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Benoit v. St. Charles Gaming Co., Inc.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

November 8, 2017

CARL JOSEPH BENOIT AND PATRICIA FAYE BENOIT
v.
ST. CHARLES GAMING COMPANY, INC.

         APPEAL FROM THE FOURTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF CALCASIEU, NO. 2014-568 HONORABLE DAVID A. RITCHIE, DISTRICT JUDGE.

          David L. Bateman, Bateman Law Firm, COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES: Carl Joseph Benoit, Patricia Faye Benoit.

          Brian D. Wallace, Bruce V. Schewe, Evans Martin McLeod, Meredith W. Blanque, Phelps, Dunbar, LLP, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLANT: St. Charles Gaming Company, Inc. d/b/a Isle of Capri Casino -Lake Charles.

          Court composed of John D. Saunders, Marc T. Amy, Elizabeth A. Pickett, Billy Howard Ezell, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.

          Amy, J., concurs and assigns reasons. Saunders, J., dissents with written reasons.

          ELIZABETH A. PICKETT JUDGE.

         The defendant owner of a riverboat casino appeals the trial court's denial of its motion for summary judgment and grant of summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff that its casino is a vessel and that the plaintiff is a Jones Act seaman. For the following reasons, we reverse the trial court's judgment and grant judgment in favor of the defendant.

         FACTS

         Carl Benoit went to work as a deckhand for St. Charles Gaming Co., Inc. d/b/a Isle of Capri Casino - Lake Charles in 1995 on the Grand Palais Casino (the Grand Palais), a riverboat casino, moored in Lake Charles. He was injured in August 2013 when a coworker fell from a ladder onto him and began receiving Louisiana workers' compensation benefits. Mr. Benoit and his wife sued St. Charles, alleging that the Grand Palais is a vessel under general maritime law, 1 U.S.C. § 3; that he is a seaman and member of the Grand Palais's crew under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104 et seq; that the Grand Palais was unseaworthy under general maritime law; and that St. Charles owes him maintenance and cure, attorney fees, and damages, as result of the injuries he suffered in his fall.

         The Grand Palais was built as a riverboat casino in conformity with the requirements of Louisiana law which authorize gaming activities to be conducted on riverboat casinos that sail on designated waterways. La.R.S. 27:41-113, formerly La.R.S. 4:501-562. In 2001, St. Charles moored the Grand Palais at its current location in Westlake by nylon mooring lines and steel wire cables, pursuant to La.R.S. 27:65(B)(1)(c) which allows riverboat casinos to conduct gaming activities while docked if the owner obtained the required license.

         The Grand Palais has not moved since March 24, 2001. Necessary services for the Grand Palais' operation as a casino are provided via shore-side utility lines, which supply electricity, water, telephone service, sewage, cable television, and internet services that have not been disconnected since 2001. Additionally, the casino computer systems, including the slot machines, for the Grand Palais' gaming activities are now located on land. Guests enter the Grand Palais from shore via a steel structure incorporated into the interior of the land-based Isle of Capri Pavilion.

         St. Charles filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the Benoits' claims against it on the basis that the Grand Palais is not a vessel under general maritime law; therefore, Mr. Benoit is not a seaman. The Benoits filed a cross motion for summary judgment on the same issues, asserting that the Grand Palais is a vessel and that Mr. Benoit is a seaman.

         After a hearing, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Benoits, finding that the Grand Palais is a vessel as defined by general maritime law and that Mr. Benoit is, therefore, a Jones Act seaman. St. Charles appealed.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

         St. Charles assigns the following errors with the trial court's judgment:

1. The [trial] court erred in ruling that on August 28, 2013[, ] the Grand Palais Casino was a vessel within the ...

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