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In re American River Transportation, Co., LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 2, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF AMERICAN RIVER TRANSPORTATION, CO., LLC, AS THE OWNER AND OPERATOR OF THE M/V LOUISIANA LADY, PRAYING FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY

         SECTION: "S" (2)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          MARY ANN VIAL LEMMON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Rule 12 motions filed by third-party defendant Walter Kidde Portable Equipment, Inc. ("Kidde") (Rec. Doc. 53) are granted in part and denied in part as follows:

         IT IS ORDERED that Kidde's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss plaintiffs' LPLA claims is granted;

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Kidde's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss plaintiffs' products liability claims under the general maritime law for failure to state a claim is denied;

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Kidde's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss plaintiffs' maintenance and cure claims against Kidde for failure to state a claim is granted as unopposed;

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Kidde's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the Graveses' claims for loss of financial support is denied, however counsel for the Graveses is ordered to amend the complaint to allege dependency more specifically within 15 days of entry of this order;

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Kidde's Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss the Graveses' wrongful death claims brought in their personal capacities is granted; and

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Kidde's motion to strike pursuant to Rule 12(f) is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         On September 3, 2017, the M/V LOUISIANA LADY, an inland tug owned and operated by American River Transportation Company ("ARTCO"), caught fire when it was doing fleet work on the Mississippi River. The fire broke out in the deck locker on the vessel's main deck. Two crew members, Spencer Graves and Ronald D. Neal, who were in their crew quarters on the main deck, suffered smoke inhalation and loss of consciousness. Graves, who was a Jones Act seaman aboard the vessel, died as a result of the accident. Neal, who was also a Jones Act seaman aboard the vessel, sustained injuries as a result of the accident.

         On March 1, 2018, ARTCO filed the instant petition for limitation of liability pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 30501, et seq. and within the meaning of Rules 9(h) and F of the Supplemental Rules of Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability for the September 3, 2017, accident. Philip and Rebecca Whaley Graves, Spencer Graves' parents, filed a claim in their individual capacities and as representatives of Spencer Graves' estate. Neal also filed a claim.

         On September 3, 2018, the claimants filed third-party claims against, inter alia, Walter Kidde Portable Equipment, Inc. ("Kidde").[1] The claims against Kidde were brought pursuant to the Louisiana Products Liability Act, La. R.S. 9:2800.51 et seq., and the general maritime law. In their third-party complaint, third-party plaintiffs (hereinafter, "plaintiffs") allege that an electronic cigarette with a lithium battery exploded on a shelf in the deck locker, ignited, caught fire, and was propelled around the room, and that subsequently, the smoke and gas detectors and alarms, allegedly manufactured by Kidde, all failed to work properly, resulting in Graves' death Ronald Neal's injuries.

         In this motion, Kidde seeks dismissal of the LPLA claims brought against it by claimants, and the striking of certain allegations as redundant or immaterial. With respect to the dismissal of the LPLA claims, Kidde premises its motion on two grounds:

         (1) Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Kidde argues that claims under the Louisiana Products Liability Act are inapplicable to this general maritime products liability case, and plaintiffs have failed to properly allege any defect existed at the time Kidde's product left Kidde's control, as is required under general maritime law and Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. Further, to the extent any claims have been properly made, Kidde contends that relief cannot be granted because plaintiffs have admitted actual knowledge of the purportedly unreasonably dangerous condition. To the extent any other claims remain, for non-pecuniary (punitive) damages, maintenance and cure, found, and loss of financial support, Kidde argues they are not available and must necessarily be dismissed.

         (2) Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), Kidde seeks dismissal of all claims brought individually by Phillip Graves and Rebecca Whaley Graves, arguing that they lack standing to bring any action in their individual capacities, and therefore the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.

         Additionally, Kidde argues pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), that paragraphs 88 and 106(h) of Claimants' Master Complaint, Counter-Claims, and Third-Party Complaint for Damages (Rec. Doc. 31), should be stricken, because they invoke res ipsa loquitur, which is an evidentiary doctrine, rather than a separate cause of action, and claims for past and future meals, lodging and found, contending they are redundant.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Motion to Dismiss Under Federal Rule 12(b)(6) Legal Standard

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. "To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, 'enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face' must be pleaded." In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). A claim is plausible on its face when the plaintiff pleads facts from which the court can “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (citations omitted). The court “must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” In re S. Scrap Material Co., LLC, 541 F.3d 584, 587 (5th Cir. 2008). However, the court need not accept legal conclusions couched as factual allegations as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         LPLA vs. General Maritime Law

         Kidde contends that the claims against it are governed by the general maritime law, which preempts Louisiana state law (specifically the Louisiana Products Liability Act ("LPLA")), and thus plaintiffs' claims brought under the LPLA must be dismissed. Plaintiffs contend that the LPLA may be applied in cases in which it does not conflict with the LPLA, and ...


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