United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
DONALD RINEHART, JR.
NATIONAL OILWELL VARCO L.P., ET AL.
ORDER AND REASONS
the Court is a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed by
Defendant National Oilwell Varco, L.P. (R. Doc. 82). Having
considered the parties' briefs and applicable law, the
Court now issues this Order and Reasons.
case arises out of injuries allegedly sustained by Plaintiff
Donald Rinehart (“Rinehart”) on August 21, 2014,
while he was employed as a Jones Act seaman in his capacity
as an engineer aboard the M/V Starfleet Viking, a vessel
operated by the bareboat charterer Defendant Starfleet Marine
Transportation, Inc. (“Starfleet”). (R. Doc. 1 at
1-2). Plaintiff invokes jurisdiction of this Court under 28
U.S.C. § 1332. Id. at 2. Specifically to this
Motion, Plaintiff seeks in his Complaint to recover certain
non-pecuniary damages against third-party defendant National
Oilwell Varco, L.P. (“NOV”), including punitive
alleges that he was ordered by the M/V Starfleet Viking's
captain to assist with loading pallets aboard the ship, which
was docked in Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Id. at 2.
NOV owned the mobile crane and hook which were used in
loading the pallets and also employed the crane operator
directing the crane. Id. Plaintiff claims that he
was injured when a pallet fork slipped from NOV's
crane's hook onto the back of his head while loading
pallets onto the vessel's deck. Id. Plaintiff
states that he was flown by helicopter to the Thibodaux
Medical Center for emergency medical treatment and has since
suffered multiple complex surgical procedures with permanent
scarring; severe headaches with substantial neurological
deficits, including memory loss and a severely-diminished
reading ability; and the inability to swallow normal food, so
that he must eat through a feeding tube which has been
surgically-implanted into his stomach. Id. at 3.
Plaintiff filed suit under the Jones Act and General Maritime
law, requesting a jury trial and seeking recovery for the
damages he sustained.
Starfleet Marine Transportation, Inc.
(“Starfleet”) answers, admits that it owned the
M/V Starfleet Viking, and asserts a number of defenses,
including that Plaintiff's injuries were caused by his
own negligence or by third parties, that his claims are
prescribed, and that Starfleet is entitled to limited
liability pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 30501. (R. Doc. 13).
NOV answers and asserts a number of defenses, including that
Plaintiff's injuries were caused by his own negligence or
by third parties, that Plaintiff failed to mitigate his
damages, and that his claims are barred by prescription or by
either the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation
Act, 33 U.S.C. §901, et seq., or the provisions
of the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act, LSA R.S.
23:1021, et seq. (R. Doc. 15).
filed this Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on
Plaintiff's claims for non-pecuniary damages,
specifically, punitive damages. (R. Doc. 82). Plaintiff
opposes the Motion. (R. Doc. 84). With leave of the Court,
NOV filed a reply. (R. Doc. 89). Starfleet Marine also filed
a Response. (R. Doc. 86).
seeks partial summary judgment dismissing Plaintiff's
claims for punitive damages. (R. Doc. 82-1 at 2). NOV relies
on Scarborough v. Clemco Industries, Inc. to argue
that because Plaintiff alleges seaman status, he is precluded
from recovering non-pecuniary damages, specifically punitive
damages, from a non-employer third party. Id.
(citing Scarborough v. Clemco Industries, Inc., 391
F.3d 660, 668 (5th Cir. 2004)).
acknowledges that 5th Circuit precedent currently precludes
recovery of punitive damages for Jones Act negligence and for
unseaworthiness against third parties, but nonetheless
opposes the motion and seeks to preserve his right to appeal
an adverse ruling on punitive damages, noting that other
federal precedent is in conflict with the Fifth Circuit. (R.
Doc. 84-1 at 4-5). Plaintiff also alleges in their response
that NOV was grossly negligent in their actions. Id.
filed a Response to Plaintiff's Opposition, requesting
that this Court limit its review of this matter to the
questions of law raised in the Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment. (R. Doc. 89 at 2). NOV argues that because the
question of gross negligence was newly-raised in
Plaintiff's opposition and was not prompted by the
NOV's original motion, the Court should not address the
issue. Id. at 3. NOV suggests that responding to the
evidentiary submissions would unnecessarily complicate the
matter before the Court, and the Court should strike the new
evidence or grant more time for NOV to reply. Id. at
also filed a Response to NOV's Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment. (R. Doc. 86). Starfleet declined to take a position
on the recovery of punitive damages by a seaman from a third
party non-employer, and noted that the recovery of punitive
damages is a separate issue from the availability of
Plaintiff's claims for gross negligence against NOV and
should be preserved. Id. at 1. Therefore, Starfleet
requests that the Court preserve Plaintiff's allegations
of gross negligence, which are not implicated by this
Circuit's precedent that punitive damages are unavailable
against third parties. Id. at 2 (citing Wade v.
Clemco Industries Corporation, No. CV 16-502, 2017 WL
434425, at *5 (E.D. La. Feb. 1, 2017) (Fallon, J.) (“a
seaman's [widow's] damages against both employers and
non-employers are limited to pecuniary losses”).
LAW AND ANALYSIS