Broadwater v. Duplantier et al
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 63 Motion for Partial Summary Judgment; granting 69 Motion for Summary Judgment; denying 71 Motion in Limine; granting 81 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Signed by Judge Jay C. Zainey. (Reference: 12-1511, 12-1512, 12-2996)(jrc, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
ANTOINE BROADWATER, ET AL.
NO: 12-1511 C/W 12-1512,
DONALD DUPLANTIER, ET AL.
SECTION: "A" (4)
ORDER AND REASONS
The following motions are before the Court: Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment (Rec. Doc. 63), Motion for Summary Judgment Dismissing
Duplantier’s Limitation Complaint (Rec. Doc. 69), and Motion to Strike the Jury
(Rec. Doc. 71) filed by plaintiff Antoine Broadwater; Motion to Dismiss for Failure to
State a Claim (Rec. Doc. 81) filed by Paula Neal Anderson, et al. The motions, scheduled
for submission on October 23, 2013, are before the Court on the briefs without oral argument.1
These consolidated lawsuits arise out of a tragic boating accident that occurred on
navigable waters near St. Bernard Parish. At approximately 6:30 a.m. on June 16, 2011, Dr.
Donald Duplantier and Donald Neal were each operating pleasure boats when they collided
while rounding a curve in the waterway. Neal was killed as a result of the accident and plaintiff
Antoine Broadwater, who had been Neal’s passenger, was seriously injured.
Broadwater filed the lead case, Civil Action 12-1511, against Duplantier, Neal’s estate,
Paula Neal Anderson, Wendy Neal Duncan, and State Farm Insurance Co. Paula Neal
Anderson and Wendy Neal Duncan are alleged to be the heirs of Donald Neal. State Farm is
Oral argument has been requested but the Court is not persuaded that oral argument
would be helpful in light of the issues presented.
alleged to have issued a liability policy to the owners of the vessel that Duplantier was
operating at the time of the collision. Broadwater amended her complaint to join Allstate
Insurance Co. as Duplantier’s excess insurer. (Rec. Doc. 9). Broadwater invoked admiralty
jurisdiction—the only jurisdictional basis available to him because the parties to this action are
not diverse in citizenship.
The Neal heirs filed Civil Action 12-1512 against DUPLANTIER, Allstate, and State
Farm. The Neal heirs requested a jury by invoking diversity jurisdiction. The amount in
controversy clearly exceeds $75,000.00 and the Neal heirs are diverse in citizenship from all
Duplantier filed Civil Action 12-2996, which is a limitation action, in his capacity as coowner of the vessel that he was operating at the time of the incident.
The parties have filed various motions which the Court addresses in turn below. This
matter is scheduled to be tried to a jury on January 6, 2014.
Broadwater’s Motion to Strike the Jury
Broadwater seeks leave to amend his complaint to designate his claims as Rule 9(h)
claims. Broadwater’s intent is to have his claims tried to the bench rather than to a jury. No
party has filed a response to Broadwater’s motion.
The sole jurisdictional basis available to Broadwater when he filed suit in federal court
was admiralty because the parties named in his complaint are not completely diverse in
citizenship. Even though he did not expressly invoke Rule 9(h), Broadwater’s pleadings were
unequivocal in that his claim was one based on maritime law. The law in this circuit recognizes
that invocation of Rule 9(h) is not necessary when the complaint alleges claims cognizable only
in admiralty. Luera v. M/V ALBERTA, 635 F.3d 181, 188 (5th Cir. 2011). Thus, amending the
complaint at this juncture to include a Rule 9(h) designation is a meaningless and wholly
unnecessary exercise for Broadwater.
Because Broadwater’s complaint is grounded solely in admiralty, no party to that
action has a right to a jury trial. But a jury was properly invoked by the Neal heirs in their
action against Duplantier and the insurers (12-1512) because jurisdiction in that case was
grounded on diversity of citizenship. When the Court consolidated all three of the related civil
actions on January 4, 2013, all three cases were set for trial to the jury. Broadwater is not a
Jones Act seaman2 and Rule 42(a) gives the Court broad authority to consolidate actions that
involve common questions of law or fact in order to promote efficiency and to avoid potential
problems with res judicata and collateral estoppel. Luera, 635 F.3d at 192, 194. The law is
clear that when the Court consolidates cases in this manner, admiralty claims that carry no
right to a jury trial can be tried to the same jury that has been properly invoked on related
claims with no party having a right to a bench trial. Id. (citing Fitzgerald v. United States
Lines Co., 374 U.S. 16 (1963)).
In this case, the Neal heirs have not waived their properly invoked jury. The Court can
envision no greater waste of judicial economy or potential for res judicata problems than to
allow Broadwater to cull out his claims and have them tried to the bench while the rest of the
case is tried to the jury. All three of the consolidated matters have been set on the Court’s jury
docket since January 4, 2013, when the scheduling conference was held and no party objected
to having the entirety of the claims, including those sounding solely in admiralty, tried to the
jury . (Rec. Doc. 43). Trial is now less than two months away. Broadwater’s motion in limine to
When the plaintiff is a Jones Act seaman and the defendant has no right to a jury trial
then the court commits reversible error by refusing to honor the plaintiff’s request for a non -jury
trial. Smith v. Ensco Offshore Co., 181 F.3d 97 (5th Cir. 1999) (unpublished). But that is not the
situation in this case because Broadwater is not a seaman and the Neal heirs have a right to a jury
strike the jury is therefore DENIED.
Motions to Dismiss Duplantier’s Limitation Complaint
Broadwater and the Neal heirs move to dismiss Duplantier’s limitation complaint.
Broadwater argues for dismissal based on the contentions that the Limitation Act does not
apply to pleasure craft and that Duplantier was clearly at fault for the collision. The Neal heirs
move for dismissal based on the contention that Duplantier cannot obtain limitation under the
facts of this case because he was operating the vessel at the time of the collision.
Congress enacted the Limitation Act in 1851 to promote investment in the domestic
commercial shipping industry. In re Nassau Bay Water Sports, Inc., 62 F.3d 394 (5th Cir.
1995) (unpublished). The Limitation Act restricts the financial liability of a shipowner to the
value of the vessel and its freight when the vessel is involved in an accident caused without the
shipowner’s “privity or knowledge.” Id. (quoting 46 U.S.C. § 183(a)). The Act applies to
pleasure craft. Id.
The Limitation Act does not provide a special type of immunity to those tortfeasors
(alleged) who also happen to own the vessel. The Limitation Act only applies where the vessel
owner can establish that the negligence alleged to have caused the injuries was committed
without the owner’s privity and knowledge. In this case, Duplantier was operating the vessel at
the time of the collision. As a matter of law, he cannot establish a lack of privity and knowledge
for any acts of negligence on his part that the plaintiffs can prove. See Tittle v. Aldacosta, 544
F.2d 752, 756 (5th Cir. 1977) (recognizing that when operational control is in the hands of the
owner he is charged with privity and knowledge). The motions to dismiss Duplantier’s
limitation complaint are therefore GRANTED for the reasons argued by the Neal heirs.
Broadwater’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
Broadwater moves for summary judgment on the issue of liability. According to
Broadwater, the Court can easily discern from the paper record that Duplantier was 100
percent at fault for the accident. Broadwater also contends that the evidence does not suggest
that he contributed to his own injuries in any way. The Court does not agree that it can
properly resolve the issue of liability between Neal and Duplantier on a paper record. The jury
must determine and apportion fault at the trial on the merits. The parties do not question the
assertion that Broadwater, as a mere passenger in Neal’s boat at the time of the collision, is
without fault. Broadwater’s motion for partial summary judgment is therefore GRANTED IN
PART AND DENIED IN PART.
Accordingly, and for the foregoing reasons;
IT IS ORDERED that the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc.
63) filed by plaintiff Antoine Broadwater is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN
PART. The motion is GRANTED insofar as Broadwater is not at fault for his own injuries
and DENIED in all other respects;
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Motion to Strike the Jury (Rec. Doc. 71)
filed by plaintiff Antoine Broadwater is DENIED;
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Motion for Summary Judgment
Dismissing Duplantier’s Limitation Complaint (Rec. Doc. 69) filed by plaintiff
Antoine Broadwater and the Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (Rec. Doc.
81) filed by Paula Neal Anderson, et al. are GRANTED. Civil Action 12-2996 is DISMISSED
with prejudice. The Clerk will not enter a final judgment, however, until all of the consolidated
cases are concluded.
November 12, 2013
JAY C. ZAINEY
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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