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Rockett v. Belle Chasse Marine Trasnportation, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 22, 2017

DARRIN ROCKETT
v.
BELLE CHASSE MARINE TRASNPORTATION, LLC,

         SECTION: "S" (2)

          ORDER

          MARY ANN VIAL LEMMON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         ORDER AND REASONS

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that St. John Fleeting, LLC's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Claim for Punitive Damages made pursuant Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Doc. #7) is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         This matter is before the court on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure filed by defendant, St. John Fleeting, LLC. St. John seeks dismissal of plaintiff's punitive damages claim arguing that a seaman may not recover non-pecuniary damages on negligence or unseaworthiness general maritime law claims against a non-employer third-party.

         Plaintiff, Darrin Rockett, filed this action against defendants, Belle Chasse Marine, LLC and St. John, seeking damages for injuries he allegedly sustained in a maritime accident that occurred on January 29, 2016. Rockett, a Jones Act seaman, alleges that on January 29, 2016, he was employed as the captain of the M/V MR. FRED, a vessel in navigation owned, operated and controlled by Belle Chasse, and that he sustained injuries to his head and other parts of his body when the M/V MR. FRED struck a bouy in the Mississippi River. Rockett alleges that St. John owned, maintained, or was otherwise responsible for the bouy, which was improperly marked, maintained, and/or positioned.

         Rockett's claims against Belle Chasse include a negligence claim under the Jones Act, and general maritime law claims for unseaworthiness and failure to pay maintenance and cure, along with punitive damages related to the failure to pay maintenance and cure. Rockett alleges a general maritime law negligence claim against St. John, and seeks punitive damages associated with that claim. In response, St. John filed the instant motion to dismiss arguing that under Fifth Circuit precendent, Rockett, a Jones Act seaman, cannot recover non-pecuniary damages, including punitive damages, from a third-party non-employer for a general maritime law negligence claim.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face must be pleaded. In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 & 1973 n. 14 (2007)). A claim is plausible on its face when the plaintiff pleads facts from which the court can “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. The court “must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” In re S. Scrap Material Co., LLC, 541 F.3d 584, 587 (5th Cir. 2008). However, the court need not accept legal conclusions couched as factual allegations as true. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50. In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court may consider only the contents of the pleading and the attachments thereto. Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498 (5th Cir. 2000) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)). However, the district court "may also consider documents attached to either a motion to dismiss or an opposition to that motion when the documents are referred to in the pleadings and are central to a plaintiff's claims." Brand Coupon Network, L.L.C. v. Catalina Mktg. Corp., 748 F.3d 631, 635 (5th Cir. 2014).

         II.

         A Seaman's Punitive Damages Claim against a Third-Party Non-Employer

         St. John argues that a Jones Act seaman cannot recover non-pecuniary damages, including punitive damages, from a third-party non-employer for a general maritime law negligence claim. St. John cites the maritime law precedent set by the Supreme Court of the United States and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 111 S.Ct. 317 (1990); Scarborough v. Clemco ...


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