United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
DWAYNE MELANCON, and his wife, KERA MELANCON, individually and on behalf of their minor children, KALLYE, PEYTON, AND KOBY
GAUBERT OIL COMPANY, INC. AND LOW LAND CONSTRUCTION CO., INC.
ORDER AND REASONS
D. ENGELHARDT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is the Rule 12(b)(6) Motion (Rec. Doc. 10) filed by
defendant Low Land Construction Co., Inc. (“Low
Land') and seeking dismissal of the plaintiffs'
claims for non-pecuniary damages. The Motion is opposed by
the plaintiffs Dwayne and Kera Melancon, individually and on
behalf of their children, Kallye, Peyton, and Koby.
(See Rec. Doc. 11). Now, having considered the
submissions of the parties, including Low Land's reply
memorandum (Rec. Doc. 14), the record, and applicable law,
the Court grants the Motion, finding that neither a seaman
nor his dependent family members can recover non-pecuniary
damages against a third party non-employer under general
Dwayne Melancon, a Jones Act seaman,  is joined by his wife and
children (together, “Plaintiffs”) in bringing
this lawsuit under the general maritime law for injuries
purportedly sustained on or about August 24, 2016, while
Melancon was working as a tankerman onboard the tugboat, LOW
LAND #5. Melancon alleges that the tugboat, which was time
chartered by his employer, defendant Gaubert Oil Company,
Inc. (“Gaubert”), and owned by defendant Low
Land, allided with a rock barge while pushing the barge, GOCO
5. As a result of the allision, Melancon alleges that he fell
down a stairwell on the tugboat, causing injuries to his left
wrist and lumbar spine. Melancon attributes the allision to
steering failure, machinery or equipment failure and
electrical failure onboard the tugboat.
lawsuit asserts, in part, negligence claims against both
defendants for their alleged failure to furnish a safe
workplace, as well as against Low Land, singularly, for its
alleged failure to furnish a seaworthy vessel, properly
maintain generators, sound appropriate alarms, and take
appropriate steps to protect personnel onboard the tugboat,
LOW LAND #5. (See Complaint, Rec. Doc. 1 at
¶¶ VII, VIII). Plaintiffs seek pecuniary and
non-pecuniary damages, including punitive damages. (See
Id. at ¶¶ IX, X). Dwayne Melancon's wife
and children, in particular, seek damages for loss of
consortium, love and affection and services. (Id. at
¶ XII). Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure, Low Land now moves for the dismissal of
Plaintiffs' claims for non-pecuniary damages as
unrecoverable under the Jones Act and general maritime law.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(internal citation omitted). Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court is bound to
“accept all well-pleaded facts as true, and . . . view
them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.”
Campbell v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 781 F.2d 440,
442 (5th Cir. 1986). Further, “[a]ll questions of fact
and any ambiguities in the controlling substantive law must
be resolved in the plaintiff's favor.” Lewis v.
Fresne, 252 F.3d 352, 357 (5th Cir. 2001). Ultimately,
“[a] complaint is subject to dismissal if the
allegations, taken as true, show the plaintiff is not
entitled to relief.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S.
199, 214 (2007).
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Land argues that, under precedent of the Supreme Court of the
United States and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit,
a seaman cannot recover non-pecuniary damages under general
maritime law. Beginning with Miles v. Apex Marine
Corp., the Supreme Court held that the survivors of a
Jones Act seaman are precluded from recovering non-pecuniary
damages via a cause of action for wrongful death under
general maritime law. 498 U.S. 19, 31-33 (1990). The Court
explained that, while the Jones Act and the Death on the High
Seas Act (“DOHSA”) supported a cause of action
under general maritime law for wrongful death, damages under
both were limited and did not include recovery for loss of
society or lost future earnings. Id. at 31-32.
Ultimately, the Court determined that in enacting the Jones
Act and DOHSA, Congress had established a “uniform plan
of maritime tort law.” Id. at 37. Cognizant of
the respective constitutional functions of Congress and the
judiciary, the Court declined to sanction a
judicially-created remedy that would exceed “the limits
of Congress' ordered system of recovery for seamen's
injury and death.” Id. at 36.
Miles, the scope of the ban on non-pecuniary damages
under the general maritime law was, at least for some time, a
legitimate area of dispute. In Guevara v. Maritime
Overseas Corp., the Fifth Circuit applied the
“principle of uniformity” articulated in
Miles to preclude an injured Jones Act seaman from
recovering punitive damages for his employer's willful
and wanton disregard of its obligation under general maritime
law to pay maintenance and cure. 59 F.3d 1496, 1513 (5th Cir.
1995). Later, in Scarborough v. Clemco Indus., the
Fifth Circuit again invoked Miles' principle of
uniformity to hold that neither a Jones Act seaman nor his
survivors can recover non-pecuniary losses from a
non-employer. Scarborough v. Clemco Indus., 391 F.3d
660, 668 (5th Cir. 2004).
the debate over the reach of Miles and its principle
of uniformity stems from Atlantic Sounding Co. v.
Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2009). There, the Supreme Court
reigned in the ban on non-pecuniary damages in the general
maritime law, overruling Guevara and holding that a
Jones Act seaman can recover punitive damages for an
employer's willful and wanton failure to honor its
maintenance and cure obligation. Id. at 424.
Notably, Townsend distinguished itself from
Miles rather than abrogate it. See Id. at
420-21 (“The reasoning of Miles remains
sound.”). Unlike the wrongful death claim and damages
addressed in Miles, the Court explained that general
maritime law had recognized the claim (maintenance and cure)
and remedy (punitive damages) at issue in Townsend
prior to the passage of the Jones Act, and the Jones Act
addresses neither claim nor remedy. Id. at 420.
“It is therefore possible, ” concluded the Court,
“to adhere to the traditional understanding of maritime
actions and remedies without abridging or violating the Jones
Act; unlike wrongful-death actions, this traditional
understanding is not a matter to which ‘Congress has
spoken directly.'” Id. at 420-21.
Townsend, the Fifth Circuit, sitting en
banc, has reaffirmed Miles and its principle of
uniformity, holding that neither an injured seaman nor his
survivors can recover punitive damages from an employer for
negligence or unseaworthiness under general maritime law.
McBride v. Estis Well Serv., L.L.C., 768 F.3d 382,
391 (5th Cir. 2014). The court noted that “the Jones
Act applies to both injured seamen and those killed through
the negligence of their employer, ” and it found
“no reason why [Miles'] holding would not
apply to an injury case” predicated on unseaworthiness
under general maritime law or negligence under the Jones Act.
Id. at 388. Accordingly, because punitive damages
“are designed to punish the wrongdoer rather than
compensate the victim [or his survivors], ” the Court
concluded that punitive damages fell under the forbidden
category of non-pecuniary damages in wrongful death and
personal injury cases involving Jones Act seamen.
Id. at 391.
recently, the sections of this district court appear united
in their understanding and application of Miles,
Townsend, and McBride to claims of wrongful
death and personal injury. See Wade v. Clemco Industries
Corp., 2017 WL 434425, *5 (E.D.La. Feb. 1, 2017) (J.
Fallon) (“[T]he Fifth Circuit has now made it clear
that under the Jones Act and general maritime law, a
seaman's damages against both employers and non-employers
are limited to pecuniary losses.”); Rinehart v.
Nat'l Oilwell Varco, L.P., 2017 WL 1407699, at *4
(E.D.La. Apr. 20, 2017) (J. Fallon) (same); Bell v.
Foster Wheeler Energy Corp., 2017 WL 889074, at *4
(E.D.La. Mar. 6, 2017) (J. Africk) (holding that a
seaman's representative cannot recover non-pecuniary
damages in a wrongful death action under general maritime
law); Rockett v. Belle Chasse Marine Transp., LLC,
2017 WL 2226319, at *4 (E.D.La. May 22, 2017) (J. Lemmon)
(refusing to limit Scarborough, McBride,
and Wade to wrongful death cases); Schutt v.
Alliance Marine Services LP, 2017 WL 2313199, *2
(E.D.La. May 26, 20170 (J. Lemelle) ...