BUTTS v. ALN GROUP, LLC et al
ORDER denying 17 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge Rodolfo A. Ruiz, II on 1/8/2021. See attached document for full details. (as03)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
CASE NO. 20-CIV-61715-RAR
STEPHANIE MARIE BUTTS,
ALN GROUP, LLC, et al.,
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS
THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Defendants’ Joint Motion to Dismiss for Lack
of Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Failure to State a Claim [ECF No. 17] (“Motion”), filed on
October 30, 2020. Plaintiff filed a Response [ECF No. 31] on November 25, 2020 and Defendants
filed a Reply [ECF No. 37] on December 8, 2020. The Court held a hearing on the Motion on
January 7, 2021. See Paperless Minute Entry [ECF No. 43]. Having heard from the parties and
reviewed their written submissions, and being otherwise fully advised, it is hereby
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Motion is DENIED as set forth herein.
Faced with competing factual narratives from the parties, the Court begins by setting forth
the facts as alleged in Plaintiff’s Complaint. Plaintiff was hired by Defendants on May 1, 2019 to
serve as a full-time chef aboard Defendants’ yacht, M/Y Revive. See Compl. ¶ 16. Plaintiff
subsequently quit the job because Defendant David Allen, “who was regularly using illegal drugs
and drinking to excess, became verbally, physically and sexually abusive towards her.” Id. ¶ 18.
Several months later, Plaintiff agreed to return to work as a chef on the vessel after Allen promised
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to maintain a professional relationship with her. See id. ¶ 18. Defendants provided Plaintiff with
a one-way plane ticket to Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic, where she was to rejoin the vessel,
as well as a written letter identifying her as part of the crew for immigration purposes. See id. ¶
During the early morning hours of September 26, 2019, a day after Plaintiff rejoined the
vessel, Allen awakened several crew members to prepare the vessel’s tender and insisted that the
crewmembers, including Plaintiff, join him to fish for the day’s meal. See id. ¶ 24. During the
fishing trip, in an allegedly drug-induced state, Allen took control of the tender from the captain
and began recklessly operating it in an attempt to “swamp and sink” another vessel operated by
local fishermen, who Allen told Plaintiff were “pirates” who “needed to be killed.” Id. ¶¶ 25-29.
Allen ordered Plaintiff to get into the cabin, where she was “thrown violently about” due to Allen’s
reckless operation of the tender. Id. ¶ 30. As a result, Plaintiff suffered a disc herniation and nerve
root entrapment. Id. When the tender returned to Revive, Plaintiff asked to be taken ashore for
medical treatment, but Allen refused to let her leave the vessel, punched her multiple times, fired
her, and would not return her passport, which was held with the other crewmembers’ papers. See
id. ¶¶ 31-32.
Plaintiff brought this action alleging negligence under the Jones Act (Count I), failure to
pay maintenance and cure (Count II), unseaworthiness (Count III), and false imprisonment (Count
IV). See generally Compl. In the Motion, Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff’s Complaint
under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). See Mot. at 1. Defendants contend
that Plaintiff’s factual allegations are false. See id. ¶¶ 4-5. They assert that Plaintiff joined the
vessel in the Dominican Republic as Allen’s guest, not as a member of the crew, and that she was
Plaintiff alleges that this letter was lost when she fled from the vessel.
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having a romantic relationship with Allen. See id. Defendants thus maintain that Plaintiff was not
a “seaman” under the Jones Act and that the Court therefore lacks subject matter jurisdiction. See
id. ¶ 23. Defendants also argue that Plaintiff’s Complaint is a shotgun pleading, and that Plaintiff
has failed to state a claim for Jones Act Negligence, Maintenance and Cure, Unseaworthiness, and
False Imprisonment. See id. at 9-13.
a. Motion to Dismiss Under 12(b)(1) for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Attacks on subject matter jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) take one of two forms:
“facial” attacks and “factual” attacks. McElmurray v. Consol. Gov’t of Augusta-Richmond Cty.,
501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007). A facial attack requires the Court to merely look at the
complaint to see if the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis for subject matter jurisdiction, and
the allegations in the complaint are accepted as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. Id.
(quoting Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir.1990)). A factual attack, on the
other hand, challenges “the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the
pleadings, and matters outside the pleadings, such as testimony and affidavits are considered.” Id.
(quotation and citation omitted).
In a factual attack on subject matter jurisdiction that does not implicate the elements of the
underlying cause of action, “no presumptive truthfulness attaches to the plaintiff’s allegations, and
the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself
the merits of jurisdictional claims.” Id. (quotation omitted). “In the face of a factual challenge to
subject matter jurisdiction, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that jurisdiction exists” by a
preponderance of the evidence. See OSI, Inc. v. United States, 285 F.3d 947, 951 (11th Cir. 2002);
Eldridge v. Pet Supermarket Inc., 446 F. Supp. 3d 1063, 1067 (S.D. Fla. 2020).
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However, where a factual attack on jurisdiction also implicates an element of the cause of
action at issue,
the proper course of action for the district court is to find that
jurisdiction exists and deal with the objection as a direct attack on
the merits of the plaintiff’s case … [T]he Defendant is forced to
proceed under Rule 12(b)(6) … or Rule 56 … both of which place
greater restrictions on the district court’s discretion … [A]s a general
rule a claim cannot be dismissed for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction because of the absence of a federal cause of action. The
exceptions to this rule are narrowly drawn, and are intended to allow
jurisdictional dismissals only in those cases where the federal claim
is clearly immaterial or insubstantial.
Lawrence, 919 F.2d at 1529 (quoting Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 415-16 (5th Cir. 1981)).
b. Motion to Dismiss Under 12(b)(6) For Failure to State a Claim
To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
When reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept as true all
factual allegations contained in the complaint, and the plaintiff should receive the benefit of all
favorable inferences that can be drawn from the facts alleged. See Chaparro v. Carnival Corp.,
693 F.3d 1333, 1337 (11th Cir. 2012); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
A court considering a 12(b)(6) motion is generally limited to the facts contained in the
complaint and attached exhibits—but may also consider documents referred to in the complaint
that are central to the claim and whose authenticity is undisputed. See Wilchombe v. TeeVee Toons,
Inc., 555 F.3d 949, 959 (11th Cir. 2009). While the court is required to accept as true all allegations
contained in the complaint, courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as
a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Dismissal pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) is not appropriate unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set
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of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” Magluta v. Samples, 375 F.3d
1269, 1273 (11th Cir. 2004) (citation and quotation omitted).
a. Motion to Dismiss Under 12(b)(1) for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
“The Jones Act provides a cause of action in negligence for ‘any seaman’ injured ‘in the
course of his employment.’” Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 354 (1995) (quoting 46 U.S.C.
App. section 688(a)). “A Jones Act claim has four elements: (1) plaintiff is a seaman; (2) plaintiff
suffered an injury in the course of employment; (3) plaintiff’s employer was negligent; and (4)
employer’s negligence caused the employee’s injury, at least in part.” Jackson v. NCL Am., LLC,
No. 14-23460, 2016 WL 9488717, at *2–3 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 26, 2016); see also Bendlis v. NCL
(Bahamas), Ltd., No. 14-24731, 2015 WL 1124690, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 11, 2015). Here,
Defendants advance both facial and factual attacks to subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that
Plaintiff was not a “seaman” and has not adequately pleaded that she qualifies for that status. See
Mot. at 7.
In Chandris, the Supreme Court set forth a two-element test for seaman status. First, the
“employee’s duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its
mission.” 515 U.S. at 368. Second, “a seaman must have a connection to a vessel in navigation
… that is substantial both in terms of its duration and its nature.” Id. The “fundamental purpose”
of this second requirement is “to separate the sea-based maritime employees who are entitled to
Jones Act protection from those land-based workers who only have a transitory or sporadic
connection to a vessel in navigation, and therefore whose employment does not regularly expose
them to the perils of the sea.” Id. The question of who is a seaman is a mixed question of law and
fact. Id. at 369. Generally, a worker who spends less than 30% of his or her time in the service of
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a vessel in navigation should not qualify as a seaman, but this figure is merely a guideline and
departure from it “will certainly be justified in appropriate cases.” Id. at 371.
As discussed at the Hearing, determining whether Plaintiff was a seaman implicates both
the jurisdictional basis and a requisite element of Plaintiff’s claim. Therefore, the Court “cannot
consider [Defendants’ Motion] as a 12(b)(1) Motion, but must instead conclude that jurisdiction
exists and address [Defendants’] argument as a direct attack on the merits.” Waziry v. HR Club
Mgmt., LLC, No. 13-60333, 2013 WL 3834392, at *2 (S.D. Fla. July 24, 2013); see also Holloway
v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood, Inc., 669 F.3d 448, 453 (4th Cir. 2012) (reversing district court’s
dismissal of Jones Act claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and finding that disputes over
whether Plaintiff will be able to prove the elements of the cause of action—including seaman
status—must be resolved by a Rule 56 motion or by trial).
Consequently, the Court must consider Defendants’ challenge to Plaintiff’s seaman status
under a 12(b)(6) or Rule 56 standard—and may only consider materials outside the four corners
of the Complaint if it converts Defendants’ Motion to one for summary judgment. Id. at *2-3.
Considering the fact-intensive nature of the seaman inquiry, the clear benefit of further discovery
on this topic, and the parties’ February 23, 2021 discovery deadline, the Court declines to convert
Defendants’ Motion to one for summary judgment at this juncture. As explained at the Hearing,
Defendants are free to file a motion for summary judgment on this issue when the factual record
has been more fully developed. 2 The Court thus proceeds to address Defendants’ 12(b)(6) motion
See, e.g., Drakidis v. Mori, No. 11-60250-CIV, 2011 WL 13217136, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 16, 2011)
(finding that determination of seaman status is a “highly fact-intensive inquiry” that cannot be resolved on
a motion to dismiss).
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b. Motion to Dismiss Under 12(b)(6) For Failure to State a Claim
With respect to Defendants’ motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6), the Court finds that Plaintiff
has sufficiently pleaded her seaman status. Plaintiff alleges that she was hired as a full-time chef
on the M/Y Revive for a monthly salary of $10,500. See Compl. ¶¶ 16, 19. She indicates that
Defendants hired her with the assistance of the U.S. crew placing agency, Lacasse Maritime. See
id. ¶ 8. She alleges that her duties consisted of cooking for the vessel’s crew, id. ¶ 23, and that she
also assisted Allen “with provisioning the [Revive] and hiring additional crew for the anticipated
charter.” Id. ¶ 16. As stated at the Hearing, Plaintiff’s factual allegations are sufficient to establish
her status as a seaman at this stage in the litigation.
In addition to arguing that Plaintiff has insufficiently pleaded her seaman status,
Defendants make four other arguments in their motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6).
First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s Complaint is a shotgun pleading. For the reasons
stated on the record, the Court finds that this argument lacks merit.
Second, Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s Jones Act claim “improperly alleges … that both
Defendants were simultaneously her employer.” Mot. at 11. Defendants cite to the Supreme
Court’s decision in Cosmopolitan Shipping Co. v. McAllister, 337 U.S. 783, 791 (1949), where the
Court stated, “[w]e have no doubt that under the Jones Act only one person, firm, or corporation
can be sued as employer.” However, at the Hearing, Plaintiff clarified that she is suing Defendants
in the alternative for Jones Act Negligence, which is permissible at the pleading stage. See Grant
v. Int’l Cruise Shops, Ltd., No. 06-21402, 2007 WL 9702365, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Feb. 7, 2007).
Third, Defendants argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for maintenance and cure
because, in addition to insufficiently pleading her seaman status, Plaintiff does not provide “factual
support regarding her allegations that the Defendants act[ed] in a ‘willful, wanton, capricious and
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outrageous’ manner,” and fails to allege “whether she has reached maximum cure, and which
Defendant, if either, is actually responsible for paying maintenance and cure.” Mot. ¶ 33.
“Maintenance and cure” is a “legal duty that obligates a vessel owner to provide for a
seaman who becomes ill or injured in service of the ship.” Varela v. Dantor Cargo Shipping, Inc.,
No. 17-23127, 2017 WL 7184605, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 14, 2017). “Admiralty courts have been
liberal in interpreting this duty….” Id. (quoting Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 531-32
(1962)). “Maintenance” is a living allowance while “cure” is intended to cover medical expenses.
Baucom v. Sisco Stevedoring, LLC, 506 F. Supp. 2d 1064, 1072 (S.D. Ala. 2007). “All a seaman
must prove in order to establish a right to maintenance and cure is that the injury or illness arose
during his employment; no causal connection to his duties need be shown.” Id. at 1072–73.
Furthermore, maintenance and cure are due regardless of the fault of the employer or
unseaworthiness of the ship. Id. at 1072. Given this “light burden,” the Court finds that Plaintiff’s
allegations that she was seaman; that she suffered injuries during her employment on the Revive;
that Defendants have refused to pay her maintenance and cure; and that Plaintiff is experiencing
continuing losses from her injury are sufficient to state a claim for Maintenance and Cure. 3
Fourth, Defendants contend that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for false imprisonment.
Defendants argue that false imprisonment “is not a claim recognized under the Jones Act” and “is
not the type of traditional maritime tort which general admiralty law embraces.” See Mot. at 13.
The Court disagrees that the tort of false imprisonment is not available under general admiralty
law. See Castillo v. Argonaut Trading Agency, Inc., 156 F. Supp. 398, 400 (S.D.N.Y. 1957); see
also Forgione v. United States, 202 F. 2d 249, 252 (3d Cir. 1953) (holding that plaintiffs could not
Defendants also assert that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for unseaworthiness. See Mot. at 10.
Defendants’ challenge to Plaintiff’s unseaworthiness claim appears to be based solely on their position that
Plaintiff is not a seaman. Because Plaintiff has adequately pleaded her seaman status, the Court finds that
dismissal of Plaintiff’s unseaworthiness claim is not warranted.
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proceed on a claim of false imprisonment under the Jones Act, but suggesting that had defendant’s
actions taken place on navigable waters rather than on shore, plaintiffs could have brought the
claim as a maritime tort). Defendants’ argument that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for false
imprisonment because she “voluntarily” went down into the cabin of the tender is also without
merit. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant confined her to the cabin of the tender, and that he also
unlawfully detained her on the Revive vessel by withholding her passport and refusing to take her
ashore despite her pleas. See Compl. at 12-13. She alleges that when begged for her passport to
leave the vessel, Allen physically tackled her and punched her several times. See id. The Court
therefore finds that Plaintiff has sufficiently stated a claim for false imprisonment.
For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that Defendants’ Motion
to Dismiss [ECF No. 17] is DENIED.
DONE AND ORDERED in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, this 8th day of January, 2021.
RODOLFO A. RUIZ II
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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