United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
D. ENCTLHARDT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Defendant M-I LLC's Rule 12(b)(6)
Motion to Dismiss Punitive Damages Claim (Rec. Doc. 15), to
which Plaintiff Gerald Wiltz (“Wiltz”) has filed
a memorandum in opposition (Rec. Doc. 21). Having carefully
considered the supporting and opposing submissions, the
record, and the applicable law, IT IS
ORDERED that the motion is GRANTED
for the reasons stated herein.
instant matter arises out of Wiltz's personal injuries,
which were allegedly sustained after he was exposed to
hydrogen sulfide aboard the drill ship M/V Deepwater Reliance
(“Reliance”) on April 7, 2016. See Rec.
Doc. 1 at p. 3. Thereafter, Wiltz filed his Seaman's
Complaint for Damages asserting claims under the Jones Act
and general maritime law against: (1) M-I LLC
(“M-I”), as his Jones Act Employer; (2) Rowan
Companies, Inc. (“Rowan”), as owner of the
Reliance; (3) Cobalt International Energy, L.P.
(“Cobalt”), as the “leaseholder and
operator as per BSEE rules and regulations;” and (4)
Halliburton Energy Services, Inc.
(“Halliburton”), as a non-employer tortfeasor.
Id. In his Seaman's Complaint for Damages, Wiltz
Should M-I fail to honor its maintenance and cure obligation,
the plaintiff is entitled to attorney's fees, punitive
damages, and an additional compensatory award. . . Plaintiff
specifically alleges a claim for punitive damages against the
defendants herein based upon General Maritime Law. This claim
relates not only to any arbitrary and/or unreasonable failure
of defendant to pay maintenance and cure benefits but also
for any gross negligence of the defendants, or
unseaworthiness of the vessel as may be allowed under General
Id. at 5. Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, M-I seeks dismissal of Wiltz's
punitive damages claims against it as his Jones Act Employer.
(Rec. Doc. 15). Specifically, M-I argues that: (1) Wiltz, as
a Jones Act seaman, cannot recover punitive damages under
either the Jones Act or general maritime law; and (2) Wiltz
has failed to adequately state a claim that M-I willfully and
wantonly failed to pay him maintenance and cure. Id.
Thus, M-I contends that the punitive damages claim against it
must be dismissed. Id.
response, Wiltz notes at the outset that following
McBride v. Estis Well Services, LLC, 768 F.3d 382
(5th Cir. 2014), punitive damages are no longer available to
a seaman as to Jones Act claims and negligence claims under
general maritime law against his employer. (Rec. Doc. 21 at
p. 1). Thus, Wiltz's only claim for punitive damages
against M-I would be for its failure to pay him maintenance
and cure. Wiltz argues that while M-I is currently paying him
maintenance and cure, there is no guarantee that such
payments will continue or that disputes will not arise
concerning maintenance and cure throughout the pendency of
the case. Id. at p. 2. Thus, Wiltz postures that
such claim for punitive damages for the failure to pay
maintenance and cure is proper, so M-I's motion should be
denied. Id. In the alternative, Wiltz requests that,
if this Court agrees with M-I's argument that punitive
damages are not available under the instant circumstances,
then such claim for punitive damages relevant to maintenance
and cure be dismissed without prejudice. Id.
RULE 12(b)(6) STANDARD
order to survive a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the
complaint must allege “enough facts to state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct.
1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). “A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct.
1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 570). Furthermore, the allegations within a complaint
“must make relief plausible, not merely conceivable,
when taken as true.” United States ex rel. Grubbs
v. Kanneganti, 565 F.3d 180, 186 (5th Cir. 2009).
Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “construes the complaint
liberally in favor of the plaintiff, and takes all facts
pleaded in the complaint as true.” Gregson v.
Zurich American Ins. Co., 322 F.3d 883, 885 (5th Cir.
2003) (citing 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). However, this tenet is inapplicable to legal
conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint is
unsatisfactory “if it tenders ‘naked
assertion[s]' devoid of further factual
enhancement.” Id. (citing Twombly,
550 U.S. at 557). Legal conclusions must be supported by
factual allegations. Gentilello v. Rege, 627 F.3d
540, 544 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Wiltz has acknowledged in his response to M-I's motion to
dismiss, the only issue for this Court to decide is whether
Wiltz has properly stated a claim for punitive damages for
any alleged failure of M-I to pay maintenance and cure.
Maintenance and cure are remedies under general maritime law,
which are “implicit in the contractual relationship
between the seaman and his employer and designed to assist in
the recovery of a seaman upon injury or illness sustained
while in the service of the ship.” Pelotto v. L
& N Towing Co., 604 F.2d 396, 400 (5th Cir. 1979).
Moreover, maintenance and cure are due to a seaman without
regard to the negligence of the employer or unseaworthiness
of the ship. Id. (citing Aguilar v. Standard Oil
Co. of N. J., 318 U.S. 724, 729, 63 S.Ct. 93, 87 L.Ed.
1107 (1943)). In Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend,
557 U.S. 404, 424 (2009), the Supreme Court held that a Jones
Act seaman can recover punitive damages for an employer's
willful and wanton failure to honor its maintenance and cure
obligation in appropriate cases.
instant matter, Wiltz does not allege that M-I has failed to
pay maintenance and cure. Rather, Wiltz seeks to reserve his
claim for punitive damages should M-I fail to honor its
obligation to pay him maintenance and cure at some point in
the future. See Rec. Doc. 1 at p. 5. In support of
his claim, Wiltz argues that “while M-I may currently
be paying maintenance and cure, there is certainly no
guarantee that maintenance and cure will continue or that
there will be no dispute about it during the course of this
case.” (Rec. Doc. 21 at p. 2). However, the Court does
not find it appropriate to allow Wiltz to maintain a claim
for punitive damages premised on the possibility that M-I may
breach its obligation to pay maintenance and cure at some
unknown time in the future. See Smith v. Basic Marine
Services, Inc., 964 F.Supp.2d 597, 608 (E.D.La. 2013)
(“The record, however, confirms that Basic Marine has
honored its maintenance and cure obligation; the plaintiff is
not entitled to recover for arbitrary conduct that may or may
not occur in the future.”); Campbell v. Offshore
Liftboats, LLC, Civil Action No. 14-2218, 2015 WL
1280543, at *4 (E.D.La. Mar. 20, 2015) (“Certainly, a
seaman is entitled to seek punitive damage for his
employer's alleged willful and wanton disregard of its
maintenance and cure obligation. . . But Campbell is not
entitled to recover for arbitrary conduct that he speculates,
without more, may or may not occur in the future.”).
Thus, Wiltz's claim for ...