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Shoemaker v. Estis Well Services, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 9, 2014

ALBERT PURCELL SHOEMAKER
v.
ESTIS WELL SERVICES, L.L.C

ORDER

NANNETTE JOLIVETTE BROWN, District Judge.

In this action, Plaintiff Marilyn Shoemaker ("Plaintiff"), suing on behalf of her son and alleged interdict Albert Purcell Shoemaker ("Mr. Shoemaker"), seeks compensation for injuries suffered by Mr. Shoemaker aboard an inland drill barge allegedly owned and operated by Defendant Estis Well Service, LLC ("Estis"). Pending before the Court is Estis's "Motion to Dismiss and Alternatively for Summary Judgment Due to Res Judicata. "[1] Having considered the complaint, the answer, the memorandum in support, the memorandum in opposition, and the applicable law, the Court will deny the pending motion.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

In her complaint, Plaintiff contends that Mr. Shoemaker was injured on September 28, 2011 while he was employed as a seaman aboard an inland drill barge operated by Estis.[2] Plaintiff alleges that while Mr. Shoemaker was "attempting to perform assigned chores" aboard Estis's vessel, he suffered "severe and permanently disabling burn injuries" to numerous parts of his body, plus brain, bone, muscle, tissue, and nerve injuries.[3] Plaintiff asserts that these injuries resulted from Estis's negligence and from the unseaworthiness of the inland drill barge on which Mr. Shoemaker was working.[4] She maintains that Mr. Shoemaker's injuries have "greatly impaired his wage earning capacity, " entitling him to damages.[5]

B. Procedural Background

This is the second time that claims arising from Mr. Shoemaker's September 28, 2011 accident have been before this Court. Mr. Shoemaker himself filed an action in this Court against Estis on October 12, 2011, making essentially identical allegations to those present here.[6] Mr. Shoemaker and Estis settled that action on March 8, 2012, [7] and this Court dismissed Mr. Shoemaker's case on May 16, 2012.[8]

Subsequently, on November 5, 2013, Plaintiff allegedly filed a Petition for Interdiction against Mr. Shoemaker in the 21st Judicial District Court in Tangipahoa Parish.[9] That court, Plaintiff contends, granted the petition for interdiction on December 10, 2013, decreeing that Mr. Shoemaker was "incapable of taking care of his person and administering his affairs" and appointing Plaintiff as his curatrix.[10]

In her capacity as alleged curatrix of Mr. Shoemaker, Plaintiff filed the present action against Estis in this Court on January 21, 2014.[11] The Clerk of the Court assigned the action to Section "E" on the following day.[12] Estis filed an Answer on February 13, 2014.[13] On February 18, 2014, Shoemaker filed a "Motion for Declaratory Judgment."[14] On March 6, 2014, Estis filed the instant motion to dismiss. On March 25, 2014, Section "E" transferred the matter to this section, Section "G, " due to the relationship between Mr. Shoemaker's 2011 action and this action.[15]

II. Parties' Arguments

A. Estis's "Motion to Dismiss and Alternatively for Summary Judgment Due to Res Judicata"

In the pending motion, [16] Estis contends that Plaintiff's present action is barred by res judicata, "because the exact same claim for seaman's personal injuries arising out of the exact same incident was the subject of a prior lawsuit in this District[, ]" and was fully settled, compromised, and dismissed.[17] Estis argues that while res judicata is generally addressed on a motion for summary judgment, this Court may also address res judicata on a motion to dismiss where both actions were brought before the same Court or where "all of the relevant facts are contained in the record... and all are uncontroverted."[18]

Estis asserts that four elements are required to establish that a claim is barred by res judicata -first, "the parties must be identical in the two actions;" second, "the prior judgment must have been rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction;" third, "there must be a final judgment on the merits, " and fourth, "the same claim or cause of action must be involved in both cases."[19] Estis argues that all four elements are satisfied here, because: (1) the parties in both the present action and the 2011 action are identical; (2) the judgment in the 2011 action was issued by this Court, which is a Court of competent jurisdiction; (3) the 2011 action was fully compromised and dismissed by a final judgment of this Court; and (4) the complaint in the present action is "virtually identical" to the complaint in the 2011 action.[20] Finally, Estis avers that Plaintiff "was directly and personally involved in the negotiated settlement" in the 2011 action, and "cannot re-file and re-litigate the claim in the present case."[21]

B. Shoemaker's Opposition

In opposition, Plaintiff asserts that seaman's releases are subject to careful scrutiny, and contends that Mr. Shoemaker "was at a distinct disadvantage in negotiating with Estis[, ]" since he was, at the time of settlement, "without counsel in the two critical areas of both legal and medical advice."[22] Plaintiff avers that "[Mr. Shoemaker] was not capable of conducting such an important matter as the settlement of his Jones Act suit, " due to his traumatic brain injury. Plaintiff asserts that although Mr. Shoemaker could "make a perfunctory appearance before a court, he suffered a severe and debilitating traumatic head injury that rendered him incompetent, " and "[t]here was no way for this [C]ourt to know the extent of the brain injury when he was presented before the magistrate."[23] Thus, since Mr. Shoemaker "lacked the mental capacity to fully comprehend the significance of the rights he was giving up and the numerous provisions of the [Receipt, Release, ad Indemnity Agreement from the 2011 action], " and since Mr. Shoemaker ...


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