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Ziegler v. Boh Brothers Construction Co., LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 17, 2015

RICHARD ZIEGLER,
v.
BOH BROTHERS CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, L.L.C., Section

ORDER AND REASONS

KURT D. ENGELHARDT, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment (Rec. Doc. 24) filed by Defendant Boh Bros. Construction Co., LLC. Having carefully considered the parties' supporting and opposing submissions, [1] and applicable law, IT IS ORDERED that the motion is GRANTED and that Plaintiff's claims against Defendant are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's claims arise from an injury allegedly suffered, on or about October 28 or 29, 2013, [2] when he fell while attempting to board one of Defendant's crew boats. With its motion for summary judgment, Defendant contends that Plaintiff's claims necessarily lack merit because he does not a qualify as a "seaman" as is required for him to prevail on his Jones Act and maintenance and cure claims. Citing the time he spent operating vessels during his employment, Plaintiff argues the contrary.

LAW AND ANALYSIS

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The materiality of facts is determined by the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id.

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 summary judgment burden by merely pointing out that the evidence in the record contains insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2554, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); see also Lavespere v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 910 F.2d 167, 178 (5th Cir. 1990). Once the moving party carries its burden pursuant to Rule 56(a), the nonmoving party must "go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2553; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Auguster v. Vermillion Parish School Bd., 249 F.3d 400, 402 (5th Cir. 2001).

When considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Gillis v. Louisiana, 294 F.3d 755, 758 (5th Cir. 2002), and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Hunt v. Rapides Healthcare System, L.L.C., 277 F.3d 757, 764 (2001). Factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmoving party, "but only when there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994) (citations omitted). The Court will not, "in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." See id. (emphasis in original) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 3188, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990)).

Although the Court is to consider the full record in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, Rule 56 does not obligate it to search for evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3)("court need consider only the cited materials"); Malacara v. Garber, 353 F.3d 393, 405 (5th Cir. 2003)("When evidence exists in the summary judgment record but the nonmovant fails even to refer to it in the response to the motion for summary judgment, that evidence is not properly before the district court."). Thus, the nonmoving party should "identify specific evidence in the record, and articulate" precisely how that evidence supports his claims. Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 871, 115 S.Ct. 195 (1994).

The nonmovant's burden of demonstrating a genuine issue is not satisfied merely by creating "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " "by conclusory allegations, " by "unsubstantiated assertions, " or "by only a scintilla of evidence." Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. Rather, a factual dispute precludes a grant of summary judgment only if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party. Smith v. Amedisys, 298 F.3d 434, 440 (5th Cir. 2002).

II. Application of Legal Principles

The Court finds the explication and analysis of seaman status set forth in Martin v. Fab-Con, Inc., 7 F.Supp. 3d 645 (E.D. La. 2014), both comprehensive and instructive regarding the issue of seaman status. There, in granting summary judgment in the defendant's favor, Judge Sarah Vance explained:

"The Jones Act provides a cause of action in negligence for any seaman' injured in the course of his employment.'" Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 354[] (1995) (citing 46 App. U.S.C. ยง 688); see also Becker v. Tidewater, 335 F.3d 376, 386 (5th Cir. 2003). The term "seaman" is not defined in the Jones Act. Chandris, 515 U.S. at 355[.] The Supreme Court has instructed that not every "maritime worker on a ship at sea as part of his employment is automatically a member of the crew of the vessel within the meaning of the statutory terms." Id. at 363[.] Instead, to achieve status as a seaman, an employee must show (1) that his duties contributed to the function of a navigable vessel or the accomplishment of its mission; and (2) that he had a connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable group of vessels) that was substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature. Id. at 368[.]; Becker, 335 F.3d at 387. The purpose of this test is to "separate the sea-based maritime employees who are entitled to Jones Act protection from those land-based workers who have only a transitory or sporadic connection to a vessel in navigation, and therefore whose employment does not regularly expose them to the perils of the sea." Chandris, 515 U.S. at 368[.] Importantly, the Supreme Court has explicitly rejected a "voyage test, " under which "anyone working on board a vessel for the duration of a voyage' in ...

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