Ray v. Logistics

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
Docket NumberSECTION "L" (1),CIVIL ACTION NO. 10-1017
Decision Date02 December 2010

Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Jury Demand (Rec. Doc. No. 23). The Court has reviewed the submitted memoranda and applicable law and is ready to rule. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.


This case arises out of injuries sustained by Plaintiff Danny Raffray on April 14, 2009 while aboard the M/V MS Madison in the Gulf of Mexico. Plaintiff avers that Defendant Gulf Logistics Operating, Inc. ("Gulf Logistics") employed him as a member of the crew of the M/V MS MADISON, which was owned by Defendant 2M Ventures. Pl.'s Supp. & Am. Compl. para. 4. (Rec. Doc. No. 13). On that day, according to Plaintiff, the vessel was backed into a platform located in the Gulf of Mexico that was owned and/or operated by C&D Production Specialist Co., Inc ("C&D"). Id. Plaintiff alleges that while he was acting within the course of his employment on the vessel, a C&D crane operator attempted to shift a cargo basket on the deck of the M/V MS MADISON. Id. para. 6. In doing so, the operator swung the basket, hitting Plaintiff and knocking him into a stack of pallets on the vessel deck. Id. para. 8. Plaintiff avers that as a result, he sustained severe injuries, including to his legs and neck. Id. para. 6, 9, 10.

Plaintiff has filed suit in this Court against his employer Gulf Logistics, the vessel owner 2M Ventures, and the platform owner/operator C&D. In his Complaint, Plaintiff states that he is bringing suit under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, and under general maritime law, and he has designated his claims as such under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h). Pl.'s Supp. & Am. Compl. para. 2. In their answers, Defendants have denied liability and demanded a trial by jury. See Answer & Rule 12(b) Defenses to Compl. by C&D Prod. at 5-6 (Rec. Doc. No. 15); Answer on Behalf of Gulf Logistics Operating, Inc. & 2M Ventures, Inc. to First Supp. & Am. Compl. at 5 (Rec. Doc. No. 20).

On September 1, 2010, Plaintiff filed the present Motion to Strike Jury Demand (Rec. Doc. No. 23). Plaintiff argues that he has designated his claims under Rule 9(h) and thus invoked this Court's admiralty jurisdiction. Plaintiff asserts that as a consequence, there is no right to jury trial with respect to his claims. All three Defendants oppose the motion. Defendant C&D argues that properly understood, Plaintiff's claim against it arises under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. § 1331 et seq., and that it can therefore invoke the right to a trial by jury guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment. Meanwhile, Defendants Gulf Logistics and 2M Ventures argue that if Defendant C&D is entitled to a trial by jury, then Plaintiffs claims with respect to them should also be tried by a jury because there should be a common finder of fact for what is essentially one lawsuit.

1. Plaintiff's Claim Against C&D

The Seventh Amendment preserves the right to trial by jury "[i]n Suits at common law, where the value in controversy... exceed[s] twenty dollars." U.S. Const. amend. VII. As the Supreme Court stated long ago, "the phrase 'common law, ' found in this clause, is used in contradistinction to equity, and admiralty, and maritime jurisprudence." Parsons v. Bedford, Breedlove & Robeson, 28 U.S. (3 Pet.) 433, 446 (1830). The Seventh Amendment has thus been understood not to extend the right to a jury trial to cases in admiralty, which have historically been tried without juries. See Fitzgerald v. U.S. Lines Co., 374 U.S. 16, 20 (1963); Waring v. Clarke, 46 U.S. (5 How.) 441, 460 (1847); Rachal v. Ingram Corp., 795 F.2d 1210, 1216 (5th Cir. 1986) ("Of course, it is uncontested that admiralty jurisdiction gives no right to a jury trial").1

"The unification of the admiralty and civil rules in 1966 was intended to work no change" to this general rule. Romero v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 515 F.2d 1249, 1252 (5th Cir. 1975). The merger of the rules did bring to fore, however, the possibility that "pleadings [could] show... both admiralty and some other basis of federal jurisdiction," thereby making it unclear whether the unique procedural features of admiralty jurisdiction would apply in a given case. Id. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h) was thus adopted in order to "preserv[e] the present power of the pleader to determine whether the[ ] historically maritime procedures," such as the nonjury trial, would be "applicable to his claim or not." Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(h), Advisory Committee's Note, 39 F.R.D. 69, 75 (1966).

The result is that when a plaintiff properly designates his claim as one that is in admiralty and thereby invokes the court's admiralty jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 9(h), the court is to adjudicate the claim without a jury. E.g., Harrison v. Flota Mercante Grancolombiana, S.A., 577 F.2d 968, 986-87 (5th Cir. 1978). As the Fifth Circuit has explained, there is "no right to a jury trial when the complaint contains a statement identifying the claim as an admiralty or maritime claim, even though [another basis for] jurisdiction exists as well." T.N.T. Marine Serv., Inc. v. Weaver Shipyards & Dry Docks, Inc., 702 F.2d 585, 587 (5th Cir. 1983); accord Durden v. Exxon Corp., 803 F.2d 845, 849 n.10 (5th Cir. 1986); Rachal, 795 F.2d at 1216; Harrison, 577 F.2d at 986-87; Romero, 515 F.2d at 1252.

In this case, Plaintiff has designated his claim against C&D as one that is in admiralty, and he has invoked this Court's admiralty jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1). See Pl.'s Supp. & Am. Compl. para. 2. The question, then, is whether Plaintiff has properly done so. If he has, then the designation under 9(h) controls, and the Court, sitting in admiralty, must adjudicate his claim against C&D without a jury. See, e.g., Harrison, 577 F.2d at 986 (noting that "by electing to proceed under 9(h)..., the plaintiff may preclude the defendant from invoking the right to trial by jury which may otherwise exist"); see also Rachal, 795 F.2d at 1216 (noting that "once the plaintiff pleads his case in admiralty..., the federal court sits in admiralty and no party has the right to a jury trial"). If he has not, then the Court must discern the jurisdictional basis for his claim against C&D and ascertain whether a right to trial by jury exists.

To determine whether a tort claim is cognizable under admiralty jurisdiction, a court must apply the two-prong test laid out by the Supreme Court in Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527 (1995). In that case, the Court held that for admiralty jurisdiction to be invoked over a tort claim, it must "satisfy conditions both of location and of connection with maritime activity." Id. at 534. The location test requires the court to "determine whether the tort occurred on navigable water." Id. To do so, the court must focus on "where the alleged wrong took effect rather than the locus of the allegedly tortious conduct." Egorov, Puchinsky, Afanasiev & Juring v. Terriberry, Carroll & Yancey, 183 F.3d 453, 456 (5th Cir. 1999) (citing Wiedemann & Fransen APLC v. Hollywood Marine, Inc., 811 F.2d 864, 866 (5th Cir. 1987)); accord Parker v. Gulf City Fisheries, 803 F.2d 828, 829-30 (5th Cir. 1986) ("We have long held that 'so long as the place of the injury... occurs upon navigable waters, the fact that the negligent act may have occurred on shore is of no relevance.'"(quoting Sperry Rand Corp. v. Radio Corp. of Am., 618 F.2d 319, 321 (5th Cir. 1980))).

"The connection test," meanwhile, "raises two issues." Grubart, 513 U.S. at 534. First, a court "must 'assess the general features of the type of incident involved' to determine whether the incident has a 'potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce.'" Id. (quoting Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358, 363, 364 n.2 (1990)). This question must be answered by characterizing the incident "at an intermediate level of possible generality." Id. at 538.2 Second, a court "must determine whether 'the general character' of the 'activity giving rise to the incident' shows a 'substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.'" Id. at 534 (quoting Sisson, 497 U.S. at 365, 364 & n.2). In cases involving multiple alleged tortfeasors, the bar for this is relatively low: the test is met "as long as one of the putative tortfeasors was engaged in traditional maritime activity." Id. at 541 (citing Foremost Ins. Co. v. Richardson, 457 U.S. 668, 674 (1982)).

In this case, all of these conditions are satisfied. First, although the locus of the allegedly tortious conduct was the operation of the crane by C&D on the platform, that conduct caused injury onboard the M/V MS MADISON in the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, "the alleged wrong took effect"on navigable water. Egorov, 183 F.3d at 456. Second, the alleged incident, characterized at an intermediate level of generality, consists of the negligent operation of a crane on a platform that, in turn, injures a worker on a vessel. This is undoubtedly "of a sort with potential to disrupt maritime commerce." Scarborough v. Clemco Indus., 391 F.3d 660, 664 (5th Cir. 2004). Indeed, injuring a worker on a vessel "can have a disruptive impact on maritime commerce by stalling or delaying the primary activity of the vessel." Coats v. Penrod Drilling Corp., 61 F.3d 1113, 1119 (5th Cir. 1995) (en banc).

Finally, this is a case involving multiple alleged tortfeasors, and Plaintiff has asserted that the owner of the vessel on which he worked, 2M Ventures, and his employer, Gulf Logistics, failed to provide a seaworthy vessel and a safe place to work and that this contributed to the incident at issue. See Pl.'s Supp. & Am. Compl. para. 13. It is well settled that a claim alleging the failure to provide a seaworthy vessel or one on which it is safe to work relates to a traditional maritime activity. See,...

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