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Transoceanic Cable Ship Company LLC v. Bautista

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

September 5, 2018

TRANSOCEANIC CABLE SHIP COMPANY LLC Plaintiff,
v.
JOSE FIESTA BAUTISTA, JR. Defendant.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          ALAN C. KAY SR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter arises under admiralty law. Plaintiff Transoceanic Cable Ship Company, LLC (“Transoceanic”), which owns the vessel C/S Decisive, filed a Complaint on May 8, 2015. ECF No. 1. Therein, Transoceanic sought a binding declaration that Defendant Jose Fiesta Bautista, Jr. (“Bautista”) was no longer entitled to the payment of maintenance and cure benefits because any injuries Bautista had sustained while a crew member aboard the C/S Decisive had reached maximum medical cure, see Id. at 6.[1]

         The matter was tried without a jury[2] on August 14-16, 2018. The Court, having carefully considered the testimony of the witnesses and the exhibits in the record, and pursuant to Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, makes the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. To the extent that a Finding of Fact constitutes a Conclusion of Law, the Court adopts it as such. And to the extent that a Conclusion of Law constitutes a Finding of Fact, the Court also adopts that assumption. See In re Bubble Up Delaware, Inc., 684 F.2d 1259, 1262 (9th Cir. 1982) (“The fact that a court labels determinations ‘Findings of Fact' does not make them so if they are in reality conclusions of law.”) (citation omitted).

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         A. The Parties

         1. At all times material, Transoceanic has been a Delaware limited liability corporation with its principal place of business in Eatontown, New Jersey. ECF No. 1 ¶ 1.

         2. At all times material, Bautista has been a citizen and resident of the City and County of Honolulu, State of Hawai‘i. ECF No. 1 ¶ 2; ECF No. 10 ¶ 2. Bautista was employed by Transoceanic and served as a crew member aboard the vessel C/S Decisive. ECF No. 1 ¶ 8; ECF No. 10 ¶ 8. Bautista was in service of the C/S Decisive for a period in 2015 that included March 15 through April 27, and ended by May 3, 2015. See ECF No. 1 ¶ 8; ECF No. 10 ¶ 8; Kaneshiro Tsti. Tr. 58:6-7; Bautista Tsti. Tr. 75:2-3.

         B. The Complaints and Assessments

         3. Prior to the period of his service aboard the C/S Decisive that included March 15-April 27, 2015, Bautista was adjudged to be 100% physically fit. Bautista Tsti. Tr. 7:20-21.

         4. Bautista testified that, prior to the period of his service aboard the C/S Decisive that included March 15-April 27, 2015, he had never experienced problems with his neck, lower back, or right knee that were similar to those he complained of at the end of and after his 2015 service. Bautista Tsti. Tr. 7:13-21.

         5. Bautista performed physically strenuous work aboard the C/S Decisive for twelve hours per day, and it was not uncommon for him to experience pain as a result of his work. Bautista Tsti. Tr. 12:2-8.

         6. Following a shipboard incident on March 15 or 16, 2015, in which a large wave knocked Bautista over, he experienced pain but continued to work until April 26, 2015, at which point he stayed in bed for two days due to pain. Bautista Tsti. Tr. 72:6-20, 85:11-12; see also Pl.'s Ex 4 at p. 85[3]; Pl.'s Ex. 2 at p. 9.

         7. During his sessions with Transoceanic's independent medical examiners, Drs. Kaneshiro and Scoggin, Bautista traced his lower back complaints (but not his neck or knee complaints) to the March 2015 incident. Pl.'s Ex. 4 at p. 75; Pl.'s Ex. 2 at p. 9; Kaneshiro Tsti. Tr. 39:2-6, 39:21- 25; 40:1-3; Scoggin Tsti. Tr. 119:13-18. At trial, however, Bautista testified that he injured his back, knee, and neck sometime before May 2, 2015, while working for Transoceanic aboard the C/S Decisive, but was unable to pinpoint a specific date or incident as the origin of his complaints. Bautista Tsti. Tr. 5:5-16, 6:14-20, 7:5-21, 8:3-10.

         8. On April 27, 2015, while aboard the C/S Decisive, Bautista consulted with a shipboard medical professional (“MDR”) with complaints of back pain and right knee pain. Pl.'s Ex. 4 at pp. 67-68.

         9. On May 2, 2015, Bautista visited an emergency room in Halifax, Canada, where he complained again of back pain and right knee pain. Pl.'s Ex. 4 at p. 69.

         10. On the recommendation of the MDR, Bautista flew home to Hawai‘i on or about May 3, 2015. Bautista Tsti. Tr. 74:24- 25, 75:2-3. Once back in Hawai‘i, Bautista visited a Dr. Prather on May 4, 2015. Pl.'s Ex. 4, pp. 69-70; Bautista Tsti. Tr. 75:5-9. Dr. Prather recorded Bautista's initial complaints of back pain and right knee pain and found on physical examination that Bautista had (inter alia) neck pain and cervical spasm; she ordered x-rays of his cervical spine, lumbosacral spine, and right knee. Pl.'s Ex. 4 at pp. 69-70. On May 7, 2015, Dr. Prather ordered MRIs of Bautista's cervical spine, lumbosacral spine, and right knee. Pl.'s Ex. 4 at p. 70.

         C. Treatment

         11. Between June 2015 and July 2018, Bautista made regular visits to Dr. Nicanor Joaquin, an internist with no specialized training in orthopedics. Bautista Tsti. Tr. 76:1-6; Joaquin Tsti. Tr. 30:8-25; Pl.'s Ex. 4 at pp.72-73; Pl.'s Ex. 2 at pp. 26-29, 36-53; Def.'s Ex. B. Dr. Joaquin was Bautista's primary treatment provider for his back, right knee, and neck complaints following his service aboard the C/S Decisive. See Kaneshiro Tsti. Tr. 50:5-6; Bautista Tsti. Tr. 76:1-6, 78:1-2.

         12. Bautista also sought treatment from Dr. Jeffrey Lee, an orthopedist. Bautista Tsti. Tr. 76:7-9. On May 14, 2016, Dr. Lee performed a right-sided L4-L5 laminotomy and discectomy on Bautista. Pl.'s Ex. 2 at p. 55; see also Scoggin Tsti. Tr. 114:12-17, 131:16-21; Bautista Tsti. Tr. 76:8-11.

         13. For the year and a half preceding trial, the extent of Dr. Joaquin's treatment of Bautista had been regular office visits comprising only medication prescription and refills and subjective symptom assessment. Joaquin Tsti. Tr. 47:14-24, 51:11-16; 37:22-25, 38:1-14.

         14. Bautista was taking a number of medications under Dr. Joaquin's care. Def.'s Ex B. at p.177-78[4], 191-92, 194, 198, 202. Some of these medications were for maladies unrelated to Bautista's back, neck, and knee complaints. Joaquin Tsti. Tr. 68:15-17. All the rest were related to pain relief. Joaquin Tsti. Tr. 68:18-20.

         15. For well over a year before trial, Bautista had attended physical therapy once per week. Pl.'s Ex. 2 at p. 10; Joaquin Tsti. Tr. 50:7-10; Scoggin Tsti. Tr. 127:11-13. Dr. Joaquin had no knowledge of the details of Bautista's physical therapy, Joaquin Tsti. Tr. 50:2-6, and appears not to have requested, received, or studied ...


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