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Naquin v. Elevating Boats, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 18, 2015

LARRY NAQUIN, SR.,
v.
ELEVATING BOATS, LLC, ET AL., SECTION: J(4).

ORDER AND REASONS

CARL J. BARBIER, District Judge.

Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 254) filed by Third-Party Defendant, State National Insurance Company ("SNIC"), an Opposition (Rec. Doc. 263) by Defendant and Third-Party Plaintiff, Elevating Boats, LLC ("EBI"), and SNIC's Reply (Rec. Doc. 274). Having considered the motion, the parties' submissions, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds, for the reasons expressed below, that the motion should be GRANTED.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This matter derives from a claim filed by Plaintiff, Larry Naquin ("Plaintiff"), pursuant to the Jones Act against his previous employer, Elevating Boats, LLC ("EBI").[1] Plaintiff alleged that during the course of his employment, while operating a lift crane owned by EBI, the pedestal of the crane snapped, causing the crane to topple over. As a result of the accident, Plaintiff alleges that he sustained injury to both his left ankle and right heel, which required surgery. Plaintiff filed suit against EBI on November 15, 2010, asserting claims under the Jones Act, and in the alternative, reserving his claims and benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act. Plaintiff also sued Techcrane, International, L.L.C. ("Techcrane"), a company believed by Plaintiff to work with EBI to supply, design, and/or construct EBI cranes. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of Techcrane, dismissing all Plaintiff's claims against it, and Plaintiff's claims against EBI proceeded to trial.

After a three-day jury trial on the merits, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of Plaintiff, finding EBI liable to Plaintiff in the amount of $2, 463.842.00 with interest.[2] (Rec. Doc. 164). EBI subsequently appealed this Court's judgment to the Fifth Circuit. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the jury's verdict in regards to liability, finding that the jury correctly determined that Plaintiff qualifies as a Jones Act seaman and that EBI acted negligently in failing to provide a reasonably safe work environment and work equipment. Naquin v. Elevating Boats, L.L.C., 744 F.3d 927, 932-38 (5th Cir. 2014). However, the Fifth Circuit vacated the verdict as it relates to damages and remanded the matter to this Court to conduct a new trial on the issue of damages. Id. at 938-941.

This Court subsequently granted EBI leave to file a thirdparty complaint against its insurance companies, SNIC and Certain London Insurers ("London Insurers"). EBI then filed this complaint on August 28, 2014, alleging that by denying EBI's insurance claims arising from Plaintiff's accident and failing to provide EBI with defense and indemnity, both SNIC and London Insurers breached their insurance contracts. (Rec. Doc. 200). As such, both SNIC and London Insurers were brought into the litigation as third-party defendants. The Court then granted a motion to sever filed by SNIC and joined by London Insurers, and ordered that EBI's claims against SNIC and London Insurers be severed from the remaining issue of damages, to be resolved by a separate trial.

SNIC then filed the instant motion seeking summary judgment in its favor and dismissal of EBI's claims. SNIC asserts that it has not breached its insurance contract nor acted in bad faith, because EBI was not entitled to coverage under the Protection and Indemnity ("P&I") Policy, which was issued to it by SNIC. Specifically, SNIC contends that the P&I Policy's coverage did not extend to the landbased incident in question and also that EBI failed to comply with the requisite notice requirements imposed by the policy.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When assessing whether a dispute as to any material fact exists, the Court considers "all of the evidence in the record but refrains from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence. " Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398 (5th Cir. 2008). All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated assertions. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. A court ultimately must be satisfied that "a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Delta, 530 F.3d at 399.

If the dispositive issue is one on which the moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party "must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.'" Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263-64 (5th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). The nonmoving party can then defeat the motion by either countering with sufficient evidence of its own, or "showing that the moving party's evidence is so sheer that it may not persuade the reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in favor of the moving party." Id. at 1265.

If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by merely pointing out that the evidence in the record is insufficient with respect to an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who must, by submitting or referring to evidence, set out specific facts showing that a genuine issue exists. See id. at 324. The nonmovant may not rest upon the pleadings, but must identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue for trial. See, e.g., id. at 325; Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

DISCUSSION

A. Scope of Coverage

SNIC argues that summary judgment on EBI's claims is appropriate because there is no genuine issue that the scope of coverage of the P&I Policy did not extend to EBI's liability for the incident at issue. In response, EBI first argues that because this argument qualifies as an affirmative defense to EBI's claims, SNIC bears the burden of "adduc[ing] evidence to support each element of its defense, " and "all justifiable inferences [are] to be drawn in [EBI's] favor." (Rec. Doc. 263, p. 5). However, such an argument runs afoul of the well-settled law regarding the burden of proof on summary judgment. Contrary to EBI's argument, under Louisiana law, the scope of coverage of an insurance policy is not an affirmative defense, but rather an element that must be proven by the plaintiff. Doerr v. Mobil Oil Corp., 00-0947 (La. 12/19/00); 774 So.2d 119, 124 (citing Barber v. Best, 394 So.3d 779, 780-81 (La.App. 4 Cir. 1981)) ("When determining whether or not a policy affords coverage for an incident, it is the burden of the insured to prove the incident falls within the policy's terms."). As such, at trial, the burden will fall to EBI to ...


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