In the matter of: Magnolia Fleet, LLC et al
ORDER AND REASONS granting 93 Motion for Summary Judgment. The claims by Claimant Carl Swafford are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Signed by Judge Jane Triche Milazzo. (ecm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
IN RE MAGNOLIA FLEET
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court is Limitation Petitioners’ Motion for Summary
Judgment on all claims by Carl Swafford (Doc. 93). For the following reasons,
the Motion is GRANTED.
This action arises out of an incident on December 30, 2015 in which the
M/V PINTAIL capsized, allegedly causing the death of James D. Swafford. On
June 30, 2016, Magnolia Fleet, L.L.C., as Owner, and River Construction, Inc.,
as Operator, of the M/V PINTAIL (collectively, “Petitioners”) filed a Complaint
for Exoneration or Limitation of Liability. On July 12, 2016, this Court issued
a stay of the prosecution of any proceedings outside of the limitation action.
Claimants Carla Guileyardo, Jeffrey Jenkins, American Longshore Mutual
Association, Ltd., and Carl Swafford answered with claims in this matter.
In the instant Motion, Petitioners seek dismissal of all claims by Carl
Swafford (“Swafford”), the decedent’s father. Swafford has brought claims for
loss of future earnings, mental and emotional pain and suffering, loss of
consortium, loss of love and affection, punitive damages, and pecuniary
damages. Petitioners allege that Swafford cannot recover any of these
damages, and therefore his claims must be dismissed.
Summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if
any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” 1 A genuine issue
of fact exists only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” 2
In determining whether the movant is entitled to summary judgment,
the Court views facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draws
all reasonable inferences in his favor. 3 “If the moving party meets the initial
burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the burden
shifts to the non-moving party to produce evidence or designate specific facts
showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial.” 4 Summary judgment is
Sherman v. Hallbauer, 455 F.2d 1236, 1241 (5th Cir. 1972).
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
3 Coleman v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 113 F.3d 528, 532 (5th Cir. 1997).
4 Engstrom v. First Nat’l Bank of Eagle Lake, 47 F.3d 1459, 1462 (5th Cir. 1995).
appropriate if the non-movant “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish
the existence of an element essential to that party’s case.” 5 “In response to a
properly supported motion for summary judgment, the non-movant must
identify specific evidence in the record and articulate the manner in which that
evidence supports that party’s claim, and such evidence must be sufficient to
sustain a finding in favor of the non-movant on all issues as to which the nonmovant would bear the burden of proof at trial.” 6 “We do not . . . in the absence
of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the
necessary facts.” 7 Additionally, “[t]he mere argued existence of a factual
dispute will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion.” 8
LAW AND ANALYSIS
A. Survival Damages
Petitioners first seek dismissal of Swafford’s claim for survival damages.
Damages for the decedent’s pre-death pain and suffering are “recoverable as
survival damages to the decedent’s estate under both the Jones Act and general
maritime law.” 9 Under both the Jones Act and general maritime law, however,
“only the personal representative of a decedent’s estate has standing to sue for
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).
John v. Deep E. Tex. Reg. Narcotics Trafficking Task Force, 379 F.3d 293, 301 (5th
Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted).
7 Badon v. R J R Nabisco, Inc., 224 F.3d 382, 394 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Little v.
Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994)).
8 Boudreaux v. Banctec, Inc., 366 F. Supp. 2d 425, 430 (E.D. La. 2005).
9 Neal v. Barisich, Inc., 707 F. Supp. 862, 867 (E.D. La. 1989), aff’d, 889 F.2d 273 (5th
survival damages.” 10 It is undisputed that Swafford is not the representative
of the decedent’s estate. 11 He therefore does not have standing to recover
survival damages, and those claims are dismissed.
B. Wrongful Death
Next, Petitioners seek dismissal of Swafford’s claim for wrongful death
damages. It is well settled that a parent of a Jones Act seaman killed in service
of a vessel can only recover wrongful death damages if the seaman is not
survived by a child or spouse. 12 Here, the decedent is survived by a child.
Accordingly, Swafford is not entitled to wrongful death damages under the
Jones Act, and those claims are dismissed.
C. Non-Pecuniary Damages
Swafford next seeks recovery of non-pecuniary damages, including loss
of consortium, loss of love and affection, and punitive damages. The Fifth
Circuit has clearly held, however, that damages under the Jones Act and
general maritime law are limited to pecuniary losses. 13 Claimant Swafford has
given this Court no reason to question the application of this well-settled rule.
Accordingly, Swafford’s claims for non-pecuniary damages are dismissed.
In re Sanco Holding AS, 548 F. Supp. 2d 390, 395 (S.D. Tex. 2008); see Ivy v. Sec.
Barge Lines, Inc., 585 F.2d 732 (5th Cir. 1978), on reh’g, 606 F.2d 524 (5th Cir. 1979).
11 Claimant Carla Guileyardo is the representative of decedent’s estate.
12 45 U.S.C. § 51; Sistrunk v. Circle Bar Drilling Co., 770 F.2d 455, 456 (5th Cir. 1985)
(“The Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 688 (1982), is not available, because parents can recover only
when the seaman is not survived by a spouse or children.”).
13 McBride v. Estis Well Serv., L.L.C., 768 F.3d 382, 391 (5th Cir. 2014) (“[I]n a
wrongful death case under the Jones Act and the general maritime law, [the Supreme Court]
has limited the survivor’s recovery to pecuniary losses.”); Melancon v. Gaubert Oil Co., Inc.,
No. CV 17-2905, 2017 WL 3438346, at *3 (E.D. La. Aug. 10, 2017) (and cases cited therein).
D. Pecuniary Damages
Next, Petitioners argue that Swafford cannot prove his claim for
pecuniary damages. Petitioners do not dispute that Swafford is entitled to
assert a claim for pecuniary damages arising out of the death of his son.
Certainly, under both general maritime law and the Jones Act, survivors are
entitled to recover “pecuniary damages for loss of support and for loss of
household services.” 14 Petitioners, however, submit evidence showing that
Swafford did not receive any support or household services from his son prior
to his death. Swafford has failed to prove otherwise. Indeed, in response to
this motion Swafford attaches only an unsworn, unauthenticated, hearsay
document entitled “Proof of Loses” in which he lists, without evidentiary
support, the monthly expenses that he alleges the decedent paid prior to his
death. Such inadmissible evidence is insufficient to create a material issue of
fact. Accordingly, Petitioners are entitled to summary judgment on Swafford’s
claim for pecuniary damages.
E. Maintenance and Cure
Finally, Swafford’s opposition suggests that he is entitled to punitive
damages for Petitioners’ failure to pay maintenance and cure. The remedy of
maintenance and cure entitles an injured or sick seaman to payment of his
medical expenses and a per-diem living allowance. 15 Swafford is not a seaman
and is not entitled to maintenance and cure benefits.
In addition, it is
undisputed that Swafford’s son perished very soon after the accident, and
therefore he too was not entitled to maintenance and cure benefits.
Neal, 707 F. Supp. at 868.
Gaspard v. Taylor Diving & Salvage Co., 649 F.2d 372, 375 (5th Cir. 1981).
Accordingly, punitive damages for the failure to pay maintenance and cure are
not at issue here.
Petitioners have shown that Swafford is not entitled to the recovery of
damages for the death of his son, James Swafford. Swafford has failed to create
a material issue of fact as to any of his claims.
For the foregoing reasons, the claims by Claimant Carl Swafford are
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
New Orleans, Louisiana this 12th day of October, 2017.
JANE TRICHE MILAZZO
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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