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Abadie v. Madere and Sons Marine Services, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 23, 2019


         SECTION: "S" (5)



         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Motion for Summary Judgment on Seaman Status by plaintiffs, Joseph M. Abadie and Amy Abadie (Rec. Doc. 68) is DENIED.


         This matter is before the court on a motion for summary judgment on seaman status filed by plaintiffs, Joseph and Amy Abadie. Plaintiffs allege that on July 19, 2016, plaintiff Joseph Abadie ("Abadie") was employed by defendants, Madere and Sons Marine Services, LLC ("Madere") and/or Deep South Oilfield Construction, LLC ("Deep South"). Abadie was assigned to work as the captain of the M/V MAMMA MIA, a crew boat in navigation owned and operated by Madere and Deep South. Abadie was instructed to sail the M/V MAMMA MIA to a production platform in the Main Pass Block 49 Field in Louisiana state territorial waters.

         When the vessel arrived at the production platform, Abadie was informed by the platform well site supervisor, defendant Craig Gautreaux, that the vessel had to take on a tote tank containing liquid oilfield waste and weighting approximately 4, 600 pounds from the platform and to take it to shore. Abadie advised Gautreaux that the tote tank was too big and heavy to be safely offloaded from the production platform onto the M/V MAMMA MIA, but Gautreaux insisted on using the M/V MAMMA MIA to do the job.

         Geautreaux operated the production platform's crane to lower the tote tank onto the stern deck of the M/V MAMMA MIA. During the process, the tote tank swung toward the vessel's bow, striking Abadie and pinning him against the bulkhead between the stern deck and the wheelhouse. Abadie alleges that he sustained multiple injuries as a result of the accident, including bruises and abrasions and injuries to his spine, shoulder and connective joints, tissues and nerves.

         On July 13, 2017, plaintiffs filed this action against, inter alia, Madere and Deep South, seeking damages for the injuries Abadie allegedly sustained as a result of the accident, and alleging that Madere and Deep South are liable for negligence under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, et seq., and for the unseaworthiness of the M/V MAMMA MIA under the general maritime law. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint alleging that their claims are maritime claims that arise under Rule 9(h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiffs now seek summary judgment on the question of seaman status, arguing that there is no issue of fact bearing on that question. They specifically cite the deposition testimony of Madere company owner Chad Madere, in which he stated that he "guessed" that during the years that Abadie worked on vessels under common Madere ownership and control, he spent at least 30% of his time on vessels. His work aboard the vessels included vessel navigation/operation, deckhand duties, rigger duties and construction barge (vessel) superintendent in charge of barge operations. Defendants oppose, arguing that a factual dispute exists as to whether he spent 30% or more of his work time abouard vessels and whether he was a member of each vessel's crew.


         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper when, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Amburgey v. Corhart Refractories Corp., 936 F.2d 805, 809 (5th Cir.1991); Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(c). If the moving party meets the initial burden of establishing that there is no genuine issue, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce evidence of the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986). The non-movant cannot satisfy the summary judgment burden with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994) (en banc). If the opposing party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party does not have to submit evidentiary documents to properly support its motion, but need only point out the absence of evidence supporting the essential elements of the opposing party's case. Saunders v. Michelin Tire Corp., 942 F.2d 299, 301 (5th Cir.1991).

         Seaman Status under the Jones Act

         The Jones Act provides that a “seaman injured in the course of employment ... may elect to bring a civil action at law, with the right of trial by jury, against the employer.” 46 U.S.C. § 30104. The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing seaman status. Becker v. Tidewater, Inc., 335 F.3d 376, 390 n. 8 (5th Cir. 2003). The Jones Act does not define “seaman.” See Id. Determining “whether an injured worker is a seaman under the Jones Act is a mixed question of law and fact and it is usually inappropriate to take the question from the jury.” Id. at 386. However, the court may take the question from the jury by granting summary judgment or a directed verdict when the undisputed facts demonstrate that the maritime worker clearly does not meet the criteria for seaman status. Alexander v. Express Energy Servs. Operating, L.P., 784 F.3d 1032, 1034 (5th Cir. 2015).

         “Though the Jones Act does not define ‘seaman,' Congress has elsewhere defined it as the ‘master or member of any crew of any vessel.” Naquin v. Elevating Boats, L.L.C., 744 F.3d 927, 932 (5th Cir.2014) (quoting Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis,115 S.Ct. 2172, 2183 (1995)). In Chandris, the Supreme Court of the United States test established a two-pronged test for determining whether a maritime employee is a seaman under the Jones Act. 115 S.Ct. at 2189-90. First, the employee's duties must “contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission.” Id. Satisfying this prong of the seaman test is relatively easy because the individual “need only show that he does the ship's work.” Naquin, 744 F.3d at 933 (quoting Becker, 335 F.3d at 387-88). Second, the employee “must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable group of such vessels) that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature.” Chandris, 115 S.Ct. at 2189-90. The claimed connection to a vessel or fleet of vessels must be “temporally, more than fleeting, and, substantively, more than incidental[, ]” because the fundamental purpose of the substantial connection requirement is “to separate the sea-based ...

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