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Dubuisson v. Industrial Economics, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 16, 2018

RICHARD DUBUISSON
v.
INDUSTRIAL ECONOMICS, INC. AND RYAN TOLBERT

         SECTION “R” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SARAH S. VANCE UNITES STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Industrial Economics, Inc. (IE) moves to dismiss plaintiff Richard Dubuisson's second amended complaint.[1] For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a maritime accident that allegedly occurred on November 23, 2015. Plaintiff alleges he was injured while working on a vessel owned and operated by defendant Ryan Tolbert.[2] Though not explicitly stated, plaintiff appears to assert that Tolbert was also the captain of the vessel on the day of the accident.[3] Plaintiff states that he was on the vessel in connection with his work as an employee of AIS Inc. of Massachusetts.[4] According to plaintiff, the vessel was “under the control” of IE, “pursuant to a contract” between IE and Tolbert.[5] Plaintiff further states that IE “controlled the operations of the vessel” by “hiring th[e] vessel, directing the route and locations at which the vessel would operate, ” and “approving captains.”[6]

         Plaintiff states that he was injured when a large wave hit the vessel.[7]Plaintiff alleges that Tolbert failed to advise him and the other AIS employees that the wave was going to hit.[8] Plaintiff also alleges that Tolbert failed to “keep the boat in place while on location, ” which he says contributed to the “movement” that ultimately threw him to the deck.[9] Plaintiff states that he has suffered a serious lower back injury as a result of this fall.[10]

         On May 11, 2017, plaintiff sued Tolbert and IE for negligence under general maritime law.[11] IE moved to dismiss the first complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).[12] Before that motion was fully briefed, plaintiff sought leave to amend his complaint, [13] which Magistrate Judge Knowles granted.[14] Plaintiff's first amended complaint added only two additional substantive paragraphs.[15] Before any additional motions were filed, Chief Judge Engelhardt denied IE's initial motion to dismiss as moot.[16]Judge Engelhardt noted that plaintiff's allegations in the amended complaint were “overly conclusory” and lacked sufficient factual support. He ordered plaintiff to submit a second amended complaint.[17] On May 18, 2018, the case was transferred to this Section.[18]

         IE now moves to dismiss the second amended complaint, arguing that plaintiff has failed to plead facts sufficient to allege that IE (1) owed plaintiff a duty and (2) was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff's injuries.[19]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead “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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009).

         A legally sufficient complaint must establish more than a “sheer possibility” that the plaintiff's claim is true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. It need not contain detailed factual allegations, but it must go beyond labels, legal conclusions, or formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action. Id. In other words, the face of the complaint must contain enough factual matter to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of the plaintiff's claim. Lormand, 565 F.3d at 257. The claim must be dismissed if there are insufficient factual allegations to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, or if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that there is an insuperable bar to relief, Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007).

         III. DISCUSSION

         To state a claim for maritime negligence, a plaintiff must “demonstrate that there was a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, breach of that duty, injury sustained by the plaintiff, and a causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the plaintiff's injury.” In re Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC, 624 F.3d 201, 211 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations and modifications omitted). As to causation, a party's negligence is actionable only if it is the “legal cause” of the plaintiff's injuries. Id. The Fifth Circuit defines legal cause as “something more than but for causation, ” meaning that “the negligence must be a substantial factor” in causing the injuries. Id.

         Plaintiff has failed to plausibly allege that IE was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff's injuries. IE's connection to plaintiff's alleged injuries rests on the allegations that IE had the ability to “approv[e] captains”[20] and “knew or should have known” that Tolbert was operating the vessel in an unsafe manner.[21] These allegations are akin to a claim for negligent hiring or retention under general maritime law. See In re Marquette Transp. Co. Gulf-Inland, LLC, No. 13-5114, 2016 WL 1587382, at *3 (E.D. La. Apr. 20, 2016) (recognizing a cause of action for negligent hiring or retention under general maritime law, and applying the same four elements as a general claim for negligence). In Marquette, the Court granted the defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings when the plaintiffs alleged, without factual support, that the defendant's “negligent hiring of” the captain caused the plaintiffs' injuries. Id. The Court noted that the plaintiffs ‚Äúprovide[d] no facts demonstrating how [the defendant's] hiring process failed to conform to ...


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