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Rinehart v. National Oilwell Varco L.P.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 20, 2017

DONALD RINEHART, JR.
v.
NATIONAL OILWELL VARCO L.P., ET AL.

         SECTION: L

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Before 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.

         I.BACKGROUND

         This 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 damages.

         Plaintiff 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.

         Defendant 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).

         II. PRESENT MOTION

         NOV 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).

         NOV 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)).

         Plaintiff 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. at 6.

         NOV 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 4-5.

         Starfleet 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”).

         III. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Summary ...


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