Goode v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc.
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 58 Plaintiff's Motion to Compel; denying as moot 59 Plaintiff's Motion for Hearing. Signed by Magistrate Judge Edwin G. Torres on 8/9/2017. (js02)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
Case No. 16-24131-Civ-COOKE/TORRES
CELEBRITY CRUISES, INC. et al,
AKIRA ENTERTAINMENT, INC.,
a foreign corporation,
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO COMPEL
This matter is before the Court on Kenneth Goode’s (“Plaintiff”) Motion to
Compel (“Motion”) [D.E. 58] against Poet Holdings, Inc. and/or Poet Technical
Services, LLC, a foreign corporation (collectively, “Poet”), a group of related
companies involved in the production of live entertainment.
Poet responded to
Plaintiff’s Motion on July 31, 2017 [D.E. 62] to which Plaintiff replied on August 7,
2017. [D.E. 68]. Therefore, Plaintiff’s Motion is now ripe for disposition. After
careful consideration of the Motion, response, reply, relevant authority, and for the
reasons discussed below, Plaintiff’s Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in
Plaintiff, a Canadian citizen, filed this action on September 27, 2016.
Plaintiff worked as a carpenter onboard a ship owned and operated by Celebrity
Cruises, Inc. (“Celebrity”) and claims that he was directly paid by Akira
Entertainment, Inc. (“Akira”) in connection with the removal of theater and lighting
equipment from the M/S Equinox.1 The removal of the equipment was supposedly
necessitated by the conclusion of a contractual relationship between Poet and
Celebrity, whereby Poet produced various entertainment shows on five separate
Celebrity-owned vessels, including the M/S Equinox.
Following the conclusion of the business relationship between Poet and
Celebrity, Celebrity was contractually obligated to return all equipment, including
set pieces, costumes, props, and flying motors to Poet. In order to return Poet’s
equipment and allow for the installation of new equipment, Celebrity contracted
directly with Akira to provide the necessary labor for removal and/or installation of
the equipment. Celebrity allegedly contracted with Akira for two separate reasons:
(1) Celebrity lacked sufficient personnel with the requisite knowledge and
experience to remove and/or install the equipment, and (2) Celebrity was unwilling
to hire Poet to remove Poet’s own equipment because Poet’s rates were too
Thereafter, Akira hired Plaintiff, in addition to other individuals, as a
carpenter and to serve as a member of its workforce upon the M/S Equinox.
Plaintiff alleges that Akira functioned merely as a pay-roll employer and that
Celebrity and/or Poet were his actual and/or borrowed employer(s).
Plaintiff had previously and continuously worked for several weeks removing
equipment onboard two of Celebrity’s other ships, the M/S Solstice and the M/S
Eclipse. Plaintiff was also scheduled to work on two additional Celebrity ships, the
M/S Silhouette and the M/S Reflection. In other words, Plaintiff’s initial contract
was to work on five vessels in Celebrity’s fleet.
On November 10, 2015, Plaintiff was working on the tension grid located in
the theater of the M/S Equinox.2 While performing the required work, Plaintiff fell
through an opening in the tension grid when another Akira employee removed one
of the grid posts. Plaintiff purportedly suffered serious physical injuries as a result
of the fall. Plaintiff fell approximately 25 to 30 feet to the theatre floor sustaining
broken wrists, broken ankles, multiple fractures in his back and neck vertebrae,
and other significant trauma. Following the incident and the transport of Plaintiff
off the M/S Equinox, Plaintiff performed no further work for Akira in connection
with the removal and/or installation of equipment on Celebrity owned vessels.
On May 5, 2017, Plaintiff served Poet his interrogatories and requests for
production of documents.
On June 16, 2017, Poet served responses and raised
thirteen general objections with respect to each interrogatory and request for
production. Following service of Poet’s responses, Plaintiff’s counsel requested a
meet and confer that was held by telephone between the two parties. Because the
parties reached an impasse on the proper scope of discovery, Plaintiff filed his
Motion on July 17, 2017.
Plaintiff alleges that Celebrity and/or Poet employed Plaintiff to serve as a
Jones Act Seaman or a seaman under General Maritime Law.
APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES AND LAW
Under the Federal Rules, a party may pose interrogatories related to any
matter into which Rule 26(b) allows inquiry, FED. R. CIV. P. 33(a)(2), request the
production of any documents that fall within the scope of Rule 26(b), FED. R. CIV. P.
34(a), and serve requests to admit certain matters within the scope of Rule 26(b)(1),
FED. R. CIV. P. 36(a)(1). Rule 26(b) also allows discovery “through increased reliance
on the commonsense concept of proportionality.” In re: Takata Airbag Prod. Liab.
Litig., 2016 WL 1460143, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 1, 2016) (quoting Chief Justice John
Roberts, 2015 Year–End Report on the Federal Judiciary 6 (2015)). “Proportionality
requires counsel and the court to consider whether relevant information is
discoverable in view of the needs of the case.” Tiger v. Dynamic Sports Nutrition,
LLC, 2016 WL 1408098, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 11, 2016). If the opposing party
objects to interrogatories or requests, the requesting party may then file a motion to
compel production pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 37, but only after its counsel, in good
faith, confers with opposing counsel to resolve discovery disputes without court
intervention. See FED. R. CIV. P. 37(a)(1).
The Federal Rules afford the Court broad authority to control the scope of
discovery, Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1307
(11th Cir. 2011), but Astrongly favor full discovery whenever possible.
Farnsworth v. Procter & Gamble Co., 758 F.3d 1545, 1547 (11th Cir. 1985). Courts
must consequently employ a liberal and broad scope of discovery in keeping with
the spirit and purpose of these rules. See Rosenbaum v. Becker & Poliakoff, P.A.,
708 F. Supp. 2d 1304, 1306 (S.D. Fla. 2010) (collecting cases). The “overall purpose
of discovery under the Federal Rules is to require the disclosure of all relevant
information, so that the ultimate resolution of disputed issues in any civil action
may be based on a full and accurate understanding of the true facts, and therefore
embody a fair and just result.” State Nat’l Ins. Co. v. City of Destin, 2015 WL
11109379, at *1 (N.D. Fla. Sept. 1, 2015).
However, while the scope of discovery is broad, it is not without limits. See
Washington v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco, 959 F. 2d 1566, 1570 (11th Cir. 1992);
Rossbach v. Rundle, 128 F. Supp. 2d 1348 (S.D. Fla. 2000) (citing Oppenheimer
Fund v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340 (1978)). To show that the requested discovery is
otherwise objectionable, the onus is on the objecting party to demonstrate with
specificity how the objected-to request is unreasonable or otherwise unduly
burdensome. See Rossbach, 128 F. Supp. 3d at 1354 (citing in part Panola Land
Buyers Ass’n v. Shuman, 762 F.2d 1550, 1559 (11th Cir. 1985)).
Boilerplate objections and generalized responses are improper. See Alhassid
v. Bank of America, 2015 WL 1120273, at *2 (S.D. Fla. March 12, 2015). This
District has frequently held that objections which fail to sufficiently specify the
grounds on which they are based are improper and without merit. See, e.g., Taylor
v. Bradshaw, 2014 WL 6459978 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 14, 2014); Abdin v. Am. Sec. Ins.
Co., 2010 WL 1257702 (S.D. Fla. March 29, 2010). More specifically, objections
simply stating that a request is Aoverly broad, or unduly burdensome@ are
meaningless and without merit. Abdin, 2010 WL 1257702 at *1 (quoting Guzman v.
Irmadan, Inc., 249 F.R.D. 399, 400 (S.D. Fla. 2008)).
In addition to the Federal Rules, Southern District Local Rule 26.1 controls
the necessary procedure a party must follow when objecting to a request for
production or asserting a claim of privilege. It requires that:
All disputes related to discovery shall be presented to the Court by
motion (or, if the Court has established a different practice for
presenting discovery disputes, by other Court-approved method) within
(30) days from the: (a) original due date (or later date if extended by
the Court or the parties) of the response or objection to the discovery
request that is the subject of the dispute; (b) date of the deposition in
which the dispute arose; or (c) date on which a party first learned of or
should have learned of a purported deficiency concerning the
production of discovery materials. Failure to present the dispute to the
Court within that timeframe, absent a showing of good cause for the
delay, may constitute a waiver of the relief sought at the Court’s
discretion. The thirty (30) day period set forth in this rule may be
extended once for up to seven (7) additional days by an unfiled, written
stipulation between the parties, provided that the stipulation does not
conflict with a Court order.
S.D. Fla. L.R. 26.1(g) (emphasis added). On its face, Rule 26.1(i) is therefore plainly
discretionary. While the grounds for a motion tends to be the moment at which
responses are filed, this is not always necessarily the case.
See, e.g., Socas v.
Northwestern Mut. Life Ins., 2008 WL 619322 (S.D. Fla. March 4, 2008) (finding
that the occurrence triggering the motion to compel was when the requesting party
examined certain documents months after their initial requests had been
answered); United States v. Polo Pointe Way, Delray Beach, Fl., 444 F. Supp. 2d
1258, 1261 (S.D. Fla. 2006) (finding that the “occurrence” at issue was a deposition
that took place after responses were filed).
In pertinent part, the Local Rules also provide that where a claim of privilege
is asserted, the objecting party must prepare “a privilege log with respect to all
documents, electronically stored information, things and oral communications
withheld on the basis of a claim of privilege or work product protection” except for
“written and oral communications between a party and its counsel after
commencement of the action and work product material created after commencement
of the action.” S.D. Fla. L.R. 26.1(e)(B)(i) (emphasis added). Furthermore, “[w]here
a claim of privilege is asserted in objecting to any . . . production demand . . . and an
answer is not provided on the basis of such assertion . . . [t]he attorney asserting the
privilege shall . . . identify the nature of the privilege . . . being claimed.” S.D. Fla.
The gist of Plaintiff’s Motion is that he believes he is entitled to information
from Poet during the entirety of the time that Poet’s equipment was being removed
from Celebrity’s ships, including any work done after Plaintiff was injured. Thus,
Plaintiff requests information on future periods of time when Plaintiff was
scheduled or anticipated to work on Celebrity’s ships. Plaintiff argues that the
mere fact that discovery seeks information concerning jobs which Plaintiff did not
participate in due to his injury does not render the discovery unimportant. Rather,
Plaintiff contends that discovery as to how similar jobs were conducted as between
Poet and Celebrity may shed a tremendous amount of light on how the accident in
question could have been prevented and how the job was or should have been
supervised. Part of this inquiry supposedly involves the policies that were in play
prior to Plaintiff’s traumatic injuries and those that were in place afterward. In
other words, Plaintiff states that the Court should look to the duration of Plaintiff’s
intended connection to the vessel in deciding on the proper scope of discovery in this
As support, Plaintiff relies on the Supreme Court’s decision in Chandris, Inc.
v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347 (1995), where the Court decided the question of what
constitutes a “seaman” under the Jones Act.
The Court held that the test to
determine if a worker is a “seaman” depends on two elements: “The worker’s duties
must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission,
and the worker must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or an identifiable
group of vessels) that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature.”
Id. at 376. As such, Plaintiff argues that Chandris stands for the proposition that
courts should not employ a “snapshot” test when evaluating the relevancy of
documents produced in discovery:
[W]e can imagine situations in which someone who had worked for
years in an employer’s shoreside headquarters is then reassigned to a
ship in a classic seaman’s job that involves a regular and continuous,
rather than intermittent, commitment of the worker's labor to the
function of a vessel. Such a person should not be denied seaman status
if injured shortly after the reassignment, just as someone actually
A separate dispute between the parties is that Poet allegedly did not
adequately respond to interrogatory 24, which inquired if Poet or any of its
employees followed proper procedures at the time of Plaintiff’s accident. Poet
responded that the request was vague and that other employees working near the
area where Plaintiff fell were completing unrelated tasks. As such, Poet believes
that it has adequately responded to interrogatory 24 and that Plaintiff’s argument
holds no merit.
transferred to a desk job in the company’s office and injured in the
hallway should not be entitled to claim seaman status on the basis of
prior service at sea.
Id. at 372.
The Court ruled that “[i]n evaluating the employment-related connection of a
maritime worker to a vessel in navigation, courts should not employ ‘a ‘snapshot’
test for seaman status, inspecting only the situation as it exists at the instant of
injury; a more enduring relationship is contemplated in the jurisprudence.”’ Id. at
363 (quoting Easley v. S. Shipbuilding Corp., 965 F.2d 1 (5th Cir. 1992)). Therefore,
Plaintiff argues that Chandris forecloses Poet’s argument that the proper scope of
discovery need not involve any future projects that Plaintiff would have worked on
had he not been injured. See also Hufnagel v. Omega Serv. Indus., Inc., 182 F.3d
340, 346 (5th Cir. 1999) (“[S]eaman-status is determined by the employee’s entire
employment-related connection to a vessel, and not by the immediate circumstances
or location of the plaintiff's injury.”) (alteration added) (citing Chandris, 515 U.S. at
363); Stewart v. J.E. Borries, Inc., 2007 WL 2915033, at *5 (S.D. Miss. Oct. 4, 2007)
(rejecting defendant’s argument that the relevant time period is a particular
assignment, as “[t]he general rule is that the entire employment history with a
particular employer is analyzed”) (alteration added) (citing Becker v. Tidewater,
Inc., 335 F.3d 376, 388–89 (5th Cir. 2003)).
In response, Poet objects to Plaintiff’s discovery requests in connection with
the ships that Plaintiff was scheduled to work on in the future – the M/S Silhouette
and the M/S Reflection.4 Poet argues that Plaintiff’s request goes far beyond the
legal questions at issue in this action, which allegedly center on who was Plaintiff’s
employer and/or supervisor at the time of Plaintiff’s fall. Poet also suggests that,
even if documents from the post-incident ships discussed changes to the method by
which Plaintiff’s next jobs were accomplished, they would be of no relevance on the
question of who was Plaintiff’s employer at the time of the incident. Hypothetically,
if a material change was made to the arrangement between Celebrity, Poet, and
Akira following the incident, Poet states that such a change would not impact the
determination of who was in charge of Plaintiff at the moment Plaintiff fell. As
such, Poet believes that Plaintiff’s requests are a mere fishing expedition meant to
burden Poet and seek some form of prejudicial, post-incident document. Because
the central question in this case is allegedly not how Plaintiff’s incident could have
been prevented, but instead who was responsible for Plaintiff at the time of the
incident, Poet argues that documents relating to the post-incident ships have no
relevance to this action.
Poet further argues that the Supreme Court’s decision in Chandris is
irrelevant to the facts of this case. Poet contends that the Court was merely making
a determination that involved a long-term employee who had worked in a landbased job that involved substantive travel at sea and then injured shortly
Poet suggests that Chandris is not remotely related to the facts
However, Poet acknowledges that it has agreed to produce discovery in
connection with the two ships that Plaintiff worked on in the past – the M/S Solstice
and the M/S Eclipse.
presented because it dealt with employees who were reassigned and/or moved
between land-based and sea-based duties.
In other words, Poet believes that
Chandris is so factually distinguishable that it has no bearing on the discovery
available to post-incident ships.
Moreover, Poet contends that Plaintiff is mistakenly equating the question of
the duration of Plaintiff’s employment with a right to obtain extensive and
irrelevant discovery. Poet argues that it is not contending that Plaintiff did not
intend to work on all five Celebrity ships at issue and therefore the question of how
long Plaintiff was to be employed with Akira is purportedly not in dispute. Poet
also suggests that Plaintiff continues to conflate the standard with respect to a
Plaintiff’s Jones Act claim – as discussed in Chandris – with discovery.
acknowledges that it does not dispute the holding in Chandris and the fact that a
Jones Act claim involves an examination of the entire employment history with an
However, Poet suggests that Plaintiff is incorrect in stating that he has the
right to post-incident discovery when his allegations against Poet are that Poet was
his borrowing employer at the time he was injured – not his Jones Act employer.
Poet believes that Plaintiff’s allegations make clear Plaintiff was not hired or paid
by Poet and that Plaintiff was not employed by Poet – in the traditional sense – at
any point in connection with the five Celebrity ships. As such, Poet suggests that
any documentation that it possesses with regard to future ships that Plaintiff would
have worked on has no bearing on the status that Plaintiff achieved prior to his
injury. In sum, Plaintiff’s allegation that he was hired by another party as a Jones
Act employee and that he was a borrowed employee of Poet is purportedly a limited
inquiry and deserves limited discovery.
In reply, Plaintiff takes issue with Poet’s argument because the concept of
relevancy is allegedly not so constrained. Plaintiff suggests that the liability issues
in this case rely precisely on how and why Plaintiff fell on the vessel. And Plaintiff
believes that understanding how and why such a traumatic injury occurs can
certainly be explained by the policies that were in place prior to that time, as well
as the policies that were in play after that time. Plaintiff further argues that the
fact that it is undisputed that Plaintiff was not employed by Poet in the traditional
sense is irrelevant because it is obviously presumed that Defendant may have been
the borrowing employer and therefore liable for Plaintiff’s injuries.
Plaintiff contends that Poet’s arguments have no merit and that Poet should be
compelled to produce responsive documents with respect to any ships that Plaintiff
worked on before the incident and would have worked on after the incident.5
Generally, the status of an employee who splits time between a vessel and
land is “determined in the context of his entire employment with his current
employer.” Barrett v. Chevron, U.S.A., Inc., 781 F.2d 1067, 1075 (5th Cir. 1986)
(emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted). But if an employee “receives
a new work assignment before his accident in which either his essential duties or
The breadth of Plaintiff’s argument is somewhat confusing because Poet
agreed to produce documents in connection with the two ships that Plaintiff worked
on in the past – the M/S Solstice and the M/S Eclipse.
his work location is permanently changed, he is entitled to have the assessment of
the substantiality of his vessel-related work made on the basis of his activities in
his new job.” Barrett, 781 F.2d at 1075–76 (emphasis added); see also Chandris, 515
U.S. at 371–72 (“[W]e see no reason to limit the seaman status inquiry . . .
exclusively to an examination of the overall course of a worker’s service with a
particular employer. When a maritime worker’s basic assignment changes, his
seaman status may change as well.”).
This exception applies only when an
employee has “undergone a substantial change in status, not simply [by] serv[ing]
on a boat sporadically.” Becker, 335 F.3d at 389 (emphasis added).
In cases involving a borrowing employer, we agree with the Fifth Circuit that
there is no “bright-line rule that courts performing the seaman-status inquiry must
always look to an employee’s entire employment with his nominal employer rather
than his borrowing employer,” and “we also decline to adopt a rule that borrowedemployee status automatically requires courts [to] look only to his period of
employment with the borrowing employer.” Wilcox v. Wild Well Control, Inc., 794
F.3d 531, 538 (5th Cir. 2015). Instead, the specific facts of each case, especially one
where the allegations involve a borrowing employer, must guide courts to determine
whether an employee’s entire employment is relevant or not.
Here, neither party disputes the fact that Plaintiff was not Poet’s employee in
the traditional sense. In fact, the record evidence suggests that Poet did not pay
Plaintiff, made no arrangements for Plaintiff’s travel, and had little to do with
Plaintiff outside of being present on the ships where he actually worked. More
importantly, this is not a case where Plaintiff seaman’s status is necessarily in
dispute since all of Plaintiff’s contractual work consisted of his work on five of
Plaintiff never mentions any land based work that calls into
question whether Plaintiff would be a seaman or not.
And any documentation
maintained by Poet would not change the analysis of the arrangement between
Celebrity, Poet, and Akira following the incident. In other words, the most critical
question with respect to Poet is who was in charge of Plaintiff at the moment
Because Plaintiff’s allegations against Poet are tethered to that
question and Poet agreed to produce documents for the two ships that Plaintiff
worked on prior to his fall, we find that Plaintiff’s discovery requests in connection
with the two ships that Plaintiff would have worked on in the future are not
relevant given the facts presented. As such, Plaintiff’s Motion, on this basis, is
The final dispute between the parties is whether Poet adequately responded
to Plaintiff’s interrogatory 24:
Was Poet and/or any of its employees or agents following work aloft or
other procedures at the time of Plaintiff’s accident. If so, please
describe these procedures. If not, please explain why.
Poet objects to the demand as being vague. Notwithstanding Poet’s
objections, Poet employee William Lee Jon Taylor was located in the
vicinity of the tension grid at the time that the incident occurred. Mr.
Taylor was performing work unrelated to the work being performed by
Plaintiff and other Akira employees who were located on the grid. Poet
reserves the right to supplement and/or amend these responses up to,
and including, the time of trial.
Based on the answer to interrogatory 24, we agree with Plaintiff that Poet’s
response is not responsive. Poet’s response is insufficient because it briefly touches
upon an employee and states that he was performing unrelated work.
noticeably avoids any discussion of whether that employee – or anyone else – was
following any procedures in fulfilling their job duties. Poet’s response, as it stands
now, is unhelpful and is akin to no response at all. To this extent, Plaintiff’s Motion
is GRANTED and Poet’s response must be amended to fully and completely answer
For the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that
Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. [D.E.
43]. Poet is compelled to amend its response to Plaintiff’s interrogatory 24 within
fourteen (14) days from the date of this Order. To this extent, Plaintiff’s Motion is
As for Plaintiff’s request to compel Poet to produce documents in
connection with ships that Plaintiff never worked on, Plaintiff’s Motion is DENIED.
DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers at Miami, Florida, this 9th day of
/s/ Edwin G. Torres
EDWIN G. TORRES
United States Magistrate Judge
Because the Court has resolved the current dispute without the necessity for
a hearing, Plaintiff’s motion for a hearing [D.E. 59] is DENIED as moot.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?