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Ramos v. Swiftships Shipbuilders, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana

February 17, 2017





         Pending before this Court are the following motions: (1) Cross Motions for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff s Detrimental Reliance Claim, filed by plaintiff Manuel Ramos and defendant Swiftships Shipbuilders, LLC, respectively [Docs. 71 & 73]; and Motion for Award of Damages [Doc. 72] filed by the plaintiff. The plaintiff has also filed two Motions for Leave to File Reply Briefs [Docs. 77 & 80], both of which are herein GRANTED, For the following reasons, the plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment on the Detrimental Reliance Claim [Doc. 71] is GRANTED; Swiftships' Motion Summary Judgment on the Detrimental Reliance Claim [Doc. 73] is DENIED; and the plaintiffs Motion for Award of Damages [Doc. 72] is GRANTED, all as more particularly discussed hereinbelow.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         The facts of this case have been exhaustively set forth in previous rulings by the Court. The following facts are undisputed as best this Court can determine from the filings of the parties:

         1. Swiftships Shipbuilders, LLC is the shipbuilding arm and subsidiary of Swift Group, LLC, a Louisiana-based company with annual revenue of approximately $50, 000, 000.00.

         2. Calvin Leleux is Swiftships' chairman. Beginning in the late 1970s, Swiftships began to do substantial business in Venezuela and was represented there by members of the von Fedak family. In 2000, Swiftships' representative and senior member of the von Fedak family died. Thereafter, that representative's son, Jorge von Fedak, began to represent Swiftships in Latin America.

         3. In 2004, Mr, von Fedak, pursuant to a power of attorney from Swiftships, retained plaintiff Manuel Ramos, a Venezuelan attorney, to represent Swiftships in a lawsuit Swiftships filed against a company named DIANCA.

         4. Pursuant to Venezuelan law, Mr. Ramos's legal fees were to be fixed by statute. According to the parties, in contractual disputes such as the lawsuit Swiftships filed against DIANCA, attorneys' fees are set based on the size of the claim. Consequently, the attorney for a party in a contractual dispute need not negotiate the fee with the client, because the fee is determined by statute.

         5. Mr. Ramos represented Swiftships in the DIANCA matter for more than five years, making at least 16 court appearances; filing 20 to 30 voluminous pleadings, in three different tribunals; negotiating with a wide variety of individuals; and vigorously representing his client. Several months after concluding his representation of Swiftships, and after repeated requests for payment, Mr. Ramos filed a claim against Swiftships in Venezuela for his attorney's fees.

         6. After negotiations, a settlement agreement was signed by Mr, Leleux on January 9, 2013 and by Mr. Ramos on January 11, 2013, [1]

         On August 21, 2015, after briefing by the parties, this Court ruled that Ramos proved the essential elements of a breach of contract claim and was entitled to summary judgment on this claim. However, because of peculiarities in the original briefing on plaintiffs motion for summary judgment, this Court did not award damages at that time, The plaintiff now also seeks judgment as a matter of law in his favor on the detrimental reliance claim, and defendant has filed a cross motion for summary judgment on the same claim. Considering the foregoing, the Court now considers the detrimental reliance claim and the claim for an award of damages.

         II. Law and Analysis

         A. Summary Judgment Standard "

         A party against whom a claim, counterclaim, or cross-claim is asserted or declaratory judgment is sought may, at any time, move with or without supporting affidavits for summary judgment in the parties favor as to all or any part thereof." Fed, R. Civ. Pro. 56(b). Summary judgement is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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." Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c).

When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but the adverse party's response by affidavits or is otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If the adverse party does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the adverse party.

Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(e)

         As summarized by the Fifth Circuit inLindsey v. Sears Roebuck and Co., 16 F.3d 616, 618 (5th Cir. 1994):

         When seeking summary judgment, the movant bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of an issue of material fact with respect to those issues on which the movant bears the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp, v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986), However, where 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. Id. at 322; see also, Moody v. Jefferson Parish School Board, 2 F.3d 604, 606 (5th Cir, 1993); Duplantis v. Shell Offshore, Inc., 948 F, 2d 187, 190 (5th Cir, 1991), 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. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         The Supreme Court has instructed:

The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Where no such showing is made, "[t]he moving party is 'entitled to a judgment as a matter of law' because the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof"
... In ruling upon a Rule 56 motion, "a District Court must resolve any factual issues of controversy in favor of the non-moving party" only in the sense that, where the facts specifically averred by that party contradict facts specifically averred by the movant, the motion must be denied. That is a world apart from "assuming" that general averments embrace the "specific facts" needed to sustain the complaint. As set forth above, Rule 56(e) provides that judgment "shall be entered" against the nonmoving party unless affidavits or other evidence "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." The object of this provision is not to replace conclusory allegations of the complaint or answer with conclusory allegations of an affidavit. Rather, the purpose of Rule 56 is to enable a party who believes (here is no genuine dispute as to a specific fact essential to the other side's case to demand at least one sworn averment of that fact before the lengthy process of litigation continues,

Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 884, 888-89 (1990)(quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)(emphasis added)).

         The Fifth Circuit has further elaborated:

[The parties'] burden is not satisfied with 'some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ' by 'conclusory allegations, ' by 'unsubstantiated assertions, ' or by only a 'scintilla' of evidence. We resolve factual controversies 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. We do not, however, in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts. ...[S]ummary judgment is appropriate in any case where critical evidence is so weak or tenuous on an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant.

Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5, h Cir. 1994) (en 6a/7C')(citations and internal ...

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