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Schlueter v. Ingram Barge Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

October 1, 2019



          Aleta A.Trauger United States District Judge.

         Before the court is defendant Ingram Barge Company's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the Issue of Loss of Household Services. (Doc. No. 63.) For the reasons set forth herein, the motion is DENIED.


         This case arises out of an injury suffered by plaintiff Bobby Schlueter on February 7, 2014, while he was a member of the crew of the M/V Sarah L. Ingram, a vessel owned and operated by the defendant, Ingram Barge Company (“Ingram”). Schlueter filed the Complaint initiating this action on August 8, 2016, asserting claims under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, and the general maritime law of the United States. (Doc. No. 1.)

         One of the elements of damages that Schlueter seeks to recover is the loss of his household services. In support of these damages, he has retained the services of Robert E. “Jay” Marsh, who has opined that this loss will be $323, 200.80. (Doc. No. 64-1.) Schlueter and his wife both testified that, prior to his injury, Schlueter performed a lot of work around his house and yard, including household maintenance and home improvement. He also performed mechanical and maintenance work on his own cars.

         The Initial Case Management Order entered on October 20, 2016 prohibits the filing of partial motions for summary judgment except upon leave of court. (Doc. No. 12, at 3.) The defendant, without leave of court, filed its first Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on August 21, 2019. (Doc. No. 49.) The court thereafter entered an order directing that that motion be held in abeyance pending the defendant's compliance with the court's procedures. (Doc. No. 54.) The defendant filed a Motion for Leave of Court to File Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. The court ultimately granted that motion in part and set a briefing schedule for the filing of a new motion for partial summary judgment on one of the two issues on which the defendant sought partial judgment.

         In accordance with the court's directive, the defendant filed its Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the Issue of Household Services, supporting Memorandum of Facts and Law, and Statement of Undisputed Material Facts on September 6, 2019, asserting that it is entitled to judgment in its favor on the plaintiff's claim of damages associated with the loss of his own household services. (Doc. Nos. 64, 65.) The plaintiff filed a Response, Response to the Statement of Undisputed Facts, and Statement of Additional Facts. (Doc. Nos. 73, 74.) The defendant filed a Reply and a Response to the Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Facts. (Doc. Nos. 75, 76.) The facts relevant to the defendant's motion are undisputed.


         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party bringing the summary judgment motion has the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute over material facts. Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Bible Believers v. Wayne Cty., 805 F.3d 228, 242 (6th Cir. 2015); Wexler v. White's Fine Furniture, Inc., 317 F.3d 564, 570 (6th Cir. 2003).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The issue presented here is purely a legal one: whether a plaintiff bringing suit under the Jones Act based on personal injury, rather than death, may recover as part of his damages the value of the loss of his own household services.[1] The defendant concedes that the value of the loss of household services is recoverable under the Jones Act but argues that such recovery is available only in death cases brought by a decedent's estate and beneficiaries, rather than in injury cases brought by the injured party. The available legal authority does not support this distinction, and all relevant caselaw indicates that such damages are available in Jones Act injury cases as well.

         The Jones Act provides in relevant part:

A seaman injured in the course of employment . . . may elect to bring a civil action at law, with the right of trial by jury, against the employer. Laws of the United States regulating recovery for personal injury to, or death of, a railway employee apply to an action under this section.

46 U.S.C. § 30104. That is, the Jones Act expressly incorporates by reference the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. See Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19, 32 (1990) (recognizing that Congress “incorporate[ed] FELA unaltered into the Jones Act”); Sobieski v. Ispat Island, Inc., 413 F.3d 628, 631 (7th Cir. 2005). Consequently, cases interpreting FELA are generally relevant to Jones Act cases. See Miles, 498 U.S. at 32; Sobieski, 413 F.3d at 631 (7th Cir. 2005) (“The act by its terms extends the protections of [FELA] to seamen, and thus FELA caselaw is broadly applicable in the Jones Act context.” (citations omitted)). In Miles, the Supreme Court recognized that, although the Jones Act “does not explicitly limit damages to any particular form, ” Miles, 498 U.S. at 32, by the time of the enactment of the Jones Act, FELA had long been construed as limiting recovery to pecuniary losses. The Court concluded that Congress was aware of the existing case law at the time and, therefore, “must have intended to incorporate the pecuniary limitation on damages [into the Jones Act] as well.” Id. The Court therefore held that the Jones Act did not authorize recover for “loss of society, ” a non-pecuniary form of damages, in a Jones Act wrongful death action. Id. Courts recognize that the same limitation applies to Jones Act injury actions as well. See, e.g., Michel v. Total Transp., Inc., 957 ...

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