District Court Allows Jones Act Matter to Proceed

Plaintiff filed a Jones Act complaint in United States District Court, Northern District of Mississippi. Plaintiff alleged that he was severely injured during a personnel basket transfer while working in his capacity as a barge-loading supervisor for Defendant, his employer. Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), alleging that Plaintiff was a Longshoreman whose exclusive remedy was benefits under the Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (“LHWCA”).

The court, in applying Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347 (1995), looked to the four corners of Plaintiff’s complaint to see if he had sufficiently pleaded: (1) that his duties contributed to the function of a vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission; and (2) that Plaintiff had a connection to a vessel in navigation or to an identifiable group of vessels. As to the first factor, Plaintiff alleged in his complaint that he was regularly loading fracking sand and that his job responsibilities required him to board and remain aboard inland river barges; thus Plaintiff alleged that his actions contributed to the mission of the barge fleet. As to the second factor, Plaintiff alleged that he was assigned to perform work aboard an identifiable fleet of barge vessels and that he was required to work “every morning” on those barges. In denying the 12(b)(6) motion, the court held that Plaintiff had sufficiently alleged that he had status under the Jones Act.

Defendant also argued that it could not be a Jones Act employer because it was not a vessel owner. However, the court found no merit to this argument, citing Barrios v. Louisiana Construction Materials Co., 465 F.2d 1157 (5th Cir. 1972), which held that a Jones Act claim only requires proof of an employment relationship with an employer who assigns the worker to a task creating a vessel connection. Thus, it was not necessary for Defendant to be a vessel owner or operator to incur Jones Act liability.

Welch v. Prop Transport & Trading, LLC, et al