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Willis v. McDonough Marine Service

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 18, 2015

HENRY WILLIS, JR
v.
MCDONOUGH MARINE SERVICE, ET AL

ORDER AND REASONS

IVAN L.R. LEMELLE, District Judge.

I. NATURE OF MOTION AND RELIEF SOUGHT

Before the Court is Defendants', Marmac, LLC d/b/a McDonough Marine Service ("McDonough Marine") and TETRA Applied Technologies, LLC ("TETRA"), Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 38), which seeks dismissal of Plaintiff Henry Willis Jr.'s claims under the LHWCA, to the extent no genuine issues of material fact exist and Defendants have established as a matter of law that they bore no duty to Plaintiff under the facts of the instant case. Plaintiff opposes the motion and argues issues of fact sufficient to prevent summary judgment exist as to application of the LHWCA and his " Sieracki seaman" status (Rec. Doc. 41). Defendants have filed a Reply (Rec. Doc. 48).

Also before the Court is Plaintiff's "Motion for Leave to File his Second Amended Complaint" (Rec. Doc. 43), in which he seeks leave to clarify assertion of his seaworthiness claim. Defendants oppose the motion. (Rec. Doc. 50)." For the reasons that follow, IT IS ORDERED THAT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 38) is GRANTED and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend (Rec. Doc. 43) is DENIED.

II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This action arises out of an incident, on August 16, 2013, in which Plaintiff was injured after he tripped and fell on a temporary stair set used to access an offshore module placed on the barge Marmac 23, which vessel was owned by Defendant McDonough Marine and bareboat chartered to Defendant TETRA. (See Rec. Doc. 1). At the time of the incident, Plaintiff was employed by non-party Omega Natchiq as a painter/sandblaster. The subject module was owned by non-party Poseidon and was being prepared for ultimate transport to an offshore platform also owned by Poseidon.

The facts are essentially undisputed between the parties.[1] Defendant TETRA bareboat chartered the Marmac 23 in order to perform under a Transportation Agreement, dated March 12, 2013, with Poseidon to transport the 900-ton module from Omega's facility at the Port of New Iberia, where it was being prepared and assembled, to Poseidon's offshore platform. (See Rec. Doc. 38-1 at 2).

Defendant TETRA delivered the Marmac 23 to Omega's facility, where it was moored into a slip and awaited loading of the module destined for the offshore platform.[2] (See Rec. Doc. 38-2 at 4). At the time of delivery, the record reflects that the barge was bare and did not contain any temporary stair set. (See Rec. Doc. 38-2 at 6).

Plaintiff was hired by Omega in April 2013, approximately four months before the subject incident. (Rec. Doc. 38-2 at 4). Plaintiff initially performed sandblasting/painting work on the subject module in Omega's land-based "blast yard." (Rec. Doc. 38-2 at 4). However, approximately one week before Plaintiff's injury, the module was placed on the Marmac 23, where Plaintiff continued to perform work on it. (Rec. Doc. 41-5 at 4). Although the record provides no indication as to when, or by whom, a temporary stair set was placed on the Marmac 23 to facilitate access to the upper portions of the module.

On August 16, 2013, after completing work on the module for the day, Plaintiff was attempting to descend the temporary stair set to reach the deck of the Marmac 23 and ultimately exit the barge to land. (Rec. Doc. 38-2 at 5. Near the top of the stair set, however, his foot caught a piece of grating, he tripped, and fell while carrying approximately 45 pounds of gear and equipment. (Rec. Doc. 38-2 at 5). Plaintiff sustained numerous injuries through this fall, which form the basis of the instant suit.

III. CONTENTIONS OF MOVANT

Defendants argue there is no record evidence to suggest that either McDonough Marine or TETRA owned the stair set on which Plaintiff was injured or that either of those parties was responsible for its placement on the barge. Absent privity of ownership, Defendants argue, the stair set may not be considered an appurtenance of the vessel such that Defendants would be liable for injuries caused thereby. Further, Defendants argue Plaintiff has presented no evidence that either Defendant breached any of the limited so-called Scindia duties, applicable to workers under the LHWCA, to prevent against vessel negligence under the facts of the instant case. Accordingly, they argue Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed.

IV. CONTENTIONS OF OPPONENTS

Plaintiff advances two arguments against summary judgment. First, he argues issues of fact exist as to whether the subject stair set was an "appurtenance" of the vessel. In support, he argues ownership is not a dispositive issue as to an item's appurtenance status. Rather, he argues, transportation of the module was the purpose of the Marmac 23's adventure and thus, the module and stair set should be considered appurtenances of the vessel under In re Antill, No. 97-0578, 1998 WL 321512 (E.D. La. Jun. 17, 1998) and related precedent.

Second, Plaintiff challenges the characterization that his claims arise under the LHWCA. He argues fact issues exist as to whether he is properly characterized as a so-called " Sieracki seaman, " such that he may bring an action for unseaworthiness against the vessel owner, regardless of the traditional limitations on vessel liability afforded under the LHWCA. Essentially, Plaintiff argues a detailed inquiry into the amount of work he performed on the vessel and the character of that work is required to determine whether he qualifies as a Sieracki seaman, rather than a LHWCA longshoreman. Plaintiff also seeks leave to file a second amended complaint, ostensibly for purposes of clarifying the assertion of his unseaworthiness claim.

V. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, interrogatory answers, and admissions, together with any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). A genuine issue exists if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Although the Court must consider the evidence with all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the nonmovant must produce specific facts to demonstrate that a genuine issue exists for trial. Webb v. Cardiothoracic Surgery Assocs. of N. Texas, 139 F.3d 532, 536 (5th Cir. 1998). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The movant must point to "portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). If and when the movant carries this burden, the nonmovant must then go beyond the pleadings and use affidavits, depositions, interrogatory responses, admissions, or other evidence to establish a genuine issue. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "[W]here the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may merely point to an absence of evidence, thus shifting to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating by competent summary judgment proof that there is an issue of material fact warranting trial.... Only when there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party' is a full trial on the merits warranted." Lindsey v. Sears Roebuck and Co., 16 F.3d 616 (5th Cir. 1994). Accordingly, conclusory rebuttals of the pleadings are insufficient to avoid summary judgment. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Liljeberg Enter., Inc., 7 F.3d 1203, 1207 (5th Cir. 1993).

VI. APPLICABLE LAW

A. REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO INJURED MARITIME WORKERS

By way of background, and for purposes of understanding the issues presented by the instant motion, it is necessary to consider the various remedies available to individuals involved in employment in the maritime industry. Such individuals are, by and large, divided into three general categories: ...


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