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Dixon v. Matson Navigation Company, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

April 11, 2018

ALPHONSE DIXON, and others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
MATSON NAVIGATION COMPANY, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S CLASS ACTION COMPLAINT

          Leslie E. Kobayashi United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Matson Navigation Company, Inc.'s (“Defendant”) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Class Action Complaint (“Motion”), filed on October 23, 2017. [Dkt. no. 9.] Plaintiff Alphonse Dixon (“Plaintiff”) filed his memorandum in opposition on October 25, 2017, and Defendant filed its reply on January 12, 2018. [Dkt. nos. 14, 20.] This matter came on for hearing on January 29, 2018. Defendant's Motion is hereby granted for the reasons set forth below.

         BACKGROUND

         This putative class action arises under admiralty law. Plaintiff alleges he has “suffered illness or injury in the service of Defendant's vessel(s) on high seas voyages wherefore unearned wages were payable, ” and proceeds to assert two claims. [Class Action Complaint under Rule 9(h) (“Complaint”), filed 7/28/17 (dkt. no. 1), at ¶ 3.] First, Plaintiff claims Defendant wrongfully calculated the amount of unearned wages owed “in breach of its general maritime law obligations.” [Id.] Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Defendant failed to include in his unearned wages the amount of overtime wages, which he would have earned, had he not been prevented from working by his illness or injury (“Count I”). [Id. at ¶¶ 3-4.] Second, Plaintiff alleges Defendant improperly determined the duration of its obligation to pay him unearned wages (“Count II”). [Id. at ¶ 3.] Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that, because he has dependents, he was “entitled to unearned wages until [his] sickness or incapacity was declared to be of a permanent character, per the Shipowners' Liability Convention.”[1] [Id. at ¶ 4.]

         In the instant Motion, Defendant seeks dismissal of Count II. Defendant argues shipowners are only obliged to pay unearned wages until the end of the voyage.

         DISCUSSION

         Under the maritime law, unearned wages is a component of an injured seaman's claim for maintenance and cure. See Barnes v. Sea Hawaii Rafting, LLC, 983 F.Supp.2d 1208, 1212 (D. Hawai`i 2013). This district court has stated:

When a seaman is injured in the service of his vessel, the shipowner has an obligation to pay maintenance (room and board), cure (medical expenses), and unearned wages. Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 531-33, 82 S.Ct. 997, 8 L.Ed.2d 88 (1962); Lipscomb v. Foss Maritime Co., 83 F.3d 1106, 1109 (9th Cir. 1996). The entitlement to maintenance and cure continues until the seaman reaches “maximum cure” - a recovery as complete as the injury allows. Permanente S.S. Corp. v. Martinez, 369 F.2d 297, 298-99 (9th Cir. 1966) (stating that the obligation to furnish maintenance and cure “continues until the seaman achieves maximum recovery; that is, until the seaman is well or his condition is found to be incurable.”); see also Berg v. Fourth Shipmor Assocs., 82 F.3d 307, 309 (9th Cir. 1996) (same). When a seaman is injured in the service of a vessel, the employer must pay maintenance and cure even where the employer is not at fault. Aguilar v. Standard Oil Co. of N.J., 318 U.S. 724, 730, 63 S.Ct. 930, 87 L.Ed. 1107 (1943); Crooks v. United States, 459 F.2d 631, 632 (9th Cir. 1972).

Id.

         Plaintiff argues the duration of Defendant's obligation to pay him unearned wages is controlled by Article 5 of the Convention, which states in relevant part:

         Where the sickness or injury results in incapacity for work the shipowner shall be liable-

(a) to pay full wages as long as the sick or injured person remains on board;
(b) if the sick or injured person has dependants, to pay wages in whole or in part as prescribed by national laws or regulations from the time when he is landed until he has been cured or the sickness or ...

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