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Bautista v. Transoceanic Cable Ship Co. LLC

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

October 29, 2019



          J. Michael Seabright Chief United States District Judge.


         Plaintiff Jose Fiesta Bautista, Jr. (“Bautista”) filed his Complaint against Defendant Transoceanic Cableship Company LLC (“Transoceanic”), alleging that he is entitled to various relief arising from injuries incurred while working aboard Defendant's vessel in 2015.

         Before the court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 59. Based on the following, the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.


         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff had worked for Defendant for over ten years. See Jose Fiesta Bautista, Jr.'s Declaration (“Bautista Decl.”), ECF No. 73-2 ¶ 1. In his employment for Transoceanic, he was a “permanent unlimited ablebody (AB) cable splicer seaman.” Id. He was also a “heavy crane operator” where he “operated a heavy cable transporter.” Id. In March 2015, Plaintiff was a crewmember aboard the ship C/S Decisive. Id. ¶ 2. His “primary job was as a cable splicer” where he “coiled heavy cable.” Id. “[O]n March 16, 2015, while trying to secure a mooring line on the deck, ” Plaintiff was “hit hard by a very large wave which nearly pushed [him] overboard.”[1] Id. ¶ 5.

         On April 27, 2015, Plaintiff reported to the ship's nurse. Id. ¶ 8; see also Def.'s Ex. C, ECF No. 60-15 at PageID #511. The nurse's report reflects Bautista's purported statement that he was experiencing back pain from a March 16, 2015 wave. Def.'s Ex. C, ECF No. 60-15 at PageID #512. The date of injury is listed as April 27, 2015 in this report. Id.; see also Bautista Decl., ECF No. 73-2 ¶ 11. On May 2, 2015, Plaintiff had a follow-up visit, where the doctor's form indicates that Plaintiff was experiencing low back and right knee pain. Def.'s Ex. C, ECF No. 60-15 at PageID #514. The medical record notes that Plaintiff struck his lower back against a railing due to a wave in March of 2015. Id.

         In 2015, Transoceanic filed a declaratory relief action in this district, seeking a declaration that Bautista was no longer entitled to payments for maintenance and cure because Bautista had reached maximum cure. Bautista filed his answer to Transoceanic's complaint, pleading that he was injured on March 15, 2015. Def.'s Ex. G, ECF No. 60-8 at PageID #315. During a bench trial before Senior Judge Alan C. Kay, Bautista testified under penalty of perjury that his injury occurred between March 15 and May 2 of 2015, but that he did not recall how he was injured.[2] See Def.'s Ex. H, ECF No. 60-9 at PageID #323. Judge Kay issued his findings of facts and conclusions of law on September 5, 2018. See generally Def.'s Ex. B, ECF No. 60-4 (“Judge Kay's Order”).[3] Judge Kay concluded that there was ambiguity as to whether Bautista suffered a right knee injury, but resolved the ambiguity in his favor, presuming that Bautista did suffer a right knee injury. Id. at PageID #289. Judge Kay also found that Bautista suffered a back injury in his service on the vessel. Id. at PageID #290. He concluded, however, that Bautista reached maximum medical cure as to the right knee and back injuries on August 21, 2017. Id. Finally, Judge Kay concluded that “Bautista suffered no neck injury during his service aboard the [vessel].” Id. at PageID #291.

         In this instant matter, Plaintiff alleges that he has suffered knee, back, and neck injuries. ECF No. 1. He now states in his Declaration that the March 16 wave was not the cause of his back pain, but rather, that on April 26, 2015, his back felt “extremely painful” after transferring dirty cables and dragging heavy lines that “had been brought up from the ocean floor to the tank . . . on the ship's highway.”[4] Bautista Decl., ECF No. 73-2 ¶ 7. Thus, according to Plaintiff's Declaration, it was this April 26, 2015 experience that led him to report to the ship's nurse on April 27, 2015. Id. He “disagree[s] that [he] told the ship's nurse that [his] back and knee injuries were caused on March 16, 2015.” Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff also states that he “developed neck pain after performing” his duties on April 26, 2015, and “recall[ed] [that he] told nurse Beers on 4/27/2015 that [his] neck was painful; [he] do[es] not know why [nurse Beers] did not put [his] neck pain complaint into [the] report.” Id. ¶ 12.

         According to its records, Transoceanic made maintenance and cure payments for Plaintiff's back and knee injuries from May 4, 2015 to, at the very least, September 30, 2017. Def.'s Ex. D, ECF No. 60-5 at PageID #296. The periods between payments ranged from one 12-day period, one 15-day period, and in one instance a 92-day period. Id. Regardless, Plaintiff does not dispute that he received full maintenance and cure payments based on Judge Kay's ruling.[5]

         B. Procedural Background

         On April 26, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Complaint against Defendant, alleging three claims: (1) negligence under the Jones Act; (2) unseaworthiness under maritime law; and (3) maintenance and cure payments. See generally Complaint, ECF No. 1. On June 22, 2018, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the negligence and unseaworthiness claims, arguing that these claims were time-barred. See generally ECF No. 13. On October 17, 2018, the court denied Defendant's motion, concluding that “Plaintiff has demonstrated that there are at least disputes of material fact indicating that his cause of action did not arise until April 26, 2015.” Motion to Dismiss Order (“MTD Order”), ECF No. 24 at PageID #138.[6]

         On July 10, 2019, Defendant filed this instant Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that the evidence shows that Plaintiff's negligence and unseaworthiness claims are time-barred, and that his maintenance and cure claim fails as a matter of law because Plaintiff cannot prove that he is entitled to maintenance and cure payments that were not already paid to him. ECF No. 59. Plaintiff filed his Opposition on September 16, ...

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