United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION
Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge
August 2018, while performing welding work on the Enterprise
263, a drilling rig owned and operated by Enterprise Offshore
Drilling LLC, Gilbert Sanchez tripped on a pipe and injured
his ankle and back. (Docket Entry No. 1-2 at 3). In December
2018, Sanchez sued Enterprise Offshore Drilling and his
employer, Smart Fabricators, in state court, asserting a
Jones Act negligence claim and a general maritime law
unseaworthiness claim. (Id.at 1). Smart Fabricators
had paid Sanchez workers' compensation benefits under the
Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act until
Sanchez filed his state-court petition. (Docket Entry No. 23
January 2019, Enterprise Offshore Drilling and Smart
Fabricators removed to this court. (Docket Entry No. 1).
Sanchez dismissed his claims against Enterprise Offshore
Drilling and moved to remand, arguing that the Jones Act
precluded removal. 46 U.S.C. § 30104. The court found
that Sanchez did not submit or identify evidence showing that
he was a “seaman under the Jones Act, ” and
denied his motion to remand. (Docket Entry No. 19 at 10-11).
Smart Fabricators now moves for summary judgment, and Sanchez
has responded. (Docket Entry Nos. 23, 24).
on a careful review of the pleadings, the motion and
response, the record, and the governing law, the summary
judgment motion is granted. (Docket Entry No. 23). The
reasons are set out in detail below.
The Legal Standards
judgment is appropriate only when ‘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.'” Shepherd on Behalf of Estate of Shepherd
v. City of Shreveport, 920 F.3d 278, 282-83 (5th Cir.
2019) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). “A material fact is
one that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing
law, ” and “a fact issue is genuine if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the non-moving party.” Renwick v. PNK
Lake Charles, L.L.C., 901 F.3d 605, 611 (5th Cir. 2018)
(quotations and citations omitted). The moving party
“always bears the initial responsibility of informing
the district court of the basis for its motion, ” and
identifying the record evidence “which it believes
demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, ‘the
movant may merely point to the absence of evidence and
thereby shift to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating
that there is an issue of material fact warranting
trial.” Kim v. Hospira, Inc., 709 Fed.Appx.
287, 288 (5th Cir. 2018) (alteration omitted) (quoting
Nola Spice Designs, L.L.C. v. Haydel Enters., Inc.,
783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015)). The moving party must
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact,
but it need not negate the elements of the nonmovant's
case. Austin v. Kroger Tex., L.P., 864 F.3d 326, 335
(5th Cir. 2017). “If the moving party fails to meet
[its] initial burden, the motion must be denied, regardless
of the nonmovant's response.” Pioneer Expl.,
L.L.C. v. Steadfast Ins. Co., 767 F.3d 503, 511 (5th
Cir. 2014) (quoting Kee v. City of Rowlett, 247 F.3d
206, 210 (5th Cir. 2001)).
the moving party has met its Rule 56(c) burden, the nonmoving
party cannot survive a summary judgment motion by resting on
the mere allegations of its pleadings.” Duffie v.
United States, 600 F.3d 362, 371 (5th Cir. 2010). The
nonmovant must identify specific evidence in the record and
articulate “the precise manner in which” that
evidence supports that party's claim. Willis v. Cleco
Corp., 749 F.3d 314, 317 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir.
1994)). “A party cannot defeat summary judgment with
conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a
scintilla of evidence.” Lamb v. Ashford Place
Apartments L.L.C., 914 F.3d 940, 946 (5th Cir. 2019)
(quotation omitted). In deciding a summary judgment motion,
the court draws all reasonable inferences in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party. Wease v. Ocwen Loan
Servicing, LLC, 915 F.3d 987, 992 (5th Cir. 2019).
The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act and
the Jones Act
Congress enacted the Longshore Harbor Workers'
Compensation Act (LHWCA) to give maritime workers a
“quick, certain compensation from their employers
regardless of fault.” Chenevert v. Travelers Indem.
Co., 746 F.3d 581, 585 (5th Cir. 2014). In exchange,
employers “are generally absolved from any further
liability in relation to such injuries.” Id.
Under the Jones Act, a “seaman injured in the course of
employment . . . may elect to bring a civil action at law . .
. against the employer.” 46 U.S.C. § 30104. The
LHWCA and Jones Act are “mutually exclusive”
compensation regimes. Harbor Tug & Barge Co. v.
Papai, 520 U.S. 548, 553 (1997). If a plaintiff
qualifies as a seaman, the Jones Act controls; if the
plaintiff does not qualify, he or she “is protected
only by the LWHCA.” Becker v. Tidewater, Inc.,
335 F.3d 376, 386 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Chandris, Inc.
v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 355-58 (1997)).
Sanchez cannot raise a fact issue material to his seaman
status, he may seek compensation only from Smart Fabricators
under the LHWCA, entitling the company to summary judgment on
Sanchez's Jones Act negligence claim and general maritime
law unseaworthiness claim. See 33 U.S.C §
905(b) (a worker covered by the LHWCA does not have a cause
of action for unseaworthiness or a negligence claim against
the employer unless it owned the vessel); Levene v.
Pintail Enters. Inc., 943 F.2d 528, 531 (5th Cir. 1991)
(LHWCA makes employers fully immune from tort suits brought
by their employees, unless the employer acted in a dual
capacity as vessel owner); Washington v. Blanchard
Contractors, Inc., No. H-8-1806, 2009 WL 1108922, at *5
(S.D. Tex. Apr. 24, 2009).
workers are not seamen.” Alexander v. Express
Energy Servs. Operating, L.P., 784 F.3d 1032, 1033 (5th
Cir. 2015) (quotation omitted). “The seaman inquiry is
a mixed question of law and fact, and it often will be
inappropriate to take the question from the jury.”
Papai, 520 U.S. at 554; Wilcox v. Welders,
969 F.Supp.2d 668, 674 (E.D. La. 2013), aff'd sub
nom. Wilcox v. Wild Well Control, Inc., 794
F.3d 531 (5th Cir. 2015), as revised (Aug. 11,
2015). “Summary judgment is appropriate where the facts
and the law will reasonably support only one
conclusion.” Papai, 520 U.S. at 554 (quotation
and citation omitted). However, “[i]f reasonable