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In re Complaint of Healy Tibbitts Builders, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

November 15, 2017

In the Matter of The Complaint of HEALY TIBBITTS BUILDERS, INC., as owner pro hac vice of WEEKS 544, O.N. 520935, for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability. In the Matter of The Complaint and Petition of the United States of America in a Cause for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability with Respect to Navy Barge YCV-23 Re the Incident Involving Mooring Buoy in Pearl Harbor on December 10, 2014.

         ORDER (1) GRANTING FOURTH-PARTY DEFENDANT PACIFIC SHIPYARDS, INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, ECF NO. 355, (2) GRANTING THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT/FOURTH-PARTY PLAINTIFF OWL INTERNATIONAL, INC'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, ECF NO. 359, AND (3) DENYING CLAIMANTS MAKUA, GASPAR, AND ANTONIO'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT, ECF NO. 368

          J. MICHAEL SEABRIGHT CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court are Fourth-Party Defendant Pacific Shipyards International, LLC's (“Pacific Shipyards”) Motion for Summary Judgment and Alternative Motion to Sever or Continue Trial, ECF No. 355, Third-Party Defendant/Fourth-Party Plaintiff Owl International, Inc., dba Global Government Services' (“Global”) Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 359, and Claimants David B. Makua, III, Cesario T. Gaspar, and Willie C. Antonio's (collectively “Claimants”) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Re: Seaman's Status, ECF No. 368. For the following reasons, Pacific Shipyards' and Global's motions for summary judgment are GRANTED.[1] But because the court finds material issues of fact exist regarding Claimants' seaman status, Claimants' motion for partial summary judgment is DENIED.

         II. BACKGROUND

         These consolidated limitation proceedings arise from a December 10, 2014, accident that happened during a project to upgrade moorings for inactive Navy vessels in Pearl Harbor. See Compl. at ¶¶ 6-7, ECF No. 1 in Civ. No. 15-00520 JMS/KJM. Truston Technologies, Inc. (“Truston”) was the contractor for the project. Id. at ¶ 6. It hired Healy Tibbitts Builders, Inc. (“Healy Tibbitts”) as a subcontractor to provide labor and equipment for a portion of the work. Id. The accident occurred when buoy D-8-H, which had been hoisted overhead by a crane barge (“Weeks 544”) and suspended above the deck of a Navy barge, slid down the riser or anchor chain onto a sinker block on the deck of the Navy barge, killing two workers and injuring Claimants. Id. at ¶ 7. Following the accident, it was determined that bolts inside the buoy had rusted away, causing the flange plate and capture plate on the buoy to fail, which allowed the buoy to fall. See First Amended Third-Party Compl. at ¶¶ 23-24, ECF No. 119 in Civ. No. 15-00520 JMS/KJM.

         Both barge owners filed complaints for exoneration or limitation of liability. Healy Tibbitts, owner pro hac vice of Weeks 544, filed its complaint on December 16, 2015. ECF No. 1 in Civ. No. 15-00520 JMS/KJM. The United States, owner of the Navy barge, filed its complaint on April 4, 2016. ECF No. 1 in Civ. No. 16-00156 JMS/KJM. The cases were consolidated on August 24, 2016.[2] ECF No. 80.

         Truston appeared in both matters and asserted that Healy Tibbitts' and/or another party's negligence caused the accident. See ECF No. 26 in Civ. No. 15-00520 JMS/KJM and ECF No. 25 in Civ. No. 16-00156 JMS/KJM. It then filed a third-party complaint against Global, claiming that as the “civilian contractor whose responsibility it was to maintain . . . the subject buoy, ” Global caused the accident by failing to maintain the buoy, painting over corrosion, and failing to warn Truston about the buoy's condition. ECF No. 119 at ¶¶ 36-38, 45. In their First Amended Verified Claim for Damages, Claimants also allege that Global acted in a negligent and grossly negligent manner by “painting the buoy and otherwise covering the damaged portions of the buoy.” ECF No. 348 at ¶¶ 88, 103-04. Global, in turn, filed a fourth-party complaint against Pacific Shipyards, alleging that if anyone was negligent in maintaining the buoy, painting over corrosion, or failing to warn Truston, it was Pacific Shipyards and not Global. ECF No. 243 at 25, 31, 34.

         Pacific Shipyards filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on August 16, 2017. ECF No. 355. No party has opposed this motion.

         Global filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on August 16, 2017. ECF No. 359. Truston opposed the motion, and Healy Tibbitts joined in that opposition. ECF Nos. 462, 469, 474. Global replied on November 6, 2017. ECF No. 484.

         Claimants filed their motion for partial summary judgment on August 18, 2017. ECF No. 368. Healy Tibbitts opposed the motion, ECF No. 459, and Claimants replied, ECF No. 480.[3]

         A hearing was held on November 13, 2017, regarding the latter two motions. Pacific Shipyards' motion is decided without hearing pursuant to Local Rule 7.2(d).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The burden initially lies with the moving party to show that there is no genuine issue of material fact. T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, “summary judgment is mandated if the non-moving party ‘fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case.'” Broussard v. Univ. of Cal. at Berkeley, 192 F.3d 1252, 1258 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). An issue of fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is material if the resolution of the factual dispute affects the outcome of the claim or defense under substantive law governing the case. See Arpin v. Santa Clara Valley Transp. Agency, 261 F.3d 912, 919 (9th Cir. 2001). When considering the evidence on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all reasonable inferences on behalf of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         “One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses[.]” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24. “There is no genuine issue of fact if the party opposing the motion ‘fails to make an adequate showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.'” Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322). Moreover, there is no genuine issue of material fact if, taking the record as a whole, a rational trier of fact could not find in favor of the non-moving party. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586; Taylor, 880 F.2d at 1045.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Pacific Shipyards' Motion for Summary Judgment

         Pacific Shipyards moves for summary judgment, arguing that there is no evidence it had a duty to maintain the buoy in question, or, even assuming a duty existed, no evidence of breach or causation. Mot. at 6-7, ECF No. 355.

         In general, admiralty law recognizes the right to contribution between joint tortfeasors, and liability is apportioned according to fault. Hunley v. Ace Maritime Corp., 927 F.2d 493, 496 (9th Cir. 1991). Hawaii recognizes similar rules. See Haw. Rev. Stat. § 663-12. The elements of negligence under admiralty law and Hawaii law are essentially the same: “1) the existence of a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; 2) the breach of that duty of care; 3) a causal connection between the offending conduct and the resulting injury, which is called ‘proximate cause;' and 4) actual loss, injury or damage suffered by the plaintiff.” Cape Flattery Ltd. v. Titan Mar. LLC, 607 F.Supp.2d 1179, 1189 (D. Haw. 2009) (quoting Pearce v. United States, 261 F.3d 643, 647-48 (6th Cir. 2001)); see also Cho v. State, 115 Haw. 373, 379 n.11, 168 P.3d 17, 23 n.11 (2007) (“It is well-established that, in order for a plaintiff to prevail on a negligence claim, the plaintiff is required to prove all four of the necessary elements of negligence: (1) duty; (2) breach of duty; (3) causation; and (4) damages.”).

         In support of its motion, Pacific Shipyards submits the declaration of its Chief Financial Officer, Ben Nakaoka, who states the following: (1) Pacific Shipyards had “no involvement whatsoever” in the work being done at the time of the accident; (2) although Pacific Shipyards had a contract with the Navy “to maintain the inactive ships at Pearl Harbor during the period of 2002 to 2007, ” its contract was for “maintenance of the inactive fleet itself not the moorings to which the ships were attached”; and (3) Pacific Shipyards “has no record of ...


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