Jolly v. Hoegh Autoliners Shipping AS

Decision Date28 June 2021
Docket NumberCase No. 3:20-cv-1150-MMH-MCR
Citation546 F.Supp.3d 1105
Parties Kristopher JOLLY, Cheryl Jolly, Jeremy Lee, Amy Lee, Matthew Cipriani, Shawn O'Shell, Malissa O'Shell, Paul Masci, Angela Masci, Nicholas Gettler, Charles Drysdale, Landon Simmons, Sarah Simmons, Samuel L. Banks, Amanda Banks, William Reed, Holly Reed, Wesley Miller, and Shannon Miller, Plaintiffs, v. HOEGH AUTOLINERS SHIPPING AS, Hoegh Autoliners Management AS, Horizon Terminal Services, LLC., Grimaldi Deep Sea S.P.A., and SSA Atlantic, LLC, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida

Benjamin Edward Richard, Curry Gary Pajcic, Thomas Fitzpatrick Slater, Pajcic & Pajcic, PA, Jacksonville, FL, for Plaintiffs Kristopher Jolly, Jeremy Lee, Matthew Cipriani, Shawn O'Shell, Paul Masci, Nicholas Gettler, Charles Drysdale, Landon Simmons, Samuel L. Banks, William Reed, Wesley MIller.

Shea Michael Moser, Jr., James Francis Moseley, Jr., Moseley, Prichard, Parrish, Knight & Jones, Jacksonville, FL, for Defendants Hoegh Autoliners Shipping AS, Hoegh Autoliners Management AS.

Jules Victor Massee, Brandon Pavel Volk, Hamilton Miller & Birthisel, LLP, Tampa, FL, James Francis Moseley, Jr., Moseley, Prichard, Parrish, Knight & Jones, Jacksonville, FL, for Defendant Horizon Terminal Services, LLC.

David F. Pope, Eric C. Thiel, Banker Lopez Gassler, Tampa, FL, James Francis Moseley, Jr., Moseley, Prichard, Parrish, Knight & Jones, Jacksonville, FL, for Defendant Grimaldi Deep Sea S.P.A.

Dennis B. Keene, Todd M. Baiad, Pro Hac Vice, Bouhan Falligant LLP, Savannah, GA, James Francis Moseley, Jr., Moseley, Prichard, Parrish, Knight & Jones, Jacksonville, FL, for Defendant SSA Atlantic, LLC.


MARCIA MORALES HOWARD, United States District Judge

THIS CAUSE is before the Court on four motions under Rule 12, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule(s)), filed by Defendants in this case. See Grimaldi Deep Sea S.P.A.’s Motion to Dismiss and/or For a More Definite Statement and/or to Strike (Doc. 15; Grimalidi's Motion); SSA Atlantic, LLC's Dispositive Motion to Dismiss and Brief in Support (Doc. 17; SSA's Motion); Hoegh Autoliners Shipping AS and Hoegh Autoliners Management AS's Amended Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint or in the Alternative Motion to Strike or For More Definite Statement (Doc. 36; Hoegh's Motion); and Horizon Terminal Services, LLC's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint (Doc. 40; Horizon's Motion) (collectively, the Motions). Plaintiffs have responded to the Motions. (Docs. 23, 25, 46, 48). The issues raised in the Motions are ripe for review.

I. Background

Plaintiffs are firefighters and first responders with Jacksonville Fire & Rescue (JFRD)1 as well as several of their spouses.2 (Doc. 5; Amended Complaint). On June 4, 2020, the M/V Hoegh Xiamen (the Vessel), a cargo ship, was berthed at the Blount Island Marine Terminal in Jacksonville, Florida. Id. ¶ 17. Defendant SSA Atlantic, LLC (SSA) was the stevedore responsible for loading approximately 1,500 "used/junked/wrecked vehicles" onto the Vessel for international transport. Id. The Vessel was owned by a nonparty but was bareboat chartered3 to Defendants Hoegh Autoliners Shipping AS (Hoegh Shipping) and Hoegh Autoliners Management AS (Hoegh Management), who time chartered4 the Vessel to Defendant Grimaldi Deep Sea S.P.A. (Grimaldi). Id. ¶¶ 19-20.

The Vessel caught fire shortly after the loading operations were completed. Id. ¶ 25. The Firemen were among approximately 120 JFRD personnel who responded to the scene, where they attempted to extinguish the fire and ensure the safety of the Vessel and its crew. Id. ¶ 27. When they arrived, JFRD personnel sought out the Vessel's crew to obtain information about the 15-floor Vessel and identify the location of the fire. Id. ¶¶ 29-30. However, the Vessel's crew spoke little English and could not communicate any meaningful information to JFRD, such as where the fire was located or any potentially hazardous conditions that would make fighting the fire more difficult. Id. ¶¶ 31-32. This delayed JFRD's response and allowed the fire to grow unabated for one hour and forty minutes. Id. ¶ 36.

After JFRD reconnaissance crews located the source of the fire, firefighter crews were sent in and periodically alternated in order to combat the blaze. Id. ¶¶ 33, 37, 40-41. The Firemen were part of the JFRD crew on board the Vessel when an explosion occurred. Id. ¶ 42. Trapped in a stairwell, the Firemen were exposed to extreme temperatures and hit with the power of the blast. Id. ¶ 43. The Firemen suffered injuries that included severe burns, broken bones, lacerations, and emotional trauma. Id. The Spouses were deprived of the care, comfort, consortium, and services of their husbands because of the incident as well. Id. ¶ 46.

Plaintiffs filed suit in the Circuit Court for the Fourth Judicial Circuit, in and for Duval County, Florida, alleging four negligence claims against Defendants. (Doc. 1-3; Initial Complaint). Defendants removed the case based on this Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Doc. 1; Notice of Removal). After substantial briefing on the issue, the Court determined it had subject matter jurisdiction over this case and dismissed a fraudulently joined Defendant. (Doc. 62).

II. Legal Standard

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ; Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002) ; see also Lotierzo v. Woman's World Med. Ctr., Inc., 278 F.3d 1180, 1182 (11th Cir. 2002). In addition, all reasonable inferences should be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 705 (11th Cir. 2010). Nonetheless, the plaintiff must still meet some minimal pleading requirements. Jackson v. BellSouth Telecomm., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262-63 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Indeed, while "[s]pecific facts are not necessary[,]" the complaint should " ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’ " Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ).

Further, the plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955. "A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). A "plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[.]" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (internal quotations omitted); see also Jackson, 372 F.3d at 1262 (explaining that "conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal") (internal citation and quotations omitted). Indeed, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions[,]" which simply "are not entitled to [an] assumption of truth." See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 680, 129 S.Ct. 1937. Thus, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must determine whether the complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[.] " Id. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

III. Discussion

The Court begins by noting the parties’ apparent agreement that general maritime law applies in this case. See Amended Complaint ¶ 3; SSA's Motion at 3 (acknowledging "all parties agree [general maritime law] governs here."). Indeed, general maritime law—as opposed to state law—provides the remedy for a nonseafarer's injuries sustained while on a vessel in a state's navigable waters.5 Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 358 U.S. 625, 628, 79 S.Ct. 406, 3 L.Ed.2d 550 (1959). Since Plaintiffs’ injuries were sustained on the Vessel while it was berthed in Florida's navigable waters, the Court agrees with the parties that general maritime law applies to Plaintiffs’ claims.

The Supreme Court has described a federal district court's role when sitting in admiralty as akin to "a common law court, subject to the authority of Congress to legislate otherwise ...." Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 489-90, 128 S.Ct. 2605, 171 L.Ed.2d 570 (2008). That said, maritime law is not "solely the province of the Federal Judiciary," as Congress and state legislatures6 have enacted laws that provide certain metes and bounds for the courts. Dutra Grp. v. Batterton, ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S. Ct. 2275, 2278, 204 L.Ed.2d 692 (2019). Courts are to look primarily to these enactments for policy guidance, but can depart from them "in discrete instances based on long-established history ...." Id. (citations omitted). However, courts are to exercise caution in departing from legislative policies "in light of Congress's persistent pursuit of ‘uniformity in the exercise of admiralty jurisdiction.’ " Id. (citing Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19, 27, 111 S.Ct. 317, 112 L.Ed.2d 275 (1990) ).

With that in mind, the Motions before the Court present several issues for the Court's determination. Most Defendants argue the Firemen's negligence claim fails to state a cause of action as a matter of law.7 Defendants contend the Spouses are precluded from recovering for loss of consortium under general maritime law. Grimaldi, Hoegh Shipping, and Hoegh Management argue the Amended Complaint is not sufficiently clear and Plaintiffs should be...

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