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Crace v. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 8, 2015




Before the Court are two Motions for Summary Judgment (Docs. 62 and 63) and a Motion to Amend the Complaint (Doc. 90). For the following reasons, one Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 63) is GRANTED, the other (Doc. 62) is GRANTED IN PART, and the Motion to Amend is GRANTED. Plaintiff's 33 U.S.C. § 905(b) claim, maritime negligence claim, and his state law claim related to the allegedly defective design of the ladder are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Having granted Plaintiff's Motion to Amend, Plaintiff's amended state law negligence claim related to the padlocked chain remains pending.


Plaintiff William Crace brought this action as a result of injuries he sustained on board a ship, which was under construction by Defendant Huntington Ingalls, Inc. ("HII"). The ship is an amphibious transport dock that has since been commissioned by the United States Navy as the USS New York. At the time of the accident, the majority of construction activity had been completed. In fact, Plaintiff was on the New York as part of a final inspection process. The vessel was accepted by the Navy a few days after the accident.

Plaintiff alleges that, during the course of his inspection, he fell down a ladder in one of the ship's compartments. Plaintiff claims that the ladder was negligently designed and installed by Defendant and that Defendant negligently padlocked a chain restricting access to the hatch above the ladder. Plaintiff alleges that both acts of negligence contributed to his fall. He has asserted claims against Defendant under 33 U.S.C. § 905(b) and the general maritime law. Defendant now moves to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims.


Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."[1] A genuine issue of fact exists only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."[2]

In determining whether the movant is entitled to summary judgment, the Court views facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor.[3] "If the moving party meets the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce evidence or designate specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial."[4] Summary judgment is appropriate if the non-movant "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case."[5] "In response to a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the non-movant must identify specific evidence in the record and articulate the manner in which that evidence supports that party's claim, and such evidence must be sufficient to sustain a finding in favor of the non-movant on all issues as to which the non-movant would bear the burden of proof at trial."[6] "We do not... in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts."[7] Additionally, "[t]he mere argued existence of a factual dispute will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion."[8]


Defendant has filed two Motions for Summary Judgment and a Motion to Amend the Complaint. The Court will consider each in turn.

I. Plaintiff's Maritime Claims (Doc. 63)

In this Motion, Defendant seeks (1) dismissal of Plaintiff's 33 U.S.C. § 905(b) claim because it was not the owner pro hac vice of the New York, and (2) dismissal of Plaintiff's maritime negligence claim for lack of jurisdiction. Because the Court concludes that it lacks maritime jurisdiction over this matter, a necessary prerequisite to a 905(b) claim, it is not necessary to address Defendant's pro hac vice arguments.

33 U.S.C. § 905(b) permits a longshoreman injured as a result of a vessel's negligence to bring a claim directly against the vessel or its owner.[9] While 905(b) preserves a longshoreman's right to bring a negligence claim against a vessel, the Fifth Circuit has made it clear that 905(b) claims exist only within the confines of admiralty jurisdiction.[10] As a result, "to be cognizable under § 905(b), a tort must occur on or in navigable waters... and there must be the traditional admiralty nexus."[11] The same rule applies to maritime negligence claims.[12] Accordingly, if Court lacks jurisdiction over one of Plaintiff's claims, it lacks jurisdiction over both.

Plaintiff's claims arise from his fall down a ladder on board the New York. The parties agree that the New York was located in navigable waters at the time of the injury. Thus, there is no question that ...

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