United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on a motion to dismiss filed by
defendants Walter L. Shelton and Lilie H. Shelton
(collectively, “the Sheltons”) in an admiralty
case arising out of a personal injury action on a yacht.
While there is significant dispute between the parties on the
facts that underlie this action, the issue before the court
is narrow-whether plaintiff David Hicks
(“Hicks”), who performed a variety of tasks on
the yacht, qualifies as a seaman under the Jones Act, 46
U.S.C. § 30104. For the reasons set forth below, the
court denies the motion to dismiss.
an admiralty case arising out of a personal injury occurring
to David Hicks, who worked aboard the Three Joys (“the
yacht”), a pleasure yacht owned by the
Sheltons. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 5. In approximately
2010, Walter L. Shelton hired Hicks to perform maintenance
and repair jobs on the yacht at the rate of $40 per hour,
under the guidance of the yacht's master, Captain Gary
Morehouse. Id. ¶ 9. Hicks was eventually hired
to take over the position of the yacht's master on a
part-time basis, although his position continued to include
general maintenance and repair duties. Id. ¶
10. In late 2014, Hicks was hired on a full-time basis as the
yacht's master. Id. ¶ 16. Under the terms
of the employment agreement, Hicks was paid a salary of $3,
500 per month by the Sheltons and lived aboard the yacht
where he worked full-time on the yacht's maintenance and
repairs. Id. ¶¶ 17 a-c. As master of the
yacht, Hicks operated the yacht during moves to Savannah,
Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina for boat shows,
showings to potential purchasers, and prepared the yacht for
visits by the Sheltons and their family members. Id.
¶¶ 17 c-d.
April 25, 2016, Hicks was working to move the yacht from its
location at the Skull Creek Marina in Hilton Head Island,
South Carolina to Charleston, when he fell approximately 7
feet onto the concrete dock and landed on his elbows.
Id. ¶¶ 20- 24. As a result of this injury,
Hicks underwent a number of surgeries. Id.
¶¶ 25-26. On June 22, 2016, the Sheltons terminated
Hicks. Id. ¶ 28.
filed suit against the Sheltons in this court on December 8,
2016 for failure to pay maintenance and cure and for damages
arising out of the Sheltons' negligent failure to provide
medical treatment under the Jones Act. The Sheltons moved to
dismiss the complaint, alleging that Hicks failed to plead
facts in support of his status as a seaman under the Jones
Act. The motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for
the court's review.
12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted “challenges the legal sufficiency
of a complaint.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588
F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir.2009) (citations omitted); see
also Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943,
952 (4th Cir.1992) (“A motion to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6) . . . does not resolve contests surrounding the
facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of
defenses.”). To be legally sufficient, a pleading must
contain a “short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
12(b)(6) motion should not be granted unless it appears
certain that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that
would support his claim and would entitle him to relief.
Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th
Cir. 1993). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the
court should accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and
should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the
plaintiff. Ostrzenski v. Seigel, 177 F.3d 245, 251
(4th Cir. 1999); Mylan Labs., Inc., 7 F.3d at 1134.
“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Sheltons contend that while Hicks has established that he was
employed by Hilton Head Boatworks, he has failed to show that
he was employed by the Sheltons such that he would qualify
for seaman status under the Jones Act. Defs.' Mot. 1.
Hicks counters that the complaint sufficiently sets forth
factual assertions to support his claim that the Sheltons
employed him on a full-time basis as master of the yacht, and
that this is sufficient to fulfill the test for a seaman.
Jones Act creates a cause of action for negligence when a
seaman is injured in the course of his employment. Atl.
Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404, 416 (2009). The
Supreme Court has set forth a two-part test that governs
whether a marine employee is a seaman: (1) the employee's
duties must “contribute to the function of the vessel,
” and (2) the employee must “have a connection to
a vessel in navigation . . . that is substantial in terms of
both its duration and its nature.” Chandris, Inc.
v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 368 (1995) (internal quotation
alleges that he captained the yacht on moves to Charleston
and Savannah, and arranged for vessel repairs and other
necessities. Compl. ¶¶ 18(a), (c). These facts are
sufficient to fulfill the first prong of the
Chandris test, which encompasses “all who work
at sea in the service of a ship.” Chandris,
Inc., 515 U.S. at 368.
second prong of the Chandris test, which requires
that the work be substantial in duration and nature, is also
satisfied. A review of cases decided post-Chandris
where courts have determined that workers are not seamen
under the Jones Act is especially illuminative. In Heise
v. Fishing Co. of Alaska, 79 F.3d 903, 906 (9th Cir.
1996), the court found that a temporary laborer hired only
for the duration of required repairs and maintenance on a
boat was a land-based maritime worker and not a seaman
entitled to the remedies of the Jones Act. Likewise, the
court in In re Endeavor Marine Inc., 234 F.3d 287,
292 (5th Cir. 2000) concluded that a plaintiff did not
qualify as a seaman where the plaintiff had failed to
introduce any evidence that his work was substantially