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Blackwell v. Bonamare Navigation Ltd.

October 12, 2010

JUNIOUS L. BLACKWELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BONAMARE NAVIGATION LTD., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, Senior District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff, Junious L. Backwell, brings this suit against the Defendant Bonamare Navigation Ltd. arising out injuries he sustained while unloading cargo from the M/V Faldesia, a ship owned by Defendant. Plaintiff claims negligence on the part of Defendant under Section 905(b) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act ("LHWCA"), 33 U.S.C. 901 et seq.

Defendant's motion for summary judgment is before the Court.*fn1

I.

At the time of his injury, Plaintiff was a longshoreman working for Delaware River Stevedores ("DRS"). (Defendant's Memorandum of Law p. 2) DRS provides stevedoring services at the Beckett Street Terminal in Camden, New Jersey. (Id.)

The M/V Faldesia was loaded with steel cargo in Belgium and Camden was its first discharge port of call. (Id. at 6) The M/V Faldesia has five cargo hatches, each with two access ladders, one located at the aft end of the hatch (towards the rear of the ship) and one located at the forward end of the hatch. (Id. at 5) The ladders are accessed by crosswalks running across the ship between the hatches. (Id.) Dunnage*fn2 was used to stow the steel cargo, both on the lids of the hatches and in the hatches themselves. (Id. at 6-7)

The M/V Faldesia arrived in Camden on May 19, 2007, and stevedoring operations began that day. (Id. at 8) Plaintiff's first day of work on the M/V Faldesia was May 20, 2007. (Id.) At 10:30 a.m. on that day, Plaintiff and the other longshoremen began unloading cargo from the No. 4 hatch. (Id.) When the longshoremen first began stevedoring operations in the No. 4 hatch, there was some dunnage in the crosswalk area between the No. 3. and No. 4 hatches, but it did not obstruct access to the forward ladder. (Id. at 8)

The longshoremen broke for lunch at 11:45 a.m. and exited using the forward ladder of the No. 4 hatch. The longshoremen were able to exit using the crosswalk without obstruction. (Id. at 9) When the longshoremen reconvened at 12:55 p.m. to resume discharge operations, dunnage was completely blocking the crosswalks between the No. 3 and No. 4 hatches and access to the ladder was impeded. (Id. at 9-10)*fn3

Despite the fact that dunnage was blocking the crosswalk, the longshoremen began to climb over the dunnage in order to access the forward ladder. (Id. at 10) At least one longshoreman was able to safely traverse the dunnage. (Id. at 11) When Plaintiff attempted to cross, the dunnage collapsed under his feet, throwing him under other dunnage which in turn collapsed on him. (Id.) This collapse led to Plaintiff's injuries which are the subject of the instant suit.

Plaintiff filed his original Complaint in this action on June 11, 2008, and filed his Amended Complaint on July 23, 2008. Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on March 31, 2010.

II.

"[S]ummary judgment is proper 'if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). "'With respect to an issue on which the non-moving party bears the burden of proof, the burden on the moving party may be discharged by 'showing'-- that is, pointing out to the district court -- that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'" Conoshenti v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas, 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Celotex). The role of the Court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

III.

Section 905(b), which was adopted as part of the 1972 amendments to the LHWCA, preserved the longstanding right of longshoremen to pursue negligence claims against vessels.*fn4 See Scindia Steam Navigation Co. v. De Los Santos, 451 U.S. 156, 165 (1981).*fn5 The Supreme Court has identified three circumstances in which vessel owners have responsibilities to longshoremen who work for independent stevedores. See Scindia, 451 U.S. at 156 (1981). These duties are: (1) the "turnover ...


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