United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
ZAINEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
following motions are before the Court: Motion for Summary
Judgment (Rec. Doc. 35) filed by Associated Terminals, LLC;
Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 41) filed by J. Aron
& Co., LLC; Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 39)
filed by American Commercial Barge Line, LLC. Plaintiff,
Alikea Johnson, has responded to all of the motions. The
motions, submitted for consideration on October 2, 2019, are
before the Court on the briefs without oral
times pertinent, plaintiff Alikea Johnson was employed by
defendant Associated Terminals, LLC as a forklift operator.
Associated is a stevedoring company with multiple facilities
along the Lower Mississippi River.
litigation derives from a work-related incident that occurred
on April 30, 2018. On that day Johnson was operating a
forklift inside the hold of a hopper barge, Barge MGT-0006
(at times referred to simply as “the Barge”),
which was moored to an ocean-going bulk carrier, the M/V
LIBERTY, midstream on the Mississippi River at
Associated's Chalmette buoy. The LIBERTY contained a
cargo of aluminum ingots. Johnson used his forklift to lift a
load of the ingots and then attempted to place that load in a
designated location inside the Barge. When doing so, the
forklift fell over onto its left side which caused
Johnson's lower right leg to become trapped under the
front left vertical bar of the forklift's cage. Johnson
contends that it was a dent/indentation/dip/hole in the
surface on the Barge's floor that caused the forklift to
Barge MGT-0006 was owned by American Commercial Barge Line,
LLC (“ACBL”). ACBL's business is to move its
customers' freight from origin to destination. ACBL does
not load or unload barges; its barges are all unmanned.
business transaction underlying this litigation was as
follows: J. Aron & Co., LLC purchased a quantity of
aluminum ingots from Traxys North America, LLC. The ingots
were transported to Chalmette, Louisiana on the LIBERTY. In
the spring of 2018, Traxys retained Associated to offload for
transportation the ingots that J. Aron had purchased.
Multiple barges were needed to perform the offloading
operation. J. Aron retained ACBL (pursuant to a pre-existing
Contract of Affreightment between those parties) to provide
cargo barges and to pilot them to their ultimate destination
once loaded. The ultimate destination was in Little Rock,
Arkansas to a customer to which J. Aron had resold (or would
resell) the aluminum ingots.
litigation began when Johnson filed suit against ACBL in
state court. ACBL removed the case and Johnson later brought
J. Aron and Associated in as additional defendants.
Associated, who was Johnson's employer, Johnson alleges
that he is a Jones Act seaman, and alternatively that
Associated is liable for vessel negligence under §
905(b) of the LHWCA.
J. Aron, the shipper, Johnson contends that it exercised
sufficient dominion and control over the Barge MGT-0006 to be
deemed its owner pro hac vice and therefore subject to
liability for vessel negligence. Should the Court determine
that J. Aron was not an owner pro hac vice of the Barge
MGT-0006 (and therefore not subject to a claim for vessel
negligence), Johnson contends that J. Aron is liable under
general maritime law for its own negligence.
ACBL, the vessel owner, Johnson contends that as owner of the
defective barge, ACBL is liable for vessel negligence for
violating the turnover duty and the duty to
a nonjury case. At this time the case is not scheduled for
defendants now move for summary judgment. The Court addresses
each of their motions in turn.
judgment is appropriate only if “the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any, ” when
viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant,
“show that there is no genuine issue as to any material
fact.” TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James, 276
F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir.2002) (citing Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91
L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). A dispute about a material fact is
“genuine” if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving
party. Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106
S.Ct. 2505.). The court must draw all justifiable inferences
in favor of the non-moving party. Id. (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505). Once the moving
party has initially shown “that there is an absence of
evidence to support the non-moving party's case, ”
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325106 S.Ct.
2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986), the non-movant must come forward
with “specific facts” showing a genuine factual
issue for trial. Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e);
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475
U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986)).
Conclusory allegations and denials, speculation, improbable
inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic
argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts
showing a genuine issue for trial. Id. (citing
SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir.1993)).
bench trial cases the district judge has greater discretion
to grant summary judgment. Jones v. United States,
936 F.3d 318, 323 (5th Cir. 2019). The district
judge may “decide that the same evidence, presented to
him or her as a trier of fact in a plenary trial, could not
possibly lead to a different result.” Id.
(quoting Johnson v. Diversicare Afton Oaks, LLC, 597
F.3d 673, 676 (5th Cir. 2010)).
Associated Terminals, LLC
moves for summary judgment arguing that Johnson is not a
Jones Act seaman and that Associated cannot be held liable on
Johnson's alternative claim for vessel negligence because
it was not the owner pro hac vice of the Barge
the Jones Act claim, Associated argues that Johnson cannot
establish seaman status because he lacks the requisite
connection to a vessel in navigation. See Chandris, Inc.
v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347 (1995) (clarifying the
requirements for seaman status). In response to this aspect
of Associated's motion, Johnson acknowledges that at this
time (all discovery is complete) he lacks the evidence
necessary to prevail on seaman status. Although he does not
voluntarily concede that he was not a seaman, he advises that
he will not offer any opposition to Associated's motion
insofar as it challenges seaman status. (Rec. Doc. 49,
Opposition at 2, 11-12).
motion for summary judgment will be granted as to the Jones
Act claim and as to any claims asserted against Associated
under general maritime law that are premised on seaman
status. As to all defendants, ...