Parekh v. Argonautica Shipping Investments B.V. et al
ORDER AND REASONS re 25 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Absolute's Affirmative Defenses 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 12 are STRICKEN. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the jury demand in this case be STRICKEN. This matter will proceed to a bench trial. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Absolute file by August 22, 2017 an amended answer to the Plaintiff's amended complaint, striking its jury demand and Affirmative Defenses 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 12, and including any defenses to the Plaintiff's claim for strict products liability under general maritime law. Signed by Judge Susie Morgan. (Reference: Both Cases)(bwn)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
NAYANA AMBARISH PAREKH,
INVESTMENTS B.V. et al
SECTION: “E” (3)
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court is a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by Plaintiff
Nayana Ambarish Parekh (“Plaintiff”), individually and as the personal representative of
decedent, Ambarish Ramnikrai Parekh (“Decedent”).1 The motion is opposed.2 For the
following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.
On July 17, 2016, the Decedent, a marine cargo surveyor employed by Maritech
Commercial, Inc., fell into the Mississippi River as he was attempting to board the M/V
AFRICAN RAPTOR from the C/B MISS RACHEL.3 At the time of his fall, the Decedent
was wearing an inflatable life vest manufactured by Defendant Absolute Outdoor, Inc.
(“Absolute”).4 The vest, designed to self-inflate when wet, never inflated.5 The deflated
vest was on the Decedent’s body when he was located in the river by a passing vessel two
days after the incident.6
R. Doc. 25. The Plaintiff is the spouse of the Decedent.
R. Doc. 28.
3 R. Doc. 6 at 3. The M/V AFRICAN RAPTOR was a 656.10-foot Bahamian flagged bulk cargo vessel. Id. at
2. The C/B MISS RACHEL, a 42-foot crew boat, was owned and controlled by Defendant Weber Marine,
5 Id. at 3–4.
6 Id. at 4.
On August 9, 2016, the Plaintiff filed this civil action and also an action in rem
against the M/V AFRICAN RAPTOR.7 The Plaintiff pleaded negligence against the M/V
AFRICAN RAPTOR and strict products liability against Absolute as the manufacturer of
the allegedly defective life vest.8 For each count, the Plaintiff alleged “This cause of action
against the aforesaid defendants is based upon the general maritime law of the United
On November 4, 2016, Absolute filed its answer to the Plaintiff’s complaint, in
which it included a jury demand and affirmative defenses relating to the Louisiana
Products Liability Act (“LPLA”).10
On February 9, 2017, the Plaintiff filed the instant motion, arguing Absolute’s jury
demand is improper and its affirmative defenses alleging the application of the LPLA
must be stricken because this case is governed solely by the general maritime law. 11
Specifically, the Plaintiff seeks to strike Absolute’s jury demand and Affirmative Defenses
5, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 12.12
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Plaintiff’s Wrongful Death Action under General Maritime Law
Includes an Action for Products Liability
In this case, the Plaintiff brings a claim for strict products liability under general
maritime law. The Plaintiff alleges Absolute “is strictly liable to plaintiff as it was the party
best able to protect persons like decedent from its defective and unreasonably dangerous
R. Doc. 1. The Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on September 1, 2016. R. Doc. 6. The Court
consolidated the Plaintiff’s civil action for damages—No.16-13731—with her in rem action—No. 16-14729.
R. Doc. 16.
8 See R. Doc. 6.
9 R. Doc. 6 at 5–6. There is no complete diversity in this matter. Thus, the only basis for this Court’s subjectmatter jurisdiction is admiralty jurisdiction.
10 R. Doc. 11.
11 R. Doc. 25.
personal flotation device, a defect which caused a failure of the device to inflate and
provide buoyancy to decedent.”13 The Plaintiff further alleges “[j]urisdiction of the second
cause of action [for products liability] against the aforesaid defendants is based upon the
general maritime law of the United States.”14
The Decedent is a maritime employee covered by the Longshore and Harbor
Workers Compensation Act (“LHWCA”).15 Thus, the Plaintiff must look to the LHWCA
for available rights and remedies. Section 933 of the LHWCA preserves the Plaintiff’s
wrongful death claim against a non-vessel owner third party.16 The Supreme Court in
Moragne v. States Marine Line, Inc., recognized the presence of a wrongful death claim
under general maritime law for a widow of a longshoreman killed while working aboard
a vessel in state territorial waters.17 The Supreme Court extended the general maritime
law wrongful death action for a maritime employee killed in state waters to include an
action for negligence.18 Thus, the Plaintiff may bring wrongful death causes of action
under the general maritime law. The Plaintiff contends her Moragne/Garris general
maritime law wrongful death action against Absolute includes a claim for products
The Supreme Court has recognized products liability, including strict products
liability, as part of the general maritime law.20 The Supreme Court’s rationale in other
cases involving injuries to maritime workers—“that strict liability should be imposed on
R. Doc. 6 at 5–6, ¶ 17.
Id. at 6, ¶ 19.
15 33 U.S.C. §901, et seq.
16 33 U.S.C. §§ 933(a), (i); see also Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock Corp. v. Garris, 532 U.S. 811, 819 (2001)
(“[W]e have consistently interpreted § 933 to preserve federal maritime claims as well as state claims.”).
17 398 U.S. 375 (1970).
18 Garris, 532 U.S. at 818–19.
19 R. Doc. 25, 32.
20 East River S.S. Corp. v. Transamerica Delaval Inc., 476 U.S. 858, 865 (1986) (“We join the Courts of
Appeals in recognizing products liability, including strict liability, as part of the general maritime law.”).
the party best able to protect persons from hazardous equipment—is equally applicable
when the claims are based on products liability.”21
The Court agrees with the Plaintiff that “the seafarer’s state water wrongful death
action, grounded in general maritime law starting with Moragne (unseaworthiness) and
expanded in Garris (negligence), includes a general maritime products liability cause of
action.”22 The Court must then determine whether the LPLA supplements or supplants
the general maritime products liability law.
The LPLA Does Not Supplement or Supplant Strict Products
Liability Law under General Maritime Law
“With admiralty jurisdiction . . . comes the application of substantive admiralty
law.”23 Under the Preemption Clause of the Constitution, federal law preempts conflicting
state law.24 Judge-made general maritime law is a facet of federal common law and
therefore preempts conflicting state law.25 However, the Supreme Court has approved the
application of state law where it serves to supplement, but not contravene, the general
maritime law by filling a “gap” therein.26 A court may supplement general maritime law
with state law under three conditions: “(1) where there is no applicable admiralty rule; (2)
where local and state interests predominate; and (3) where the uniformity principle is not
Id. at 865–66.
R. Doc. 32.
23 Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A. v. Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199, 206 (1996) (quoting East River, 476 U.S. at 864)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
24 U.S. CONST., art. VI, cl. 2.
25 THOMAS J. SCHOENBAUM, ADMIRALTY AND MARITIME LAW § 4–3 (5th ed.) (citing Wilburn Boat Co. v.
Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co., 348 U.S. 310, (1955)) (“[T]he judge-made general maritime law, when in conflict
with state law, is supreme.”).
26 See e.g., Yamaha, 516 U.S. 199.
27 SCHOENBAUM at § 4-2 (citing Wilburn Boat Co., 348 U.S. 310); see also Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen,
244 U.S. 205, 216 (1917).
The Court may supplement the general maritime law with state law only to fill a
“gap” therein. The applicable rule for strict products liability under general maritime law
that has been embraced by both the Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit is Section 402A
of the Restatement (Second) of Torts.28 The Supreme Court has stated Section 402A is
the “best expression” of the law of products liability under the general maritime law. 29
The first condition is not met, as there is no gap in the general maritime law for which
state law is needed to fill.
Further, the second and third conditions are not met. Courts have found that, by
applying the Restatement in maritime products liability cases, “the Court furthers the
federal interest in establishing uniform rules of maritime law.”30 Stated another way, state
interest does not predominate and the uniformity principle is indeed crucial, such that
the Court will not supplement the general maritime law with state law.
Because the three conditions under which a court may supplement general
maritime law are not met, the Court declines to apply the LPLA to the Plaintiff’s strict
products liability claim against Absolute.31 As a result, the Plaintiff’s claims in this matter
sound solely in admiralty, and Absolute is not entitled to a trial by jury. 32 Further,
Absolute’s affirmative defenses alleging the applicability of the LPLA are stricken.
See, e.g., Saratoga Fishing Co. v. J.M. Martinac & Co., 520 U.S. 875 (1997); Vickers, 822 F.2d at 538.
See, e.g., Saratoga Fishing Co. v. J.M. Martinac & Co., 520 U.S. 875 (1997); Vickers, 822 F.2d at 538.
30 Transco Syndicate #1, Ltd. v. Bollinger Shipyards, Inc. (citing Louisiana Ex. Rel. Guste v. M/V
TESTBANK, 752 F.2d 1019, 1032 (5th Cir. 1985))
31 The Court understands that it may—but is not required—to adopt state law by either express or implied
reference when state law does not conflict with federal law. Palestina v. Fernandez, 701 F.2d 438, 439 (5th
Cir. 1983). However, the Court declines to do so, as the Fifth Circuit and majority of circuit courts have
applied the Restatement to maritime product liability actions. See, e.g., Vickers v. Chiles Drilling Co., 822
F.2d 535, 538 (5th Cir. 1987); Ocean Barge Transport Co. v. Hess oil Virgin Islands Corp., 726 F.2d 121,
123 (3d Cir. 1984).
32 See Waring v. Clarke, 12 L. Ed. 226 (1847); SCHOENBAUM, § 21–10; see also FED. R. CIV. P. 38(e).
IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Absolute’s Affirmative Defenses 5, 7, 8, 9, 10,
and 12 are STRICKEN.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the jury demand in this case be STRICKEN.
This matter will proceed to a bench trial.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Absolute file by August 22, 2017 an
amended answer to the Plaintiff’s amended complaint, striking its jury demand and
Affirmative Defenses 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 12, and including any defenses to the Plaintiff’s
claim for strict products liability under general maritime law.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 11th day of August, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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