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Greene v. Sea Harvest, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 23, 2018

WAYNE GREENE, Plaintiff,
v.
SEA HARVEST, INC. and FV PONTOS LLC, Defendants.

          BRIAN A. WALL, JR. FRANCESCA ANN IACOVANGELO MCCANN & WALL, LLC, JOHN F. KENNEDY BLVD SUITE, JONATHAN E. GILZEAN, ESQ. LATTI & ANDERSON LLP., On behalf of Plaintiff.

          BRIAN MCEWING REEVES MCEWING LLP, TOWNBANK ROAD CAPE MAY, MARY ELISA REEVES REEVES MCEWING LLP, On behalf of Defendants.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter concerns claims by a seaman for injuries he sustained on a fishing boat. Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims, or in the alternative Defendants have moved for summary judgment in their favor, based on a purported agreement between the parties where Plaintiff released all of his claims against Defendants arising out of his work injury. For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motion will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         In his complaint, Plaintiff, Wayne Greene, claims he was working on the fishing boat F/V PONTOS when he was injured. Based on his injury, Plaintiff has asserted claims against his employers, FV PONTOS, LLC and Atlantic Capes Fisheries, Inc., [1]for maritime negligence, unseaworthiness, and failure to provide proper maintenance and cure.[2] Plaintiff's complaint contains no other details about his injury or Defendants' actions relative to his injury.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims, or seek summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims, based on a release that Defendants contend Plaintiff signed when he was cleared to return to work by his doctor. The parties' submissions in support of and in opposition to Defendants' motion provide more information on the circumstances of Plaintiff's injury and the subsequent events relating to the purported release.[3]

         Plaintiff relates that he has been a commercial fisherman for 31 years and has a 10th grade education. On September 22, 2014, [4] while working on the F/V PONTOS, Plaintiff suffered a rupture of his right distal bicep tendon. Despite his injury, Plaintiff remained on the vessel and worked the rest of the trip until it returned to port a day or two later.

         Once back on shore, an Atlantic Cape Fisheries' employee referred Plaintiff to an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Thomas Barrett, who recommended an immediate surgical repair, which he performed on September 29, 2014. Plaintiff was unable to work until he was cleared by Dr. Barrett on March 20, 2015.

         Defendants contend that on March 20, 2015, Plaintiff came to the Atlantic Cape Fisheries' office and met with Sam Martin, the vice-president of operations, along with another employee who was a notary, to sign a fit-for-duty form and formal release of his claims. Martin claims that he read each line of the four-page release to Plaintiff, and asked whether Plaintiff wanted to review it with a lawyer or his family. Martin claims that Plaintiff declined, and after understanding that he was giving up all of his rights relating to his injury, Plaintiff signed the release. Defendants further relate that Plaintiff was paid $16, 800 in advance during his period out of work, $9, 000 for maintenance, $25, 000 for cure, and $5, 000 in “new money” when he signed the release. Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims against them are barred by this valid release, which was supported by proper consideration and was knowingly agreed to by Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff has opposed Defendants' motion and disputes Defendants' characterization of the release and the circumstances of his meeting with Martin and the payments he received while on medical leave. Plaintiff relates that the $50 per day in maintenance, which was insufficient under the law, left him in a dire financial condition, and when he met with Martin, he was desperate to return to work to regain his regular income. Plaintiff claims that Martin knew of his financial plight, and laughed at Plaintiff's initial request for $20, 000 when Martin asked him what it would take the settle the matter, and said he would only pay $5, 000. Plaintiff further claims that Martin said that Plaintiff would never work for Atlantic Cape Fisheries again if Plaintiff did not sign the release or took the release to an attorney. Plaintiff relates that Martin never explained the legal consequences of the provisions in the release.

         Plaintiff claims that Martin showed him a one-page release, on which Plaintiff wrote his name and filled out some other information, and a copy of only that page was provided to him. The purported release that Defendants have provided in support of their motion contains four pages, however, and Plaintiff's name is misspelled on the remaining pages, including in his alleged signature.

         After the meeting, Plaintiff cashed the $5, 000 check to pay some outstanding debts, and returned to fishing on the F/V PONTOS for two trips. According to Plaintiff, when he returned from the tips, Atlantic Cape Fisheries deducted $3, 000 - $4, 000 from his fishing shares to recover the “advances” it paid Plaintiff. Plaintiff claims that because Atlantic Cape Fisheries refused to refund his wages, he quit. Plaintiff relates that he successfully ...


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