490 F.3d 351 (5th Cir. 2007), 05-30878, In re American River Transp. Co.

Docket Nº:05-30878.
Citation:490 F.3d 351
Party Name:In Re: In the Matter of: AMERICAN RIVER TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, as owner/operator of the Barge ART 529, seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability. American River Transportation Company, as owner/operator of the Barge ART 529, Petitioner-Appellee, v. U.S. Maritime Services, Inc.; et al., Defendants, Lester Anthony Allemand, individually an
Case Date:June 19, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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490 F.3d 351 (5th Cir. 2007)

In Re: In the Matter of: AMERICAN RIVER TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, as owner/operator of the Barge ART 529, seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability.

American River Transportation Company, as owner/operator of the Barge ART 529, Petitioner-Appellee,

v.

U.S. Maritime Services, Inc.; et al., Defendants,

Lester Anthony Allemand, individually and on behalf of his deceased son, Jacques Allemand; Edna H. Allemand, individually and on behalf of her deceased son, Jacques Allemand, Claimants-Appellants.

In Re: In the Matter of the Complaint of: American River Transport Company, as owner/operator of the Barge CONDO 2, seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability.

American River Transport Company, as owner/operator of the Barge CONDO2, Petitioner-Appellee,

v.

U.S. Maritime Services, Inc.; et al., Defendants,

Lester Anthony Allemand, individually and on behalf of his deceased son, Jacques Allemand; Edna H. Allemand, individually and on behalf of her deceased son, Jacques Allemand, Claimants-Appellants.

No. 05-30878.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

June 19, 2007

Page 352

David Michael Flotte, Joseph Edward Lee, III (argued), Preis & Roy, New Orleans, LA, for Petitioner-Appellee.

Michael Charles Ginart, Jr. (argued), Tonry & Ginart, Chalmette, LA, for Claimants-Appellants.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Before HIGGINBOTHAM, WIENER, and PRADO, Circuit Judges.

WIENER, Circuit Judge:

In February 2003, Jacques Allemand ("Jacques"), a longshoreman employed by Petitioner-Appellee American River Transportation Co. ("ARTCO"), died when he jumped from the barge on which he was employed into territorial waters in an attempt to save a co-worker who had fallen from the barge. Following the deaths of Jacques and his co-worker, ARTCO commenced Limitation of Liability Proceedings. Claimants-Appellants Lester Anthony Allemand and Edna Allemand ("the Allemands"), the divorced parents of Jacques, filed a claim in the proceedings. The district court granted summary judgment for ARTCO, dismissing the Allemands' wrongful death action seeking damages for loss of society. The court held that the Allemands could not recover for loss of society, because they had not been financially dependent on their son. As we agree with the district court that non-dependent parents may not recover for loss of society in maritime wrongful death actions, we affirm.

I. FACTS & PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

For purposes of this appeal, the material facts are uncontested. Jacques, the 24-year-old son of the Allemands, was a work-release inmate performing barge-cleaner services on ARTCO's Barge ART 529 on the Mississippi River. Jacques had been incarcerated for the five years immediately preceding his death. He had not provided any financial support to his parents, either before or after his incarceration.

Darnell Lane was also a work-release inmate performing barge-cleaner services on Barge ART 529. On the day in question, Lane was struck by water from a high-pressure hose on the barge, causing him to hit his head (which rendered him unconscious) and fall into the Mississippi River. Jacques jumped into the river in an attempt to rescue Lane. Jacques struggled to keep his head above water, but died when two moored ARTCO barges crashed into one another.

B. Prior Proceedings

In June 2003, ARTCO commenced two Limitation of Liability Proceedings, later consolidated, in the Eastern District of Louisiana, pursuant to 46 App. U.S.C. § 181 et seq. In September 2003, the Allemands answered the complaint and made a claim for damages against ARTCO, both as Jacques's survivors and for their own loss of society caused by the wrongful death of their son. In May 2005, ARTCO filed a motion for summary judgment against the Allemands, contending that, as non-dependent parents of the decedent, they could not recover damages for loss of society in a maritime wrongful death action. In June 2005, the district court orally granted ARCTCO's motion. The district court explained its reasoning:

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Looking at the trends in the Fifth Circuit and based on what I think the state of the law is now--which definitely should be appealed because it's not clear--is that I can't see the difference why a longshoreman's parents, as an example, don't have to be dependent, but everyone else who loses someone in state waters to an accident has to be dependent to recover.

It's clear that the law is that all nonlongshoremen who are killed in state waters, in order for their survivors to recover loss of society, they must be dependent survivors. That's a clear statement of the law. The mental gymnastics I'm having trouble with is making the leap as to why a longshoreman would be different. 1

The district court indicated that an immediate appeal was appropriate, closing the case for statistical purposes at that time. The Allemands timely filed notices of appeal.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

We have jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(3). 2 We review a district court's grant of summary judgment in an admiralty or maritime action de novo. 3 Whether non-pecuniary damages are recoverable is a legal question subject to de novo review. 4

B. Evolution of the Maritime Wrongful Death Cause of Action

In 1886, the Supreme Court held in The Harrisburg that there was no cause of action for wrongful death in maritime law. 5 The harshness of this holding was softened by the Supreme Court's later ruling in The Hamilton, in which the Court held that suits grounded in state wrongful death causes of action could be brought in the federal courts when the death occurred in a state's territorial waters. 6 Although federal courts began "uniformly appl[ying] state wrongful death statutes for deaths occurring in state territorial waters," 7 The Harrisburg's proscription against maritime wrongful death actions survived.

In 1920, however, Congress "rejected wholesale the rule against wrongful death" 8 when it enacted the Jones Act and the Death on the High Seas Act ("DOHSA"). The Jones Act created a wrongful death cause of action, sounding in negligence, when a seaman is killed during the course of his employment 9; DOHSA created a similar cause of action, sounding in either negligence or unseaworthiness,

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when anyone is killed on the high seas (i.e., outside territorial waters), whether or not death occurs during the course of employment. 10 Both of these statutes limit recovery for wrongful death to pecuniary damages. 11

This series of events produced three anomalies: (1) "[I]n territorial waters, general maritime law allowed a remedy for unseaworthiness resulting in injury, but not for death"; (2) "DOHSA allowed a remedy for death resulting from unseaworthiness on the high seas, but general maritime law did not allow such recovery for a similar death in territorial waters"; and (3) "in those States whose statutes allowed a claim for wrongful death resulting from unseaworthiness, recovery was available for the death of a longshoreman due to unseaworthiness, but not for the death of a Jones Act seaman." 12 In Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc., the Supreme Court remedied these anomalies by overruling The Harrisburg and recognizing the existence of a general maritime wrongful death action. 13 The Court reasoned that "[w]here death is caused by the breach of a duty imposed by federal maritime law, Congress has established [through the passage of the Jones Act and DOHSA] a policy favoring recovery in the absence of a legislative direction to except a particular class of cases." 14

Although Moragne recognized a general maritime wrongful death cause of action, it did not define the contours of such a claim. Then, in Sea-Land Services Inc. v. Gaudet, 15 the Court addressed a claim that had been asserted by the widow of a longshoreman who died as a result of injuries sustained in territorial waters. The Supreme Court held that the maritime wrongful death cause of action allowed "the decedent's dependents [to] recover damages for their loss of support, services, and society, as well as funeral expenses." 16 In so holding, the Court recognized that allowing a claim for loss of society damages deviated from DOHSA's limitation of recovery to pecuniary damages, but it nevertheless determined that such a result was "compelled if [the Court was] to shape the remedy to comport with the humanitarian policy of the maritime law to show 'special solicitude' for those who are injured within its jurisdiction." 17 Thus, the Gaudet Court recognized that "effectuating longstanding maritime policies trumped uniformity with DOHSA." 18

Four years after it decided Gaudet, the Court began to reverse course when it decided Mobil Oil Corp. v. Higginbotham, 19 another case addressing the limits of the Moragne wrongful death cause of action. In Higginbotham, the Court gave priority to the goal of achieving

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uniformity between general maritime law and the Jones Act and DOHSA over the humanitarian goal of maritime law. Acknowledging that Gaudet had been broadly written without express reliance on the fact that the death occurred in territorial waters, the Court nevertheless concluded that Gaudet applied only to deaths that occurred on territorial waters. 20 Thus, as Higginbotham involved a death that occurred on the high seas, DOHSA and its express limitation on damages, rather than Gaudet, determined the damages available in the Moragne action. Accordingly, the Court held that the decedent's survivor could not recover damages for loss of society. 21

The Court was again called on to...

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