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Coastal Drilling Co., LLC v. Creel

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 1, 2017

COASTAL DRILLING COMPANY, LLC
v.
BRANDON CREEL

         SECTION “R” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SARAH S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is plaintiff[1] Brandon Creel's motion to dismiss his Jones Act complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2) without prejudice.[2] For the following reasons, the Court denies plaintiff's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Coastal Drilling Company employed Creel as a floorhand on Rig 20, an inland waters drill barge operating in the navigable waters of Louisiana.[3] On July 17, 2016, Creel reported that he was involved in an accident on the drill floor, and alleged that he sustained injuries to his neck, right shoulder, multiple sections of his spine, and his hips.[4] On July 21, 2016, Coastal received a notice of representation from Creel's attorney in regard to the assertion of a Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act claim.[5] The following week, Creel's attorney requested that Coastal authorize follow-up care with a physician of Creel's choice, which Coastal approved.[6]

         When Creel did not return to work, Coastal began maintenance payments to Creel. But Coastal also began surveilling Creel to determine if his activities were consistent with his complained-of injuries.[7] According to Coastal, Creel was observed and documented engaging in physical activity inconsistent with his alleged injuries.[8] For example, on October 20, 2016, Creel's doctor recommended arthroscopic surgery on Creel's right shoulder because of its alleged lack of response to conservative treatment, but Coastal alleges that it documented Creel lifting a spare tire out of a car with his right arm within hours of the doctor's recommendation.[9]

         Creel sought authorization from Coastal for the right shoulder surgery.[10] Based on its surveillance, Coastal scheduled an independent medical evaluation to take place on November 22, 2016. During the IME, Creel allegedly made statements inconsistent with the physical activity observed through surveillance.[11] The IME report stated that there was no evidence that Creel required right shoulder surgery, and after reviewing the surveillance footage, the IME physician stated that he would not recommend surgery.[12]

         Based on the IME report and recommendation, Coastal declined to authorize the surgery. Coastal then filed an action seeking declaratory relief that Creel is not entitled to maintenance and cure, damages, punitive damages, or attorney fees, and that Creel is obligated to reimburse Coastal for the maintenance already paid to Creel.[13] Coastal also filed a motion to compel a mental examination of Creel.[14]

         Creel moved to dismiss Coastal's action, arguing that as a Jones Act seaman he has the right to have a jury decide his maintenance and cure claim, and that granting Coastal's declaratory judgment would deprive Creel of his right to a trial.[15] Additionally, on March 16, 2017, Creel filed a Jones Act complaint in this Court against Coastal and Peak Energy, LLC, seeking maintenance and cure, damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees.[16]

         Relying in part on Creel's filing of a Jones Act complaint in this Court, the Court granted Creel's motion to dismiss Coastal's declaratory judgment action.[17] On the next day, April 5, 2017, Creel filed this motion to voluntarily dismiss his Jones Act complaint without prejudice.[18] Coastal opposes plaintiff's motion, [19] and has reasserted its motion to compel a mental examination of Creel.[20] Additionally, one day after filing his motion to dismiss, Creel filed an identical Jones Act suit against Coastal and Peak Energy in the 15th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Vermilion, Louisiana.[21]

         On May 12, 2017, Magistrate Judge Knowles granted Coastal's motion to compel a mental examination and ordered Creel to undergo a psychological evaluation.[22]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2) provides: “Except as provided in Rule 41(a)(1), an action may be dismissed at the plaintiff's request only by court order, on terms that the court considers proper.” A decision as to whether to grant a dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2) lies within the sound discretion of the district court. Davis v. Huskipower Outdoor Equipment, 936 F.2d 193, 199 (5th Cir. 1991). The Fifth Circuit has explained that, “as a general rule, motions for voluntary dismissal should be freely granted unless the nonmoving party will suffer some plain legal prejudice other than the mere prospect of a second lawsuit.” Elbaor v. Triparth Imaging, Inc., 279 F.3d 314, 317 (5th Cir. 2002). In assessing the prejudice to the non-moving party, courts examine the stage of the litigation at which the motion is made. See Hartford Accident & Indem. Co. v. Costa Lines Cargo Servs., Inc., 903 F.2d 352, 360 (5th Cir. 1990).

         III. DISCUSSION

         At the outset, the Court notes this case is in its early stages and no scheduling order or trial date has been set. Thus, this case has not proceeded to an extent that warrants the denial of Creel's motion on that basis alone. See Brown v. Schlumberger Tech. Corp., No. 01-3755, 2002 WL 550986, at ...


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