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Johnson v. Cargill, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 9, 2019

ALBERT JOHNSON, Plaintiff
v.
CARGILL, INC., ET AL., Defendants

         SECTION: “E” (5)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion for Reconsideration filed by Defendant Diamond Star Shipping PTE LTD (“Diamond Star”).[1] The motion is opposed.[2] For the reasons that follow, the Motion for Reconsideration is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND

         On November 1, 2018, the Court granted in part and denied in part Diamond Star's Motion for Summary Judgment.[3] The Court found the following: (1) Diamond Star did not breach the turnover duty because there was no grain spilled on the deck when the vessel was turned over;[4] (2) a disputed issue of material fact with respect to who controlled the walkway precluded summary judgment on whether Diamond Star breached the active control duty;[5] and (3) Diamond Star did not breach the duty to intervene because there was no unreasonably dangerous condition.[6]

         Diamond Star asks the Court to reconsider its ruling with respect to the active control duty, given the Court's ruling with respect to the duty to intervene.[7] The Court found, “as a matter of law[, ] that the spillage [of grain on the deck of the M/V HERCULES OCEAN] did not create an unreasonably dangerous condition” and, as a result, that Diamond Star did not have a duty to intervene.[8] Diamond Star argues that, because there was no unreasonably dangerous condition, it did not breach the active control duty, even if the walkway remained under its active control.[9]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion for reconsideration of an interlocutory order is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b).[10] Under Rule 54(b), the trial court is free to reconsider and reverse its decision for any reason it deems sufficient, even in the absence of new evidence or an intervening change in or clarification of the substantive law.[11] A motion for reconsideration, however, “is ‘not the proper vehicle for rehashing evidence, legal theories, or arguments that could have been offered or raised before the entry of [the order].'”[12] “The Court is mindful that ‘[r]econsideration of a judgment after its entry is an extraordinary remedy that should be used sparingly.'”[13] “When there exists no independent reason for reconsideration other than mere disagreement with a prior order, reconsideration is a waste of judicial time and resources and should not be granted.”[14]

         The district court's discretion in granting a motion for reconsideration is broad, [15]but courts typically analyzes these motions under the standard governing Rule 59(e) motions to alter or amend a final judgment.[16] In deciding motions to reconsider under the Rule 59(e) standards, the courts in this district have considered the following factors:

(1) whether the movant demonstrates the motion is necessary to correct manifest errors of law or fact upon which the judgment is based;
(2) whether the movant presents new evidence;
(3) whether the motion is necessary in order to prevent manifest injustice; and
(4) whether the motion is justified by an intervening change in the controlling law.[17]

         The Court finds reconsideration is warranted in this case. Because Diamond Star's argument with respect to its active control duty is premised on the Court's ruling with respect to Diamond Star's duty to intervene, the Court will reconsider its ruling on both duties.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Section 905(b) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act provides the exclusive remedy for a longshoreman who is injured by the negligence of a vessel.[18] In Scindia Steam Navigation Co. v. De Los Santos, the Supreme Court outlined three narrow duties a vessel owner owes to a longshoreman once stevedoring operations commence: (1) the turnover duty; (2) the active control duty; and (3) the duty to intervene.[19] The turnover duty requires the owner to have the ship and its equipment in suitable condition at the turnover point and to warn the stevedore of hidden dangers.[20]The active control duty requires the shipowner to protect longshoremen from hazards in areas under the active control of the vessel.[21] The duty to intervene requires the vessel owner to intervene when it has actual knowledge of an unreasonably dangerous condition and knows that the stevedore, in the exercise of obviously improvident judgment, intends to continue working in the face of the danger and cannot be relied upon to protect its workers.[22] The Fifth Circuit requires “something more, ” beyond mere shipowner knowledge of a dangerous condition to trigger the duty to intervene.[23] To trigger the duty to intervene, a condition must be “so hazardous that anyone can tell that its continued use creates an unreasonable risk of harm.”[24]

         I. Duty to Intervene

         The Court finds reconsideration is warranted to correct an error of law or fact in its Order on Diamond Star's Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to Diamond Star's duty to intervene.[25] In analyzing whether Diamond Star breached its duty to intervene, the Court found that Diamond Star had no knowledge of an unreasonably dangerous condition because one did not exist. The Court concluded “as a matter of law[, ] that the spillage [of grain on the deck of the M/V HERCULES OCEAN] did not create an unreasonably dangerous condition” and, as a result, that Diamond Star did not have a duty to intervene.[26]

         Upon reconsideration, the Court concludes there is a disputed issue of material fact with respect to whether the amount of grain spilled on the deck of the M/V HERCULES OCEAN created an unreasonably dangerous condition. The parties dispute whether the amount of grain spilled on the deck was common, normal, and expected.[27]Cargill employee Damien Robinson[28] and Dockside employees Anthony Welch, [29] Isaac Williams, [30] Kevin Cole, [31] and Victor Dorsey[32] testified that grain spillage was common and to be expected in this kind of loading operation.[33] Chief Officer Malais testified that the spillage on the deck of the M/V HERCULES OCEAN was a normal amount of spillage.[34] Damien Robinson testified that he did not consider the spillage on the deck of the M/V HERCULES OCEAN excessive.[35] Isaac Williams testified that on previous occasions, he witnessed similar amounts of grain spilled on the decks of other ships.[36]Plaintiff testified that on the morning of his accident, he was not concerned about walking through the pile of grain and was not concerned about slipping.[37] On the other hand, Dockside employee Anthony Welch testified that although grain spillage was common, the amount of spillage in the walkway where Plaintiff fell would not be found elsewhere.[38]

         This disputed issue of fact is not material to a determination of whether Diamond Star breached the duty to intervene because, given the conflicting testimony, the condition was not “so hazardous that anyone can tell that its continued use creates an unreasonable risk of harm.”[39] Even if the grain created an unreasonably dangerous condition, and even if Diamond Star had knowledge of the grain spilled on the deck, “something more” is required to trigger the duty to intervene.[40] This is so because the shipowner defers to the qualification of the stevedore in the selection and use of equipment and relies on the competency of the stevedore; thus, it might well be reasonable for the owner to rely ...


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