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Sheeran v. Blyth Shipholding S.A.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 27, 2017

STEVEN SHEERAN and KELLY SHEERAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
BLYTH SHIPHOLDING S.A., et al. Defendants.

          Brian D. Kent, Esq. LAFFEY BUCCI & KENT LLP and Bruce David Zeidman, Esq. COSKY & ZEIDMAN, Attorneys at Law Attorneys for Plaintiffs

          Patrick M. Northen, Esq. Francis P. Maneri, Esq. Jordan M. Rand, Esq. DILWORTH PAXSON, LLP Attorneys for Defendant Holt Logistics Corp.

          Mary Elisa Reeves, Esq. REEVES MCEWING LLP Attorney for Defendant NYK Cool a/k/a Cool Carriers AB

          OPINION

          HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE, JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Steven Sheeran was injured while working aboard the M/V Swan Chacabucco in the Port of Gloucester, New Jersey. At this juncture, three Defendants remain: NYK Cool a/k/a Cool Carriers AB, Holt Logistics Corporation, and Inchcape Shipping Services. Presently before the Court are motions for summary judgment filed by each Defendant [Docket Items 73, 76 & 77], and an accompanying motion to seal filed by Holt. [Docket Item 74.] For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant all Defendants' motions for summary judgment and grant Holt's unopposed motion to seal.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

         The facts surrounding Plaintiff's injury aboard the M/V Swan Chacabucco (“the Swan Chacabucco” or “the Ship”) are straightforward. Plaintiff was employed as a longshoreman with Gloucester Marine Terminals, LLC (“GTL”) from October 2011 until the day of his accident on January 23, 2012. (Deposition of Steven Sheeran (“Sheeran Dep.”) at 27:12-21.) GTL had been hired as a stevedore to unload cargo at Gloucester Marine Terminal in Gloucester City, New Jersey. (Deposition of Walter Curran (“Curran Dep.”) at 70:13-23.) GTL provided all longshoremen with safety trainings and a copy of a safety manual, although the parties dispute exactly how thorough and effective this training was. (Sheeran Dep. at 35:20-36:23.)

         On January 23, 2013, Plaintiff was assigned to unload pallets of fruit from the holds of two ships: one in the morning, and the Swan Chacabucco in the afternoon. (Id. at 92:18-97:13.) Plaintiff had worked as a hold man discharging palletized fruit from ships at Gloucester Terminal before. (Id. at 104:17-24.) Sometime in the afternoon, Plaintiff was in the process of steadying a full pallet tray in the hold of the Swan Chacabucco while it was being lowered by a crane when the tray swayed and Plaintiff slipped and fell on the floor of the Ship's hold. (Id. at 190:1-191:20.) As soon as Plaintiff slipped, the tray lowered to the floor and crushed Plaintiff's left foot. (Id. at 195:2-12.) Plaintiff suffered “severe and permanent injuries” from the accident. (Third Amended Complaint ¶¶ 20, 26, 33, 39, 48, 55.) At the time of Plaintiff's accident, Steven Amato was the crane operator and Naman McRae was the signalman, both other GTL employees who had previously performed those roles. (Deposition of Steven Amato (“Amato Dep.”) at 105:12-20; Deposition of Naman McRae (“McRae Dep.”) at 23:12-24.) The tray was owned by GLT and the crane was mounted on the Swan Chacabucco's deck and owned by the vessel's owner. (See Blyth Shipholding's Answers to Plaintiff's Interrogatories ¶¶ 8, 13, 16; see also Deposition of Jens Hedelund (“Hedelund Dep.”) at 70:7-71:7.)

         Plaintiff settled a workers' compensation claim pursuant to the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act against GTL in June of 2014. (Application for Approval of Partial Settlement before Administrative Law Judge Adele Odegard.) This suit, originally filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County, followed in September of 2014. [Docket Item 1.] The three moving Defendants remain: Holt Logistics Corporation, NYK Cool, and Inchcape Shipping Services.

         Holt Logistics Corporation

         Holt Logistics Corporation (“Holt Logistics”) is a company owned by the same family (“the Holt brothers”) that owns Plaintiff's former employer, GTL. (Deposition of Peter Inskeep (“Inskeep Dep.”) at 40:23-41:8.) GTL's business consists of “receiving and delivering cargo from both trucks and railroad, and then loading or discharging cargo to or from ships that berth there.” (Curran Dep. At 70:13-23.) Holt Logistics is an independently-managed company that provides information technology, human resources, payroll, accounting, marketing, and other back-end administrative services to GTL and the other companies owned by the Holt brothers. (Inskeep Dep. at 40:14-19; Deposition of Michael J. Quigley (“Quigley Dep.”) at 37:10-19; Curran Dep. at 108:13-23.) The Client Services Agreement between GTL and Holt Logistics provides that Holt Logistics will furnish “administrative services (the Back Office Services)” but is not “responsible for the operation of [GTL's] business, nor for supervision of [GTL's] employees.” (Client Services Agreement, Exhibit Under Seal.) Holt Logistics does not have its own safety department (Quigley Dep. at 37:23-38:2), and GTL management-level employees testified at their depositions that Holt Logistics had no authority to supervise GTL's stevedoring operations at the terminal, “run any operations, ” provide safety trainings, train new GTL employees, supervise GTL employees, or “make decisions on behalf of Gloucester Terminals.” (Curran Dep. at 72:12-73:2, 146:2-5, 199:4-10; Inskeep Dep. at 96:5-98:10; Quigley Dep. at 72:15-73:7.) While Holt Logistics employees like Mr. Inskeep[2] consulted for GTL, that consulting appears to have been limited to making recommendations to improve the efficiency of GTL's operations, consistent the Client Services Agreement, and all findings were reported to the GTL manager of operations who “was in charge of all of Gloucester Terminals” and had the power to make decisions over GTL staffing and operations. (Inskeep Dep. at 48:15-49:15.)

         NYK Cool

         At the time of Plaintiff's accident, the Swan Chacabucco was owned by Blyth Shipholding, S.A. (“Blyth Shipholding” or “Blyth”), and under a term charter to NYK Cool AB a/k/a Cool Carriers AB (“NYK Cool”). (Charter Party dated July 14, 2011.) Pursuant to the terms of the charter party, it was the owner's responsibility to maintain and repair the vessel and its equipment, employ its crew, and assume care of the cargo, and the time charterer's responsibility to arrange and pay for cargo and its loading and unloading at various ports, and pay all port charges. (Id. at ¶¶ 11, 29, 49.) NYK Cool contracted with GTL to provide stevedoring services at Gloucester Marine Terminal to discharge palletized fruit exported from Chile from November 1, 2010 through October 31, 2013. (Stevedoring and Terminal Operating Agreement dated November 1, 2010.) Pursuant to the terms of the stevedoring agreement, GTL was to “furnish sufficient and adequate supervision, personnel, suitable mechanical equipment, gear, forklifts and any other items of equipment necessary for the handling of the cargo.” (Id. at ¶ 1.2.) NYK Cool also contracted with Inchcape Shipping Services (“Inchcape”) to serve as its port agent at Gloucester Marine Terminal. (Agency Agreement dated December 18, 2011.) The agency agreement provided that Inchcape would “liase with terminals, stevedores, receivers, shippers and NYKC's representative, ” coordinate the arrival, discharge, and departure of NYK Cool's vessel at the terminal, and handle all documentation for the vessel. (Id. at ¶¶ 2.01-2.28.)

         NYK Cool did not provide or inspect the crane or cargo tray involved in Plaintiff's accident, nor did it pay, train, or supervise any of the longshoremen. (Hedelund Dep. at 70:7-72:13.) In fact, it did not have authority to direct the cargo operations handled by the stevedore GTL, or train or supervise GTL's longshoremen. (Id. at 72:9-13; Curran Dep. at 196:5-197:7, 200:16-201:202-21, 204:11-207:23; Inskeep Dep. at 94:5-95:4; Deposition of Theodoros Bakiroglou (“Bakiroglou Dep.”) at 125:3-126:15.) NYK Cool's port captain, Mr. Hedelund, was not required to be present at the port for unloading operations but was in Gloucester on and off during Chilean fruit season, December through April, including on the day of Plaintiff's accident. (Hedelund Dep. at 16:12-17:17:22, 46:14-18.) The port captain's role is to “coordinate the discharging of the ship as a communication link between the stevedores, vessels and agents.” (Id. at 42:5-11.) This includes communicating, by phone and email, with the ship when, where, and how many gangs will be required to discharge the vessel based on the number of containers, the warehouse space available, and the weather. (Id. at 44:9-46:8.) There is no evidence that Mr. Hedelund was present at the port at the time of Plaintiff's accident and he was not informed that it had occurred until much later. (Id. at 55:2-58:8.)

         Inchcape Shipping Services

         As mentioned above, Inchcape was hired by NYK Cool to serve as its port agent at Gloucester Marine Terminal (and at ports in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Delaware, and Long Beach and Los Angeles, California). (Agency Agreement dated December 18, 2011.) The agency agreement sets forth Inchcape's general responsibilities at port on NYK Cool's behalf, including, inter alia: “keep NYKC informed by quickest means of any special occurrence connected with the vessel, her crew and cargo and follow in this respect the instructions of NYKC;” “administering the following contracts on behalf of NYKC which NYKC may have with other agent [sic] which for this purpose to include stevedores, terminal operators, pilotage companies, towing companies;” “supervise and co-ordinate the activities of stevedores and terminal operators to ensure efficient rotation and the most economical dispatch of the ships. NYKC Port Captain coordinates activities of stevedore if available;” and “liase with terminals, stevedores, receivers, shippers and NYKC's representative” and handle all documentation for the vessel. (Id. at ¶¶ 1(b), 3(b), 9(b), and Addendum No. 1 ¶¶ 2.01-2.28.) The contract specifically provides that “This Agreement is not an exclusive arrangement and either party may engage other agents in support of their business activities. (Id. at ¶ 7.)

         Inchcape's specific agency instructions with respect to the Swan Chacabucco's call at Gloucester Marine Terminal were set forth in a separate Port Agency Appointment & Pro-forma Disbursement Account Request. (Port Agency Appointment dated January 11, 2012.) Generally, this document instructed Inchcape to keep in daily contact with NYK Cool regarding the discharging operations of the Ship, and to collect and forward all invoices for taxes, dues, and levies through NYK Cool's preferred online system. (Id.)

         Inchcape's port agent in Gloucester, Mr. Hubbard, described his role as follows: “I . . . advised ETAs to the terminal, the port captain, authorities, ordered pilots, tugs, lines handlers, Customs, Immigration. Made sure paperwork was filed with the U.S. Coast Guard so the ship could enter without delay, and communicated with the port captain and the vessel for any specific requirements.” (Deposition of Justin Hubbard (“Hubbard Dep.”) at 60:24-61:13.) He testified that he did not “administer” any contracts for the work of stevedores or terminal operators because that “happened outside us, ” by which he meant that NYK Cool contracted directly with stevedores without involving ...


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