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Carter v. Parker Towing Co., Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 3, 2018

GERALD CARTER
v.
PARKER TOWING COMPANY, INC.

         DIVISION “3”

          ORDER

          DANIEL E. KNOWLES, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Behalf of Parker Towing Company, Inc. [Doc. #16]. The Court originally set the motion for oral hearing on April 18, 2018. [Doc. #21]. However, given the temporal conflicts of counsel, the Court cancelled the oral hearing and took the motion under submission on the briefs. Having reviewed the pleadings and the case law, the Court rules as follows.

         I. Background

         Parker Towing Company, Inc. (“PTC”) hired plaintiff Gerald Carter on September 2, 2016. He worked one full 21-day hitch and then returned for his second hitch in October 2016. [Doc. #23-1 at p. 3]. On the second hitch, he injured his lower back while working. [Id.]. Carter and another deckhand, Ashford Nelson, were breaking down tow and moving the rigging gear from one barge to another. [Id]. Nelson instructed Carter to toss or throw the rigging equipment, which included heavy metal wires and ratchets, from the barge on which they were standing to an adjoining barge. [Id. at p.5-6]. During this activity, Carter injured his lower back. [Id. at p. 4]. He began experiencing pain that day, and it progressively worsened over the course of the next day. [Id. at p. 7]. On that day, PTC tasked Carter with painting a small portion of its vessel, the TOM HUCKABEE, and Carter testified that he was unable to bend down to paint the vessel due to his back pain. [Doc. #16-6 at pp. 3-5]. Ultimately, Carter filled out an accident report in which he stated that he could no longer work due to the pain. [Id. at pp. 3-4].

         On March 28, 2017, Carter filed his complaint in which he asserts three causes of action: (1) Jones Act negligence, (2) general maritime law unseaworthiness, and (3) general maritime law maintenance and cure. [Doc. #1]. On August 8, 2017, PTC filed its answer and affirmative defenses to Carter's complaint. [Doc. #8].

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The materiality of facts is determined by the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id.

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its summary judgment burden by merely pointing out that the evidence in the record contains insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986); see also Lavespere v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 910 F.2d 167, 178 (5th Cir. 1990). Once the moving party carries its burden pursuant to Rule 56(a), the nonmoving party must “go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Auguster v. Vermillion Parish School Bd., 249 F.3d 400, 402 (5th Cir. 2001).

         When considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Gillis v. Louisiana, 294 F.3d 755, 758 (5th Cir. 2002), and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Hunt v. Rapides Healthcare Sys., L.L.C., 277 F.3d 757, 764 (2001). Factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmoving party, “but only when there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). The Court will not, “in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts.” See Id. (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990)).

         Although the Court is to consider the full record in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, Rule 56 does not obligate it to search for evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3) (“court need consider only the cited materials”); Malacara v. Garber, 353 F.3d 393, 405 (5th Cir. 2003) (“When evidence exists in the summary judgment record but the nonmovant fails even to refer to it in the response to the motion for summary judgment, that evidence is not properly before the district court.”). Thus, the nonmoving party should “identify specific evidence in the record, and articulate” precisely how that evidence supports his claims. Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir. 1994).

         The nonmovant's burden is not satisfied merely by creating “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” “by conclusory allegations, ” by “unsubstantiated assertions, ” or “by only a scintilla of evidence.” Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. Rather, a factual dispute precludes a grant of summary judgment only if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party. Smith v. Amedisys, 298 F.3d 434, 440 (5th Cir. 2002).

         III. Law and Analysis

         PTC moves for partial summary judgment on Carter's claim for maintenance and cure, arguing that Carter knowingly failed to disclose pre-existing back pain when he applied for employment with it. “Maintenance and cure is a contractual form of compensation afforded by the general maritime law to seamen who fall ill or are injured while in the service of a vessel.” Jauch v. Nautical Serv., Inc., 470 F.3d 207, 212 (5th Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (paraphrasing McCorpen v. Cent. Gulf S.S. Corp., 396 F.2d 547, 548 (5th Cir. 1968)). “The shipowner's obligation is deep-rooted in maritime law and is an incident or implied term of a contract for maritime employment.” McCorpen, 396 F.2d at 548. “A seaman may recover maintenance and cure even for injuries or illnesses pre-existing ...


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