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Kozur v. F/V Atlantic Bounty, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 16, 2019

F/V ATLANTIC BOUNTY, LLC., et al, Defendants.



         This case comes before the Court on Defendants' Motions to Dismiss or Stay Plaintiff's Action and Compel Arbitration. [Dkt. Nos. 8, 9]. The Court has considered the written submissions of the parties, as well as the arguments advanced at the hearing on September 30, 2019. For the Reasons that follow the Court grants Defendant, Atlantic Cape Fisheries', Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's complaint against it.

         The Court finds that questions of fact and credibility pertaining to the enforceability of the Arbitration Clause at issue preclude a determination on Defendants', F/V Atlantic Bounty, LLC and Sea Harvest, Inc., Motion to Compel Arbitration. The pertinent issue to be decided is whether Plaintiff knowingly and willingly signed an Agreement containing the relevant Arbitration Clause. The Court will hold an evidentiary hearing on the matter and dismiss the Motion without prejudice.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on May 3, 2018 against Atlantic Cape Fisheries, Inc. and F/V Atlantic Bounty, LLC. On June 21, 2018 Plaintiff amended his complaint, adding Sea Harvest, Inc. as a Defendant in this matter. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint asserts claims for Jones Act Negligence (Count I), Unseaworthiness (Count II), and Maintenance and Cure (Count II). [Dkt. No. 5]. The basis of Plaintiff's seaman claims stem from events occurring on August 28, 2017. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that while in navigable waters, he slipped and fell on the “centerline stopper midship, twisting his back and causing serious injuries” in the course of his employment on Atlantic Bounty (the “Vessel”). Compl. at ¶¶ 28-31

         According to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, he was an employee of Sea Harvest, Atlantic Cape, and F/V Atlantic Bounty “as a member of the crew of the vessel.” Id. at ¶¶25-27. He claims all three Defendants (F/V Atlantic Bounty, Atlantic Cape Fisheries, and Sea Harvest) also owned, possessed, managed, controlled, and operated the Vessel. Id. ¶¶ 6-22. Plaintiff further alleges that the three Defendants were also the Vessel's bareboat charterer.

         In response to Plaintiff's Complaint, Defendants F/V Atlantic Bounty and Sea Harvest filed a Motion to Dismiss or Stay Plaintiff's Action and Compel Arbitration pursuant to an arbitration clause contained in Plaintiff's employment contract, which Defendants argue is valid and enforceable against him. [Dkt. No. 8]. Defendant Atlantic Cape moved to Dismiss or Stay Plaintiff's Action and Compel Arbitration separately. [Dkt. No. 9]. Atlantic Cape argues that Plaintiff's action should be dismissed against it because it is not a proper defendant in this case; in the alternative, it seeks dismissal or stay of the action pending arbitration pursuant to the same arbitration policy. Each of the motions have been fully briefed, and the Court heard Oral Argument on September 30, 2019.

         II. Discussion

         A. Defendant Atlantic Cape Fisheries' Motion to Dismiss

         1. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to move for dismissal of a claim based on “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if the alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), ordinarily only the allegations in the complaint, matters of public record, orders, and exhibits attached to the complaint, are taken into consideration.[1] See Chester County Intermediate Unit v. Pa. Blue Shield, 896 F.2d 808, 812 (3d Cir. 1990). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead evidence. Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 561 F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977). The question before the Court is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail. Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (2007). Instead, the Court simply asks whether the plaintiff has articulated “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         “A claim has facial plausibility[2] when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         The Court need not accept “‘unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, '” Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted), however, and “[l]egal conclusions made in the guise of factual allegations . . . are given no presumption of truthfulness.” Wyeth v. Ranbaxy Labs., Ltd., 448 F.Supp.2d 607, 609 (D.N.J. 2006) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)); see also Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005) (“[A] court need not credit either ‘bald assertions' or ‘legal conclusions' in a complaint when deciding a motion to dismiss.”)). Accord Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-80 (finding that pleadings that are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth). Further, although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary, “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted). See also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”).

         Thus, a motion to dismiss should be granted unless the plaintiff's factual allegations are “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all of the complaint's allegations are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has ...

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