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Turner v. Wayne B. Smith, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division

December 2, 2014

LLOYD E. TURNER, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
WAYNE B. SMITH, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH, Magistrate Judge.

This case is before the Court on Defendant B. Wayne Smith, Inc.'s ("Defendant's") Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 20). Plaintiff Lloyd E. Turner, Jr. ("Plaintiff") has filed a memorandum in opposition (Doc. 27), and Defendant has filed a reply (Doc. 33). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). (Doc. 12). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion will be granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Defendant operates a large facility along the bank of the Mississippi River that is used to load materials onto barges and railcars. Defendant also owns four large towboats. Plaintiff has been employed by Defendant as a welder since 2003, and 90% of his time is spent welding. Plaintiff's job as a welder encompasses welding various metal components around Defendant's land-based facilities, on Defendants' towboats, and on Defendants' barges. Plaintiff is the only employee who performs welding work on Defendant's boats. In the 10% of the time Plaintiff is not welding, Plaintiff performs various tasks on land and on docked boats, including reworking cable and transmission lines and doing repair work.

Plaintiff's welding work requires that he be connected by wires or tubes to tanks or welding machines. Whenever he welds, he brings his welding truck with him, because it contains his necessary equipment. However, Plaintiff also uses welders that are on boats when he makes repairs to boats. Generally, when Plaintiff needs to do welding on a towboat, the towboat is brought to the dock and tied off there. Plaintiff gets on the boat, fixes it, and gets off. This constitutes "90% of [his] work" and he does it "every day." Doc. 21-1, at 29. Plaintiff also sometimes welds from a flat-deck barge. For those projects, Plaintiff drives his welding truck onto a flat-deck barge, where it is transported to a project site. Plaintiff uses a water taxi to return to Defendant's dock at the end of the day. For longer-term projects, the equipment or barge needing repair is brought directly to the dock and tied off so that Plaintiff can access welding leads from his truck that is parked on the bank adjacent to the river. Plaintiff has done work on boats while they are moving up or down the river, but that is "rare." Doc. 21-1, at p. 30. Plaintiff testified that "90% of [his] work as a welder was either on land or connected to the land right there on the dock." Doc. 21-1, at p. 57.[1]

Plaintiff is not assigned as crew member, deckhand, or engineer on any of Defendant's towboats. Plaintiff also does not consider himself assigned to the barges on which he sometimes works. He testified that the only piece of equipment he could be considered "assigned to day in and day out" is his welding truck. Plaintiff does not hold any marine licenses and does not have a marine radio for communication with towboats. The radio in his welding truck is used for landbased operations.

On November 14, 2012, Plaintiff was injured while riding as a passenger on the ADMIRAL, a water taxi owned by Defendant that is used to transport crew members to and from job sites. At the time, Plaintiff had completed his work for the day, which involved welding on a structure in the Mississippi River. On August 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging negligence under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30101 et seq.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard for Summary Judgment

The Court shall grant a motion for summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party; a fact is material if its resolution affects the outcome of the case." Othman v. City of Country Club Hills, 671 F.3d 672, 675 (8th Cir. 2012) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis of its motion and of identifying those portions of record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party meets this initial burden, the nonmoving party must then set forth affirmative evidence from which a jury might return a verdict in his or her favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. "Mere allegations, unsupported by specific facts or evidence beyond the nonmoving party's own conclusions, are insufficient to withstand a motion for summary judgment." Thomas v. Corwin, 483 F.3d 516, 527 (8th Cir. 2007).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in the nonmovant's favor. Peebles v. Potter, 354 F.3d 761, 765 (8th Cir. 2004). The Court's function is not to weigh the evidence, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

B. Plaintiff Is Not a "Seaman" Under the Jones Act

Under federal law, a maritime employee who suffers a work-related injury may qualify to bring an action under one of two compensation regimes established by Congress: the Jones Act (which applies to "seam[e]n") or the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act ("LHWCA") (which applies to land-based maritime workers). See Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 354-56 (1995); 46 U.S.C. § 30104; 33 U.S.C. § 902(3)(G). The Supreme Court has recognized that by enacting these two mutually exclusive compensation regimes, "Congress established a clear distinction between land-based and sea-based maritime workers. The latter, who owe their allegiance to a vessel and not solely to a land-based employer, are seamen.'" Id. at 359 (quoting McDermott Int'l, Inc. v. Wilander, 498 U.S. 337, 347 (1991)).

In assessing whether an employee is a seaman, the court does not employ a "snapshot' test for seaman status, inspecting only the situation as it exists at the instant of injury." Id. at 363. Rather, the question of Jones Act coverage "is fundamentally status based: Land-based maritime workers do not become seamen because they happen to be working on board a vessel when they are injured, and seamen do ...


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