Maroc and the consignees at about the time it answered the amended complaint. Maroc, asserting it was concerned about the possibility that Star Reefers might ask an English court for an anti-suit injunction, preemptively asked the US court for an anti-suit injunction for the purpose of preventing Star Reefers from seeking its own anti-suit injunction.

The judge refused to issue the injunction on the grounds that the equities did not favor Maroc. Star Reefers had not yet sought an injunction in England or done anything that could oust the US court of its jurisdiction. “This court has no wish to engage in an ‘arms race’ with the English courts.” But he also gave a stern warning to Star Reefers, which had told the judge that it planned to move (in the US court) to stay the US action:

Star Reefers has indicated its intention to file a motion to stay proceedings pending the London arbitration. The court expresses no opinion on the merits of that issue. But such a motion, or similar motion, brought in open court with an opportunity for opposition, is the appropriate vehicle for addressing a disagreement over the proper forum for resolution of Plaintiffs’ claims. The court expects Star Reefers to comport itself, both before this court and in matters affecting this court’s jurisdiction over this litigation, in a manner consistent with the values of openness and procedural fairness inherent in the American court system. Failure by any party to do so may result in sanctions.

Question: If Star Reefers gets an English anti-suit injunction despite the US court’s warning, who will be in a position to make a motion for sanctions in the US court?

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