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Mueller v. Bollinger Shipyards, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 22, 2015

THOMAS MUELLER,
v.
BOLLINGER SHIPYARDS, INC., ET AL. Section

ORDER AND REASONS

MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN, District Judge.

Before the Court is a motion by the defendants, for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion is DENIED.

Background

This personal injury lawsuit arises from Thomas Mueller's claim that he slipped and fell while inspecting a vessel owned by Bollinger. Mueller sued Bollinger Shipyards, Inc. and Bollinger Marine Operations, L.L.C. claiming that the defendants were negligent in allowing Mueller to use the port exterior stairway before a non-skid surface was applied.

As part of the Newton Creek Project, the City of New York, contracted with Bollinger to construct three motor barges, one of which was Hull 573, the HUNTS POINT. The City provided the plans and specifications for the construction of the barges and the City retained the right to inspect, schedule, approve, or reject any phase of construction. The City furnished the blueprints, specifications, and drawings for the barges, and had a representative present to oversee compliance.

Thomas Mueller started working for the City as a seaman in 1984 and was promoted to mate in 1986. He was then promoted to second mate in 1987 and obtained his Master's license in 1992. In 2007 he was then promoted to the position he held at the time of the accident, Captain and Environmental, Health and Safety Coordinator. His position is shoreside and includes going aboard vessels and inspecting them for correct paperwork, crane inspections and monthly safety gear inspections.

In 2013, Mueller traveled to Bollinger's yard in Amelia, Louisiana to inspect the HUNTS POINT.

On October 1, 2013, Mueller was holding a notebook and his raincoat as he was descending the port exterior stairway of the HUNTS POINT; Mueller's left foot slipped forward and off a stair tread, and he began to fall. Mueller contends that as he tried to stop his fall with his right arm, his arm failed, and his left leg became lodged between the stair treads. He stood up and tried to continue down the stairway, but his left leg failed to function and he fell to the bottom of the stairway. As a result, Mueller suffered severe injuries requiring several surgeries.[1] Mueller was aware that the stairs were wet and that the non-skid material had not been applied. Mueller had previously walked through the stairs in question that same day without incident.

On May 22, 2014 Mueller sued Bollinger Shipyards, Inc. and Bollinger Marine Fabricators, L.L.C. under La. Civ. C. Art. 2317.1. By allowing access to the stairway, which lacked paint, coating, or non-skid substance allegedly required to make the steps safe for use, Mueller contends Bollinger Shipyards, Inc. and Bollinger Marine Fabricators, L.L.C. were negligent. The defendants now move for summary judgment.

I.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 instructs that summary judgment is proper if the record discloses no genuine dispute as to any material fact such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. No genuine dispute of fact exists if the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). A genuine dispute of fact exists only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

The Court emphasizes that the mere argued existence of a factual dispute does not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion. See id. Summary judgment is also proper if the party opposing the motion fails to establish an essential element of his case. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In this regard, the non-moving party must do more than simply deny the allegations raised by the moving party. See Donaghey v. Ocean Drilling & Exploration Co., 974 F.2d 646, 649 (5th Cir. 1992). Rather, he must come forward with competent evidence, such as affidavits or depositions, to buttress his claim. Id . Hearsay evidence and unsworn documents that cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence at trial do not qualify as competent opposing evidence. Martin v. John W. Stone Oil Distrib., Inc., 819 F.2d 547, 549 (5th Cir. 1987); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(2). Finally, in evaluating the summary judgment motion, the Court must read the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

II.

Both Bollinger companies contend that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law because: (1) the stairs were not dangerous but were wet, which was an obvious and apparent condition; and (2) the true cause of plaintiff's injuries was his own negligence in descending wet stairs, knowing he had weakened knees, with his hands occupied. Alternatively, the defendants contend they are immune from liability because they built the stairs ...


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