Knudson v. M/V American Spirit et al
ORDER granting plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration 93 , denying plaintiff's contingent Motions for Certification of interlocutory appeal and stay 95 , and denying defendants' Motion for Reconsideration or certification of interlocutory appeal 92 Signed by District Judge George Caram Steeh. (MBea)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
JEFFREY TODD KNUDSON,
Case No. 14-14854
HON. GEORGE CARAM STEEH
M/V AMERICAN SPIRIT, et al.,
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR
RECONSIDERATION [DOC. 93], DENYING PLAINTIFF’S
CONTINGENT MOTIONS FOR CERTIFICATION OF
INTERLOCUTORY APPEAL AND STAY [DOC. 95], AND
DENYING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION
OR CERTIFICATION OF INTERLOCUTORY APPEAL [DOC. 92]
This matter has come before the court on plaintiff Jeffrey Knudson’s
motion for reconsideration of this court=s August 30, 2017 opinion and order
insomuch as the order dismissed plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages for
personal injury caused by unseaworthiness. Plaintiff also filed a
contingent motion to certify order for interlocutory appeal and to stay
proceedings pending appeal. Also before the court is defendants’,
American Steamship Company and Liberty Steamship Company, motion
for reconsideration or alternatively for certification of interlocutory appeal.
Local Rule 7.1(h)(3) of the Local Rules of the United States District
Court for the Eastern District of Michigan provides:
Generally, and without restricting the court=s discretion, the
court will not grant motions for rehearing or reconsideration that
merely present the same issues ruled upon by the court, either
expressly or by reasonable implication. The movant must not
only demonstrate a palpable defect by which the court and the
parties and other persons entitled to be heard on the motion
have been misled but also show that correcting the defect will
result in a different disposition of the case.
In its August 30, 2017 order, the court concluded that punitive
damages are not available in unseaworthiness actions and granted
defendants’ motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. The court relied
on the Sixth Circuit case Miller v. American President Lines, 989 F.2d 1450
(6th Cir. 1993), which held that punitive damages are not available in
unseaworthiness actions for wrongful death. Plaintiff’s case alleges an
unseaworthiness claim for nonfatal personal injuries, but not wrongful
death. Plaintiff urges the court to reconsider its reliance on Miller, and to
recognize that punitive damages are available in unseaworthiness actions
involving personal injury. For the reasons explained below, the court
agrees with plaintiff and grants his motion for reconsideration.
In its order, the court also held that punitive damages are recoverable
for maintenance and cure, finding an issue of fact whether defendants in
this case acted in bad faith with regard to the delay in paying maintenance
benefits. Defendants have moved for reconsideration of the court’s denial
of their motion for partial judgment on the pleadings on this issue. As
explained below, the court denies defendants’ motion for reconsideration.
The Supreme Court addressed the issue of when punitive damages
could be sought in admiralty cases in Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend,
557 U.S. 404 (2009). The Court looked at the history of the law prior to
the enactment of the Jones Act in 1920, concluding that punitive damages
were a generally available remedy at common law. The Court then
recognized that the common law tradition of punitive damages extends to
maritime claims. Id. at 414. The Jones Act created a statutory cause of
action for negligence, which did not exist at common law. Importantly, the
Jones Act did not eliminate pre-existing remedies available to seamen,
including maintenance and cure and unseaworthiness.
Court was concerned with a cause of action for maintenance and cure, and
found no evidence in either common law or statute that such claims were
excluded from the general admiralty rule allowing the recovery of punitive
damages for an employer’s willful and wanton disregard of its obligations.
Id. at 414-15.
The Court looked to one of its earlier cases, Miles v. Apex Marine
Corp., 498 U.S. 19 (1990), which was concerned with whether general
maritime law provided a cause of action for wrongful death based on
unseaworthiness. The general maritime rule at common law denied any
recovery for wrongful death. The legislature passed the Jones Act and the
Death on the High Seas Act (“DOHSA”) to replace that rule and recognize
an admiralty cause of action for wrongful death. However, Congress
limited the damages available for wrongful death to those specifically
provided in the two acts. Because the cause of action was created by
Congress, the Court held that the damages recoverable are those specified
by Congress. Id. at 32-36. For example, damages for wrongful death
actions under the Jones Act and DOHSA are not available for loss of
society or loss of future earnings, because such damages are not provided
in the statutes. It follows that courts cannot look to common law remedies,
like punitive damages, for the statutorily created action of wrongful death
based on unseaworthiness. Townsend, 404 U.S. at 420
The Townsend Court applied the principle from Miles and looked at
whether “the general maritime cause of action (maintenance and cure) and
the remedy (punitive damages) were well established before the passage
of the Jones Act.” Townsend, 557 U.S. at 420. The Court found that both
were well established, and that “Congress has [not] spoken directly” to the
matter. Id. (citations omitted). “The availability of punitive damages for
maintenance and cure actions is entirely faithful to these ‘general principles
of maritime tort law,’ and no statute casts doubt on their availability under
general maritime law.” Id. at 421.
The Sixth Circuit, in Miller, addressed the issue whether punitive
damages are recoverable in a general maritime unseaworthiness action for
wrongful death. The court applied the reasoning of Miles in holding that
punitive damages are not recoverable because the cause of action for
wrongful death is created by statute, so only those damages provided by
statute are recoverable. This court relied on the holding in Miller when it
granted defendants’ motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and found
that punitive damages were not available in Mr. Kundson’s
unseaworthiness action. However, the case before this court is
distinguishable from Miller in that Knudson’s claim is not one for wrongful
death, but rather for personal injuries due to unseaworthiness.
General unseaworthiness claims involving personal injury, as
opposed to wrongful death, were recognized at common law prior to the
Jones Act. Furthermore, as discussed above, punitive damages were
available for maritime claims at common law. Congress has not legislated
to limit recovery of nonpecuniary loss in a seaman’s action for non-fatal
injuries. Applying the reasoning of Townsend and Miles, plaintiff in this
case may seek punitive damages for personal injuries in his
unseaworthiness claim against defendants. This result is not inconsistent
with the holding of Miller which is limited to an unseaworthiness case
involving wrongful death.
The same reasoning supports the court’s prior opinion concluding
that plaintiff can pursue his claim for punitive damages due to defendants’
alleged bad faith delay in paying maintenance benefits. The court is not of
the opinion that “such order involves a controlling question of law as to
which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an
immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate
termination of the litigation[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff=s motion for reconsideration is
IT IS HEREBY FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiff’s contingent
motions to certify order for interlocutory appeal and to stay proceedings
pending appeal are DENIED.
IT IS HEREBY FURTHER ORDERED that defendant’s motion for
reconsideration or alternate motion for certification of interlocutory appeal is
It is so ordered.
Dated: October 24, 2017
s/George Caram Steeh
GEORGE CARAM STEEH
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
Copies of this Order were served upon attorneys of record on
October 24, 2017, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
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