Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Harrison v. Newman

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

September 28, 2017

Clyde Harrison, Plaintiff,
v.
Gregg Newman, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's first motion for summary judgment, which argues there is no evidence Defendant was negligent and no evidence supporting punitive damages, and Defendant's second motion for summary judgment, which argues the negligence complained of did not cause Plaintiffs transverse myelitis. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant's first motion for summary judgment, and denies Defendant's second motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         On May 17, 2014, Plaintiff was injured during a "buddy" fishing trip while on a boat owned and operated by Defendant. There is no allegation Plaintiff was a passenger for hire. Plaintiff alleges the injury occurred when Defendant activated the electric windlass while Plaintiff was assisting with the anchor, causing a crush injury to Plaintiffs right ring finger. Allegedly, the anchor was stuck on the ocean floor. Plaintiff was manually pulling on the anchor line to free the anchor while Defendant toggled the windlass on and off. When the anchor was freed, the anchor line moved abruptly. As a result, Plaintiff lost his balance. As he attempted to brace himself, his hand landed on the windlass and his finger was caught by the anchor line. To treat the injury, Plaintiff received a TD AP vaccination and surgery to repair the finger. Plaintiff alleges that after the initial treatment, his health drastically declined and that he was diagnosed with transverse myelitis.

         Plaintiff filed this action in admiralty on August 24, 2016, asserting a claim for negligence and seeking actual and punitive damages. Defendant moved for summary judgment on July 31, 2017. Defendant filed two motions for summary judgment. In the first motion, Defendant argues he was not negligent because there is no genuine dispute that the windlass was an open and obvious danger. He also argues that there is no genuine dispute of material fact supporting a claim for punitive damages. In the second motion, Defendant argues there is no evidence Defendant's actions proximately caused Plaintiffs transverse myelitis.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if a party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In other words, summary judgment should be granted "only when it is clear that there is no dispute concerning either the facts of the controversy or the inferences to be drawn from those facts." Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). "In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities in favor of the nonmoving party." HealthSouth Rehab. Hosp. v. Am. Natl Red Cross, 101 F.3d 1005, 1008 (4th Cir. 1996). The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         Once the moving party has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings. Id. at 324. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. Under this standard, "[c]onclusory or speculative allegations do not suffice, nor does a 'mere scintilla of evidence'" in support of the non-moving party's case. Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Phillips v. CSXTransp., Inc., 190 F.3d 285, 287 (4th Cir. 1999)).

         III. Discussion

         A. Open and obvious danger

         Personal injury negligence actions arising from navigation on the open ocean are within the admiralty jurisdiction of this Court. See Schumacher v. Cooper, 850 F.Supp. 438, 447 (D.S.C. 1994). Cases involving a tort committed on navigable water are governed by admiralty law. Byrd v. Byrd, 657 F.2d 615, 617 (4th Cir. 1981). If there is no admiralty rule on point, admiralty law looks to state law to supply the rule of decision. Id. at 617. "This rule is especially true in negligence causes of action." Schumacher, 850 F.Supp. 447. In the present case, "[t]o recover for his injuries, Plaintiff must prove that Defendant was negligent in the operation of his boat"- specifically, the operation of the windlass. Id. "The elements of negligence that must be established are a duty, a breach of that duty, proximate cause, and resulting injury." Id. Regarding the element of duty, "[i]t is a settled principle of maritime law that a shipowner owes the duty of exercising reasonable care towards those lawfully aboard the vessel who are not members of the crew." Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale, 358 U.S. 625, 630 (1959). "The duty of ordinary care includes, of course, a duty to warn of harm that is reasonably foreseeable under the circumstances." Bubla v. Bradshaw, 795 F.2d 349, 353 (4th Cir. 1986).

         Plaintiff proposes a different standard, pointing out that Defendant "admits and concedes that it was Defendant's job, duty, and responsibility to return Plaintiff to shore safely." (Dkt. No. 41 at 6.) The legal standard a lay witness admits to in a deposition is neither controlling nor persuasive. Federal admiralty law provides "a shipowner is not an insurer of its passengers' safety." Monteleone v. Bahama Cruise Line, Inc., 838 F.2d 63, 65 (2d Cir. 1988). It was not Defendant's duty to return Plaintiff to shore safely. It was Defendant's duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. Kermarec, 358 U.S. at 630.

         Defendant's first motion for summary judgments asserts there is no evidence Defendant breached the duty of ordinary care because the windlass was an open and obvious danger. Under admiralty law, a vessel owner has a duty to warn passengers about only latent dangers. Marin v. Myers, 665 F.2d 57, 58 (4th Cir. 1981). But even assuming, arguendo, that the windlass was in fact an open and obvious danger, the crux of Plaintiff s allegations is not a failure to warn. Plaintiff argues Defendant was negligent in activating the windlass while Plaintiff was holding the anchor line or was in close proximity to the windlass.[1] (Dkt. No. 41 at 6.) That perhaps could be cast as an argument Defendant failed to warn Plaintiff that he was about to activate the windlass. But "[o]rdinary tort concepts also apply in admiralty actions, " Everett v. Gerhart, No. 3:16 CV 3110, 2017 WL 3238156, at *2 (N-D. Ohio July 31, 2017), and it is an ordinary tort concept that an open and obvious danger is a danger that was known or obvious to the injured party, Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343 A (1965). Plaintiff has admitted he knew the windlass was toggling on and off while he was pulling the anchor line (see Dkt. No. 34-2 at 10), but Plaintiff has raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether it was obvious that the anchor chain would respond as it did when Plaintiff freed the anchor (see Id. at 11). The Court concludes that whether the windlass was an open and obvious danger is a factual question for trial, and therefore denies Defendant's first motion for summary judgment as to liability.

         B. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.