In Re: The Matter of Marquette Transportation Company Gulf-Inland, LLC
ORDER AND REASONS - the Court finds that because John Tran was a nonseafarer killed in Texas's territorial waters, he is a "nonseafarer" for purposes of the Supreme Court's holding in Yamaha. Thus, Yamaha does not preclude the Tra n claimants from seeking pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages under Texas's wrongful death and survival statutes. The Court ORDERS the Tran claimants to file a memorandum clarifying what Texas state-law damages they are seeking from Marquette (be aring in mind that the Court has already dismissed all punitive damages claims with prejudice), and identifying the individuals whom they believe to be the appropriate claimants, by April 27, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. Marquette shall file any response by April 28 at 5:00 p.m.. Signed by Judge Sarah S. Vance on 4/26/16.(jjs)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
IN THE MATTER OF
GULF-INLAND, LLC, AS
OWNER AND OPERATOR OF
THE TOWING VESSEL FATHER
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court is the Tran claimants' "Memorandum of Law
Supporting their Recovery of State Law Wrongful Death Damages,"1 as well as
an opposition "Memorandum of Law" filed by limitation plaintiff Marquette
Transportation Company Gulf-Inland, LLC ("Marquette").2 For the following
reasons, the Court finds that decedent John Tran is a "nonseafarer" for
purposes of the Supreme Court's holding in Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A. v.
Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199 (1996). Thus, Yamaha does not preclude the Tran
claimants from seeking pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages under Texas's
wrongful death and survival statutes.
R. Doc. 96.
R. Doc. 101.
The facts of this case, as alleged by the Tran claimants, are set forth in
detail in a previous order.3 Briefly, this case arises out of a July 7, 2013
collision between the FATHER SEELOS, a towing vessel owned and operated
by Marquette, and a vessel owned by John Tran, a self-employed commercial
fisherman. The collision occurred in the territorial waters of the State of
Texas. As a result, the fishing vessel was destroyed and John Tran was killed.
Marquette filed a complaint seeking exoneration from or limitation of
liability under 46 U.S.C. § 30501, et seq., and claimants Susan Tran
(individually and as a personal representative of the decedent, John Tran, on
behalf of herself and her minor child, Marsha Tran), Quoc Tran, Jeanie Tran,
and Nancy Pham filed a claim against Marquette under general maritime law
and the survival and wrongful death laws of Texas and/or Louisiana. On April
20, 2016, the Court granted Marquette's motion for judgment on the pleadings
on the Tran claimants' claims for unseaworthiness, negligent hiring and
negligent retention, gross negligence, and punitive damages. The Court
dismissed the Tran claimants' unseaworthiness, gross negligence, and punitive
damages claims with prejudice but permitted the Tran claimants to amend
R. Doc. 98.
their pleadings to better allege their negligent hiring and negligent retention
On April 19, 2016, the Tran claimants filed a memorandum of law on the
issue of whether they may supplement remedies available under general
maritime law with state-law remedies provided by Texas's wrongful death and
survival statute.1 The Tran claimants argue that because John Tran was
neither a Jones Act seaman nor a maritime employee covered by the
Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), he was a
"nonseafarer" and, as such, that his survivors may pursue state law remedies
under Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A. v. Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199 (1996).
Marquette filed an opposition "Memorandum of Law" on April 21.2 Marquette
contends that because John Tran earned his living as a fisherman, he was a
"person engaged in maritime trade." According to Marquette, John Tran was
therefore a "seafarer" under Yamaha, thus precluding his survivors from
recovering non-pecuniary damages under state law. The parties have fully
briefed, and now ask the Court to decide, whether John Tran is a
"nonseafarer" for purposes of the Supreme Court's Yamaha decision.
R. Doc. 96.
R. Doc. 101.
It is undisputed that John Tran is neither a Jones Act seaman nor a
longshore worker covered by the LHWCA.3 Rather, both sides agree that John
Tran was a self-employed commercial fisherman, who was killed in Texas's
territorial waters. Both sides also agree that the Tran claimants' negligence
claims against Marquette arise under general maritime law. At issue is
whether, given these facts, the Tran claimants may supplement remedies
available under general maritime law with state law remedies, including the
remedies provided by Texas's wrongful death and survival statute. Citing the
Supreme Court's opinion in Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A. v. Calhoun, 516 U.S.
199 (1996), the Tran claimants argue that John Tran was a "nonseafarer" and,
as such, that his survivors may pursue state law remedies. Citing several
district courts opinions interpreting and applying Yamaha, Marquette
contends that because John Tran earned his living as a licensed crabber he was
a person "engaged in maritime trade." According to Marquette, John Tran was
therefore a "seafarer," and Yamaha precludes his survivors from recovering
non-pecuniary damages under state law. At bottom, this dispute turns on
Although Marquette contends in a footnote to its memorandum that "Tran
could arguably be construed to be a seaman," it provides no argument and does not
apply any law to the facts of this case in support of this position. See R. Doc. 101 at 5 n.
competing interpretations of the key phrase in the Yamaha opinion. A brief
review of this area of law puts the parties' arguments into perspective.
The development of the law of wrongful death at sea proceeds from the
case of The Harrisburg, 119 U.S. 199, 214 (1886), where the Supreme Court
held that in the absence of a state of federal statute, general maritime law did
not afford a wrongful death cause of action to the survivors of individuals
killed on the high seas or in navigable waters. As the Third Circuit has noted,
"[t]he harshness of this rule prompted reaction from the federal judiciary and
from Congress." Calhoun v. Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A., 40 F.3d 622, 631
(3d Cir. 1994), aff'd, 516 U.S. 199, 116 S. Ct. 619, 133 L. Ed. 2d 578 (1996). In
the judiciary, some federal courts began to apply state wrongful death statutes
in state territorial waters because there was no applicable federal statute. See
Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.S. 207, 212 (1986); Calhoun, 40
F.3d at 631. Eventually, Congress passed the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 688,
providing a wrongful death cause of action for the survivors of seaman killed
in the course of their employment, and the Death on the High Seas Act
("DOSHA"), 46 U.S.C. § 761, which provides a federal wrongful death remedy
for survivors of all persons, seaman and non-seaman, killed more than three
nautical miles from the shore of any state or territory. Collectively, these
developments ensured that a wrongful death remedy was available for most
people killed on the high seas or in navigable waters.
Nonetheless, The Harrison remained problematic, creating several
"incongruities," in the law of wrongful death in admiralty. "First, in territorial
waters, general maritime law allowed a remedy for unseaworthiness resulting
in injury, but not for death." Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19, 26
(1990). In Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc., 398 U.S. 375 (1970), for
example, the district court dismissed the suit of a longshore worker's widow
because Florida's wrongful death statute did not encompass unseaworthiness
as a basis for liability. If, however, the unseaworthy condition had only
injured her husband, his recovery under the LHWCA would be premised on
strict liability for unseaworthiness. Second, DOSHA allowed survivors of
seaman killed on the high seas to pursue a wrongful death action based on
unseaworthiness, while survivors of those killed inside territorial waters could
not, unless a state wrongful death statute allowed recovery based on
unseaworthiness. Miles, 498 U.S. at 26. Third, survivors of a so-called
Sieracki seaman--that is, a longshore worker employed by an independent
contractor but doing the work of a seaman aboard ship--could recover for
death within territorial waters under applicable state statutes, while survivors
of a Jones Act seaman could not. Id.
In an effort to remedy these incongruities, the Supreme Court overruled
The Harrisburg in Moragne, 398 U.S. 375, and recognized a general maritime
wrongful death cause of action under federal common law. 398 U.S. 375, 378
(1970).4 The Court declined to define the nature and scope of the new cause
of action, reasoning that "final resolution should await further sifting through
the lower courts in future litigations." Id. at 408. The Court explained that
"[i]f . . . subsidiary issues should require resolution, such as particular
questions of the measure of damages, the courts" should look to DOSHA and
state wrongful death statues for guidance. Id.
After a period of "sifting" by lower courts, the Supreme Court addressed
the issue of damages available under the nonstatutory wrongful death cause
of action in Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19 (1990), holding that the
mother of a seaman killed in state territorial waters has no claim for nonpecuniary damages under general maritime law. Id. at 29-30. The Court
reasoned that under Moragne there are essentially two causes of action for the
wrongful death of the seaman--a statutory action under the Jones Act based
Although the specific holding of Moragne created a general maritime wrongful
death remedy based on the unseaworthiness, the decision has since been interpreted as
creating a wrongful death remedy for cases involving negligence. See Miles v. Melrose,
882 F.2d 976, 985 (5th Cir. 1989), aff'd sub nom., 498 U.S. 19 (1990) ("In Moragne, the
Supreme Court recognized a wrongful death action for negligence and unseaworthiness
under general maritime law.").
on negligence, and an action under general maritime law based on
unseaworthiness, in which liability is without fault. Id. at 29-30. For the sake
of uniformity, the Court held that because the Jones Act limits the measure of
damages for the death of a seaman to pecuniary loss, recovery under the nonstatutory maritime death cause of action should be limited to pecuniary loss
as well. Id. at 32-33. The Court explained that "[i]t would be inconsistent with
our place in the constitutional scheme were we to sanction more expansive
remedies in a judicially created cause of action in which liability is without
fault than Congress has allowed in cases of death resulting from negligence."
Following Miles, courts consistently held that the survivors of Jones Act
seaman may not recover nonpecuniary damages under general maritime law.
See, e.g., Savoie v. Chevron Texaco, No. CIV.A. 04-1302, 2005 WL 2036740,
at *2 (E.D. La. July 22, 2005) (collecting cases). The issue remained, however,
whether non-pecuniary damages were available in cases involving non-seaman
killed or injured in state territorial waters. Id.
The Supreme Court took up this issue in Yamaha, 516 U.S. 199 (1996),
the case at the heart of the parties' dispute in this lawsuit. In Yamaha, the
parents of a child killed in a jet ski accident in territorial waters sought state
law remedies. Id. at 203. The manufacturer argued that, in the interests of
uniformity, the general maritime remedy provided by Moragne should occupy
the field, ousting any remedies not available in admiralty. Id. at 209. The
Court rejected this argument, noting that the uniformity analysis in Moragne
"centered on the extension of relief, not the contraction of remedies." Id. at
213-14 (noting that "Moragne . . . showed not hostility to concurrent
application of state wrongful death statutes" and that it is "difficult to see" how
that opinion "can be taken as intent to preclude the operation of state laws that
do supply a remedy").
Drawing a distinction between "seafarers" and
"nonseafarers," the Court held that the general maritime wrongful death
action does not preempt state remedies in cases involving the death of a
nonseafarer in state territorial waters. The Court explained that, under Miles,
"[w]hen Congress has prescribed a comprehensive tort recovery regime to be
uniformly applied, there is, we have generally recognized, no cause for
enlargement of the damages statutorily provided." Id. at 215. Reasoning that
"Congress has not prescribed remedies for the wrongful deaths of nonseafarers
in territorial waters," the Court found that there is no basis for displacing state
remedies in cases of this nature. Id.
In the years since Yamaha, courts have divided on the meaning of the
critical "nonseafarer" term in the Supreme Court's opinion--and therefore on
which groups are entitled to supplement their remedies under general
maritime law with recovery under state wrongful death and survival statutes.
The difficulty stems from an ambiguity within Yamaha itself. In a paragraph
explaining the issue to be decided, the Court noted that it granted certiorari on
the following issue: "Does the federal maritime claim for wrongful death
recognized in Moragne supply the exclusive remedy in cases involving the
deaths of nonseafarers in territorial waters?" Id. at 206. In a footnote to that
sentence, the Court explained that "by 'nonseafarers,' we mean persons who
are neither seaman covered by the Jones Act . . . nor longshore workers
covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. . . ." Id.
at 206 n. 2. Elsewhere in the Yamaha opinion, however, the Supreme Court
described the scope of its holding by noting that state remedies are not
displaced by the federal wrongful death action recognized in Moragne and
remain applicable in cases where the claimant "was not a seaman, longshore
worker, or person otherwise engaged in maritime trade." Id. at 202.
Based on this language, several district courts have concluded that a
"person otherwise engaged in maritime trade," though not a Jones Act Seaman
or a longshoreman covered by the LHWCA, is a seafarer precluded from
pursuing non-pecuniary damages under state law. See Savoie, 2005 WL
2036740, at *3; In re Complaint of Stone Energy Corp., No. CIV.A. 02-2969,
2003 WL 21730621, at *2-*3 (E.D. La. July 24, 2003); Matter of Complaint
of Goose Creek Trawlers, Inc., 972 F. Supp. 946, 949-50 (E.D.N.C. 1997).
Mirroring Marquette's arguments in this lawsuit, these courts have further
held that the "otherwise engaged in maritime trade" language encompasses
individuals who, like John Tran, are self-employed commercial fishermen.
See, e.g., Goose Creek, 972 F. Supp. 946, 950 (reasoning that "[b]y the very
nature of his livelihood, [the commercial shrimper] was a 'person otherwise
engaged in a maritime trade" and therefore a seafarer). Under this reasoning,
John Tran would be deemed a seafarer under Yamaha, and the Tran claimants
would be barred from supplementing federal maritime law remedies with nonpecuniary damages provided by Texas statutory law.
Other courts have rejected this approach (either expressly or implicitly),
and adopted the Yamaha footnote's definition of "nonseafarer" as a person
who is neither a Jones Act seaman nor a longshore worker or maritime
employee covered by the LHWCA. Under this interpretation, "Yamaha stands
for the proposition that nonseamen, those not covered by Congressional
statute, pursuing a claim resulting from an accident in state territorial waters,
may supplement that claim under general maritime law with applicable state
law." Liner v. Dravo Basic Materials Co., No. CIV.A.00-1908, 2000 WL
1693678, at *2 (E.D. La. Nov. 7, 2000) (emphasis added); see also Doyle v.
Graske, 579 F.3d 898, 905 (8th Cir. 2009) ("A 'nonseafarer' is someone . . .
who is neither a seaman covered by the Jones Act . . . nor a longshore or
harbor worker covered by the [LHWCA]."); Am. Dredging Co. v. Lambert, 81
F.3d 127, 130 (11th Cir. 1996) (characterizing a "nonseafarers" as people who
"are not seamen or longshore workers"); Zagklara v. Sprague Energy Corp.,
919 F. Supp. 2d 163, 166 n. 2 (D. Me. 2013) (adopting definition of
"nonseafarer" in the Yamaha footnote); Trinh ex rel. Tran v. Dufrene Boats,
Inc., 6 So. 3d 830, 840 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1/22/09) (adopting Yamaha footnote
and holding that self-employed fisherman was a "nonseafarer" entitled to
pursue state-law wrongful death remedies). An influential admiralty and
maritime law treatise has taken the same position.
See Thomas J.
Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law § 8-3 (5th ed.) (describing a
nonseafarer as "a person who is neither a seaman or a longshoreman").
The Court finds the second line of cases more persuasive and more
consistent with the Yamaha opinion as a whole. Two primary considerations
drive this conclusion.
First, it is significant that in defining the term
"nonseafarer" as used in the question presented for certiorari, the Supreme
Court expressly tied seafarer status to coverage under federal maritime
statutes. Under the definition in the Yamaha footnote, it is clear that Jones
Act seaman and longshore workers covered by the LHWCA are seafarers, while
individuals who are not covered by these maritime statutes are nonseafarers.
This definition is consistent with the reasoning and general thrust of the
Yamaha opinion. As noted, Yamaha's holding that state statutes apply to
nonseafarers killed in territorial waters, despite the uniformity principle
embodied in Moragne and Miles, turned on the fact that "Congress has not
prescribed remedies" for wrongful deaths of this nature. Yamaha, 516 U.S. at
215. The Jones Act applies only to seamen; the LHWCA applies only to
covered maritime workers; and DOSHA, while applying to nonseafarers,
applies only to deaths on the high seas. Indeed, the Court noted that Section
7 of DOSHA shows special deference to state law by specifically stopping
DOSHA from displacing state law in territorial waters. Id. at 215-16. For this
reason, the Court found that supplementing general maritime remedies with
state wrongful death and survival statutes in cases involving the death of
nonseafarers in territorial waters is both logical and consistent with
Congressional intent. See id. at 216 ("Taking into account what Congress
sought to achieve, we preserve the application of state statutes to deaths within
territorial waters."). That the Court grounded its holding on the absence of
federal statutory remedies supports the conclusion that the key term that
structures the Yamaha analysis, "nonseafarers," means individuals who are
not covered by Congressional statute, as the footnote provides.
Second, assuming that the Supreme Court intended Yamaha to be
internally consistent, rather than contradictory, it is easy to reconcile the
"otherwise engaged in maritime trade" language in the body of the opinion
with the definition set forth in the footnote. As noted, the footnote makes
clear that "seafarer" includes Jones Act seaman and longshore workers
covered by the LHWCA. Importantly, the LHWCA covers a range of nonseaman maritime employees.
Section 902(3) of the LHWCA defines
"employee" as "any person engaged in maritime employment, including any
longshoreman or other person engaged in longshoring operations, and any
harbor-worker including a ship repairman, shipbuilder, and ship-breaker. . .
." 33 U.S.C. § 902(3) (emphasis added). Given the close parallel to the
language in Section 902(3), it is reasonable to conclude that Yamaha's
reference to "person[s] engaged in maritime trade" merely refers to those
maritime employees who are not longshore workers but are, nonetheless,
covered by the LHWCA. See Trinh, 6 So. 3d at 841 (finding that the similarity
of language supports a conclusion that the Supreme Court did not intend its
holding in Yamaha to extend to general maritime wrongful death actions
involving self-employed commercial fisherman). By contrast, if one takes the
position that the Supreme Court intended to preclude state law remedies for
all "person[s] otherwise engaged in maritime trade," including those who are
not a Jones Act Seaman or a maritime workers covered by the LHWCA, then
the footnote is entirely contradictory and superfluous. Neither Marquette nor
the federal district courts that it cites give a satisfactory explanation for
interpreting the Yamaha opinion in this way.
For these reasons, the Court joins those courts that have held that, for
purposes of Yamaha, a "nonseafarer" is someone who is "neither a seaman
covered by the Jones Act . . . nor a longshore or harbor worker covered by the
[LHWCA]." Doyle, 579 F.3d at 905 (quoting Yamaha, 516 U.S. 199, 202 n. 2).
Turning to the facts of this case, it is clear that John Tran is a nonseafarer.
Like the decedent in Yamaha, John Tran is not covered by the "comprehensive
tort recovery regime" provided by Congressional maritime statutes. Yamaha,
516 U.S. at 215. As a self-employed commercial fisherman killed in Texas's
territorial waters, he was neither a Jones Act seaman, an LHWCA maritime
employee, nor a potential claimant under DOSHA. Accordingly, John Tran is
a nonseafarer, and Yamaha does not preclude application of Texas statutes
permitting recovery of non-pecuniary damages.
The Court notes, however, that although the Tran claimants argue that
they are entitled to "all pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages" permitted
under applicable Texas laws,5 they have not explained what those damages are
or by whom they may be recovered. Nor have the Tran claimants directly
addressed Marquette's argument that Susan Tran is the only proper party to
assert a claim against Marquette in this litigation. Accordingly, the Tran
claimants shall file a memorandum of law addressing these issues by April 27,
2016 at 5:00 p.m. Marquette shall file any response by April 28 at 5:00 p.m.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that because John Tran was
a nonseafarer killed in Texas's territorial waters, he is a "nonseafarer" for
purposes of the Supreme Court's holding in Yamaha. Thus, Yamaha does not
preclude the Tran claimants from seeking pecuniary and non-pecuniary
damages under Texas's wrongful death and survival statutes.
The Court ORDERS the Tran claimants to file a memorandum clarifying
what Texas state-law damages they are seeking from Marquette (bearing in
mind that the Court has already dismissed all punitive damages claims with
prejudice), and identifying the individuals whom they believe to be the
R. Doc. 96 at 12.
appropriate claimants, by April 27, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. Marquette shall file
any response by April 28 at 5:00 p.m.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this ____ day of April, 2016.
SARAH S. VANCE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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