Hayes v. County of Nassau
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: Having concluded that Plaintiff's Jones Act claim against the County fails as a matter of law and that general admiralty jurisdiction is improper, this Court dismisses with prejudice Plaintiff's claims against the Coun ty and declines to exercise pendent jurisdiction over Plaintiff's surviving state law claim against the Town. Plaintiff's claim against the Town is dismissed without prejudice. Ordered by Judge William F. Kuntz, II on 2/25/2013. (Brucella, Michelle)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
ROBERT A. HAYES,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
09-cv-5467 (WFK) (ETB)
-againstCOUNTY OF NASSAU,
COUNTY OF NASSAU,
-againstTOWN OF OYSTER BAY,
WILLIAM F. KUNTZ II, United States District Judge
Robert A. Hayes ("Plaintiff'), a Nassau County Police Officer assigned to the Marine
Bureau, commenced this Jones Act seamen's action on December 15,2009 against his employer,
Defendant County of Nassau (the "County" or "Third-Party Plaintiff'), to recover for personal
injuries allegedly caused by the County's negligence and the unseaworthiness ofthe County's
vessel. See 46 U.S.C. § 30104; 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1). After serving its answer, the County filed
and served a third-party complaint against the Town of Oyster Bay (the "Town" or "Third-Party
Defendant"), alleging that Plaintiffs purported injuries were sustained as a result of the Town's
negligent maintenance of its marina and attendant gangway. In its answer, the Town asserted a
counterclaim against the County for indemnification, in whole or in part, in the event that
Plaintiff recovers against the Town. The Town and the County cross-move for summary
judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that, if Plaintiff
should prove liability and proximate cause, the other should be held liable for Plaintiffs alleged
injuries as a matter oflaw. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs Jones Act claim against
the County is dismissed with prejudice and Plaintiffs surviving state law claim against the Town
is dismissed without prejudice.
Plaintiff is and was at all relevant times a Marine Bureau Police Officer employed by
Third-Party Plaintiff Nassau County. Cnty.'s Rule 56.1 St., at ~ 1. 1 The County uses boat slips
located at the Theodore Roosevelt Beach and Marina (the "Marina"), which is operated by
Third-Party Defendant Oyster Bay, New York. Town's Rule 56.1 St., at ~ 8. The Marina
consists of thirty acres, including a beach, picnic areas, boat launching ramps and ninety-seven
boat slips. Cnty.'s Rule 56.1 St., at ~ 71. The Town renovated the Marina in 2005, at which
time it constructed a new floating dock and gangway. Town's Rule 56.1 St., at ~ 16; Cnty.'s
Rule 56.1 St., at ~ 73. Both Third-Party Plaintiff and Third-Party Defendant are municipal
corporations organized under the laws of New York State. Cnty.'s Rule 56.1 St., at ~~ 2,3.
On February 12,2008, Plaintiff was assigned to operate a Nassau County Marine Bureau
Vessel, Marine 6, which was docked in a slip at the Marina. Town's Rule 56.1 St., at ~~ 4-6.
By citing to the parties' Local Civil Rule 56.1 Statements of Undisputed Facts, the Court incorporates by reference
all relevant sources cited therein.
Plaintiff arrived at the Marina around 6:50 a.m. and was scheduled to work on Marine 6 from 7
a.m. until 7 p.m. Cnty.'s Rule 56.1 St., at'i[33. In order to board Marine 6, Plaintiff parked in a
parking lot adjacent to the Marina, walked down an aluminum gangway from the lot onto a
floating dock, walked along the dock, and boarded a swim platform on the stem of the vessel.
Id., at'i[35. The officers aboard Marine 6 commenced their patrol at 8 a.m. Id., at'i[39. Around
1:30 p.m., Marine 6 returned to the Marina because it had begun to snow, reducing visibility.
Town's Rule 56.1 St., at 'i[10. Plaintiff and the other officers remained in the cabin of Marine 6,
still docked at the Marina, until approximately 6:20 p.m., at which time Plaintiff left the boat to
take his equipment to his car in the parking lot. Cnty. 's Rule 56.1 St., at'i[42.
When Plaintiff was returning from his car, he observed there was approximately one inch
of snow accumulated, and continuing to accumulate, on the floating dock. Id., at 'i['i[43, 46.
Plaintiff observed that the gangway had ribs on it to provide traction as he descended. Id., at'i[
47. At the bottom of the gangway, where it attached to the floating dock, there was a steel
transition plate ("plate"). Town's Rule 56.1 St., at'i[14. When installed, the plate was covered
with non-skid material, but that material was no longer present when Plaintiff descended the
gangway on February 12, 2008. Cnty's Rule 56.1 St., at 'i['i[76, 62. Plaintiff slipped and fell
when he stepped on the plate, sustaining injuries. Town's Rule 56.1 St., at 'i[15; Cnty.'s Rule
56.1 St., at'i['i[ 48-50. Plaintiff filed this action to recover for those injuries.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
"Summary judgment is proper only when ... 'there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. '" Doninger v. Niehoff,
642 F.3d 334,344 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a)). "The function of the district
court in considering the motion for summary judgment is not to resolve disputed questions of
fact but only to determine whether, as to any material issue, a genuine factual dispute exists." In
re Dana Corp., 574 F.3d 129, 151 (2d Cir. 2009). "The party seeking summary judgment bears
the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists." Vivenzio v. City of
Syracuse, 611 F.3d 98, 106 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Rodriguez v. City ofNew York, 72 F.3d 1051,
1060-61 (2d Cir. 1995)). A fact is material ifit is one that "might affect the outcome of the suit
under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "An issue
of fact is 'genuine' if 'the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.'" McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184,202 (2d Cir. 2007)
(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).
A. Federal Admiralty Jurisdiction
The Constitution provides that "[t]he judicial Power shall extend ... to all Cases of
admiralty and maritime jurisdiction." U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. Congress has expressly granted
federal district courts original jurisdiction over "[a]ny civil case of admiralty or maritime
jurisdiction." 18 U.S.C. § 1333(1). The Supreme Court delineated this jurisdictional grant as
applied to tort actions in Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S.
527 (1995), which the Second Circuit in turn defined as a two-part test: "First, the alleged tort
must have occurred on or over 'navigable waters.' Second, the activity giving rise to the incident
must have had a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity." Vasquez v. GMD
Shipyard Corp., 582 F.3d 293, 298 (2d Cir. 2009). Applying this test, the Second Circuit has
unequivocally held that, similar to docks and piers, "a ramp leading from the land to a floating
dock should likewise be . . . considered" an "extension of land for purposes of detennining
whether an incident occurred on or over navigable waters." MLC Fishing, Inc. v. Velez, 667 F.3d
140, 142 (2d Cir. 2011). Therefore, general maritime jurisdiction does not encompass injuries
caused on extensions of land, which fail the necessary locality prong articulated in Vasquez.
In addition to general maritime jurisdiction, Congress has created an express right for "[aJ
seaman injured in the course of employment ... to bring a civil action at law ... against the
employer" in federal court. 46 U.S.C. § 30104 ("Jones Act"). The Jones Act thus creates an
explicit cause of action, which in turn provides a predicate for federal jurisdiction based on
federal question jurisdiction, distinct from general maritime jurisdiction. See Nielsen v. Weeks
Marine Inc., 910 F.Supp. 84, 86-87 (E.D.N.Y. 1995) (Nickerson, J.) (holding that the Jones Act
provides an independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction); see also Holloway v. Pagan River
Dockside Seafood, Inc., 669 F.3d 448,451 (4th Cir. 2012) ("Federal courts, sitting at law, have
subject matter jurisdiction to hear and resolve Jones Act claims under federal question
jurisdiction") (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1331).
The Second Circuit has held that, as a matter of law, a seaman cannot recover against his
employer for injuries caused by unsafe conditions beyond the ship's gangplank, where those
conditions were out of the employer's control, even if the seaman was acting in the course of his
employment. See Bailey v. Seaboard Barge Corp., 385 F. Supp. 2d 310,316 (S.D.N.Y. 2005)
(Daniels, J.) (where it is undisputed that defendant employers did not own, operate or control
barge providing access to vessel, "defendants had no duty to reasonably anticipate that the
plaintiff would be injured on the ... barge") (citing Wheeler v. West India SS. Co., 103 F.Supp.
631,634 (S.D.N.Y. 1951) (Bondy, J.) ("Employers are 'not under an absolute duty to provide the
plaintiff with a safe means of going ashore and returning to his ship beyond the ship's
gangplank.'''), aff'd, 205 F.2d 354 (2d Cir. 1953)); Thurnau v. Alcoa S.S. Co., 229 F.2d 73, 74
(2d Cir. 1956) (assuming arguendo that plaintiff was acting "in the course of employment"
within the meaning of the Jones Act, a shipowner is under no duty "to provide a safe means of
transportation between the ship and any place ... crew members desire to visit while on shore
leave in the vessel's home port").
The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff sustained his purported injuries when he slipped
and fell on a plate at the intersection of the Marina's gangway and its floating dock. The parties
also do not dispute that the gangway and floating dock were owned by and within the sole
control of the Town. Plaintiffs Jones Act claim fails as a matter oflaw because the County was
under no duty to reasonably foresee Plaintiffs injury in a location outside of its control, beyond
Plaintiffs immediate access to the vessel. Relatedly, Plaintiff cannot satisfy the locality prong of
federal admiralty tort jurisdiction because the injury was caused on an extension of land, and not
over navigable waters. Accordingly, this Court dismisses Plaintiffs Jones Act claims and
concludes that it cannot separately exercise general admiralty jurisdiction over Plaintiffs claim
against the County. Plaintiffs claims against the County are therefore dismissed with prejudice.
See, e.g., Dassigienis v. Cosmos Carriers & Trading Corp., 442 F.2d 1016, 1018 (2d Cir. 1971)
(affirming dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction where Plaintiff failed to state a claim
under the Jones Act and where Court could not invoke general maritime jurisdiction).
B. Supplemental Jurisdiction
The County properly impleaded the Town pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
14(c)(1), which permits a defendant to an admiralty or maritime claim ''to bring in a third-party
defendant who may be wholly or partly liable-either to the plaintiff or to the third-party
plaintiff-for remedy over, contribution, or otherwise on account of the same transaction." Fed.
R. Civ. P. 14(c)(1). However, having dismissed Plaintiffs federal claims against the County and
finding no independent basis to exercise admiralty jurisdiction, this Court declines, in its
discretion, to exercise pendent jurisdiction over the remaining state law claim.
Isaacson v. New York Organ Donor Network, 405 F. App'x 552, 554 (2d Cir. 2011) (citing
United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966»; see also Kolari v. New YorkPresbyterian Hosp., 455 F.3d 118, 124 (2d Cir. 2006) (where all federal-law claims are
eliminated before trial and no federal interest remains, "the district court should ... decline
jurisdiction over the state-law claims"); Valencia ex reI. Franco v. Lee, 316 F.3d 299,308 (2d
This Court notes that a genuine issue of material fact remains in dispute as to whether
Plaintiffs injuries were proximately caused by accumulated snow or by the smooth steel plate at
the bottom of the gangway. However, this Court agrees with both third-party litigants that
resolution of this issue will require· application of New York state law. See Bailey, 385 F. Supp.
2d at 314 ("A dock owner's duty to seamen using the dock is defined by the application of state
law, and not maritime law."); Cnty.'s Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. at 9-10; Town's Mem. in
Supp. of Summ. J. at 11. New York state courts are "in the best position to detennine the
validity of [the parties'] ... state law claims," such as interpretation of the "stonn in progress"
doctrine submitted by the Town. Cave v. E. Meadow Union Free Sch. Dist., 514 F.3d 240, 250
(2d Cir. 2008); Town's Mem. In Supp. of Summ. J. (citing Mazzella v. City of New York, 72
A.D.3d 755 (N.Y. App. Div. 2010». Consequently, this Court dismisses the remaining state law
claim without prejudice. This Court adds that "dismissal will not have any impact on the statute
of limitations for these claims, because, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d), the limitations period is
tolled while the claims are pending [in federal court] and for 30 days after they are dismissed."
Cave, 514 F.3d at 250.
Having concluded that Plaintiffs Jones Act claim against the County fails as a matter of
law and that general admiralty jurisdiction is improper, this Court dismisses with prejudice
Plaintiffs claims against the County and declines to exercise pendent jurisdiction over Plaintiffs
surviving state law claim against the Town. Plaintiffs claim against the Town is dismissed
Dated: Brooklyn, New York
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?