United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
TRICHE MILAZZO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Claimant Jeffrey Jenkins's Motion to Dismiss
(Doc. 39); Limitation Petitioners' Motion for Summary
Judgment on Claimant Jeffrey Jenkins's punitive damages
claim (Doc. 100); and Claimant Jeffrey Jenkins's Motion
for Summary Judgment on Limitation of Liability (Doc. 97).
For the following reasons, the Motions are DENIED.
action arises out of an incident in which the M/V PINTAIL
capsized, allegedly causing the death of a River Construction
Inc. (“River Construction”) operator, James D.
Swafford, and injuring a River Construction welder, Jeffrey
Jenkins. The incident occurred on December 30, 2015 when the
PINTAIL's motor stalled while it was being operated on
the Mississippi River by River Construction employees. On
June 30, 2016, Magnolia Fleet, L.L.C. (“Magnolia
Fleet”), as Owner, and River Construction, as Operator,
of the M/V PINTAIL (collectively, “Petitioners”)
filed a Complaint for Exoneration or Limitation of Liability.
On July 12, 2016, this Court issued a stay of the prosecution
of any proceedings outside of the limitation action.
Claimants Carla Guileyardo, Jeffrey Jenkins, American
Longshore Mutual Association, Ltd., and Carl Swafford
answered with claims in this matter. The claims of Carla
Guileyardo have been settled, and the claims of Carl Swafford
have been dismissed.
before the Court are three motions. In the first, Claimant
Jeffrey Jenkins has adopted a Motion by former Claimant Carla
Guileyardo, arguing that River Construction is not entitled
to limitation of liability because it is not an owner of the
PINTAIL. In the second Motion, Petitioners seek dismissal of
Claimant Jenkins's claim for punitive damages.
Petitioners allege that notwithstanding Jenkins's
classification as a seaman or longshoreman, he cannot succeed
in his claim for punitive damages. In the third, Jenkins
argues that Petitioners are not entitled to limitation of
liability. This Court will consider each Motion in turn.
judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue
as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled
to a judgment as a matter of law.” A genuine issue
of fact exists only “if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
determining whether the movant is entitled to summary
judgment, the Court views facts in the light most favorable
to the non-movant and draws all reasonable inferences in his
favor. “If the moving party meets the
initial burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of
material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to
produce evidence or designate specific facts showing the
existence of a genuine issue for trial.” Summary judgment
is appropriate if the non-movant “fails to make a
showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element
essential to that party's case.” “In
response to a properly supported motion for summary judgment,
the non-movant must identify specific evidence in the record
and articulate the manner in which that evidence supports
that party's claim, and such evidence must be sufficient
to sustain a finding in favor of the non-movant on all issues
as to which the non-movant would bear the burden of proof at
trial.” “We do not . . . in the absence of
any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would
prove the necessary facts.” Additionally, “[t]he
mere argued existence of a factual dispute will not defeat an
otherwise properly supported motion.”
Jenkins's Motion to Dismiss
filed a Motion to Dismiss, or alternatively for Summary
Judgment, arguing that River Construction is not the owner,
owner pro hac vice, or bareboat charterer of the M/V
PINTAIL and therefore should not be entitled to seek
limitation of liability. Jenkins subsequently adopted this
Motion as his own. Despite styling this Motion as a motion to
dismiss, both parties have attached evidence outside the
pleadings, which this Court has chosen not to exclude.
Accordingly, the Motion is converted to a summary judgment
motion. River Construction had ample opportunity
to respond and present evidence as demonstrated by the
exhibits attached to its opposition.
Motion, Jenkins argues that River Construction did not have
the ownership or control over the M/V PINTAIL required under
the Limitation of Liability Act. He points out that River
Construction's Complaint for Limitation alleges only that
it was the operator of the PINTAIL. River Construction argues
that it was an owner pro hac vice of the PINTAIL and
is therefor e entitled to limitation of liability.
Limitation of Liability Act provides that “the
liability of the owner of a vessel for any claim, debt, or
liability described in subsection (b) shall not exceed the
value of the vessel and pending freight.” An
“owner” is defined as including “a
charterer that mans, supplies, and navigates a vessel at the
charterer's own expense or by the charterer's own
procurement.” “Courts have expanded the
definition of owner or charterer to encompass parties in
analogous situations who exercise dominion and control over a
vessel and are therefore owners pro hac vice even if not
technically charterers.” Courts have held that:
[A]n “owner” for the purposes of limitation of
liability is one who is subjected to a shipowner's
liability because of his exercises of dominion over [i.e.,
relationship to] the vessel. In other words, an operator with
significant management and operational control over a vessel
may seek exoneration from or limitation of liability when it
acts as a manager of the vessel or acquires work for and
dispatches the vessel.
parties dispute whether River Construction's had the
requisite management and operational control over the M/V
PINTAIL to claim limitation of liability.
Construction is wholly owned by its president, William
Wiedner, III. Magnolia Fleet is owned by William Wiedner,
III; his father, William Wiedner, IV; and John Stewart.
William Wiedner, IV is the president of Magnolia Fleet. The
M/V PINTAIL was typically moored on a dock owned by Magnolia
Fleet on the west bank of the Mississippi River. River
Construction kept several barges on the east bank of the
river and used the Magnolia Fleet facility to access those
barges. River Construction employees frequently used the
PINTAIL to cross to the east bank of the river. The parties
testified that there was no written or oral agreement between
Magnolia Fleet and River Construction regarding use of the
PINTAIL, but the companies had an informal, unspoken
understanding regarding its use. River Construction had
unlimited access to the PINTAIL with no requirement that it
ask permission from Magnolia Fleet to use the vessel. Indeed,
the keys were stored under the seat. An employee of River
Construction testified that he operated the PINTAIL on a
daily basis. When it was operating the PINTAIL, River
Construction used its own crew and was often performing work
for its own customers. River Construction, however, did not
make any formal payment for its use of the PINTAIL. Instead,
the companies ...