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Robinson v. F/V Lilli Ann, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

February 22, 2017

JEFFREY D. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
F/V LILLI ANN, LLC, et al., Defendants. IN ADMIRALTY

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. Dkt. # 13. In this case, plaintiff Jeffrey D. Robinson, a seaman, claims that his employer and the owner of the fishing vessel on which he worked breached their maritime duty to provide maintenance and cure by failing to take all reasonable steps to ensure that plaintiff received proper care and treatment for his severe sleep apnea. Defendants move for partial summary judgment on the standard of care applicable to a vessel owner's duty to provide maintenance and cure for a condition unrelated to employment on the vessel. Defendants further seek summary judgment as to whether, on the facts of this case, there was a breach of that duty. Dkt. # 13 at 1-2. Plaintiff opposes summary judgment. Dkt. # 15. Having reviewed the parties' briefs, declarations, exhibits, and the remainder of the record, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part defendants' motion for the reasons that follow.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a stroke that plaintiff suffered in July 2012 while employed by defendant Coastal Villages Longline, LLC, as a crew member of the F/V Lilli Ann, a vessel owned and operated by defendant F/V Lilli Ann, LLC.

         In early 2012, Bob Wilson, the captain of the F/V Lilli Ann, advised plaintiff to see a doctor about his serious snoring problem. Dkt. # 16-1 at 4. Captain Wilson was aware that snoring could be associated with severe health problems. Dkt. # 16-2 at 8-9. On several occasions prior to this conversation, Captain Wilson and plaintiff had discussed plaintiff's snoring, and Captain Wilson had suggested that plaintiff consider getting a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (“CPAP”) machine to help with the problem. Dkt. # 16-2 at 4-6; Dkt. # 14-2 at 12. Plaintiff tried a CPAP but had stopped using it because it did not fit well. Dkt. # 16-1 at 5-6; Dkt. # 16-2 at 5-7.

         After Captain Wilson suggested he see a doctor, plaintiff saw Dr. Nilesh Shah, an ear, nose, and throat specialist, in Seattle on May 2, 2012. Dkt. # 14-3; Dkt. # 16-3 at 4, 6. During this visit, Dr. Shah observed that plaintiff's tonsils were extremely enlarged and suspected that plaintiff was suffering from sleep apnea. Dkt. # 16-3 at 6. Dr. Shah did not provide an affirmative diagnosis of sleep apnea, but rather recommended that plaintiff undergo a sleep study to determine the severity of the problem. Dkt. # 16-3 at 6-7. Dr. Shah informed plaintiff that if the sleep study showed that plaintiff was indeed suffering from sleep apnea, he would recommend treatment in the form of a tonsillectomy and surgery to repair plaintiff's deviated septum. Dkt. # 16-3 at 8; Dkt. # 14-2 at 3.

         On May 9, 2012, plaintiff self-administered a home sleep study. Dkt. # 14-4 at 5. The results suggested significant sleep apnea but were inconclusive given the short duration of the study. Dkt. # 16-3 at 14. Dr. Shah's office informed plaintiff that he would have to undergo a second sleep study. Dkt. # 14-4 at 6. On June 4, 2012, plaintiff self-administered a second sleep study. Dkt. # 14-4 at 5. Over the next few days, Dr. Shah's office attempted to contact plaintiff to discuss the results of the second sleep study, [1] but plaintiff did not receive these communications and did not contact Dr. Shah's office about the results of the sleep study. Dkt. # 14-4 at 4; Dkt. # 14-2 at 2, 3.

         On June 5, 2012, plaintiff noted on his start-of-season health questionnaire that he needed surgery on his tonsils and palate. Dkt. # 14-8 at 1. Plaintiff also testified that he told Captain Wilson that he would need to take off the next two fishing trips in order to have the tonsillectomy and palate surgery. Dkt. # 16-1 at 9-10, 18-19; Dkt. # 17, ¶ 4. According to plaintiff, Captain Wilson told plaintiff that he was needed on the next two fishing trips because no other crew member was available to attend training on new technology that the vessel had recently installed, and that plaintiff would have to postpone his surgery. Dkt. # 16-1 at 9-10, 18-19; Dkt. # 17, ¶ 4. Captain Wilson denies telling plaintiff to postpone his surgery. Dkt. # 20-3 at 2.

         On June 12, 2012, plaintiff left Seattle for Alaska on the F/V Lilli Ann. From then until July 4, 2012, plaintiff felt well. Dkt. # 16-1 at 13. On July 4, however, plaintiff began to feel unwell. At the time, the F/V Lilli Ann was traveling to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to drop off another ill crew member. Dkt. # 14-2 at 6. When the F/V Lilli Ann arrived in Dutch Harbor on July 5, 2012, crew members brought plaintiff to the Iliuliuk Health Clinic. Dkt. # 14-6 at 7. Prior to his arrival at the clinic, plaintiff began to vomit, had trouble walking, and complained of a tingling sensation on the right side of his face. Dkt. # 14-2 at 7-8. While at the clinic, plaintiff claimed that he could not feel cold sensations on the right side of his body, and the right side of his face began to droop. Dkt. # 14-2 at 8. On the evening of July 5, plaintiff was transported via air ambulance to a hospital in Anchorage, where he was diagnosed with a stroke. Dkt. # 14-2 at 9; Dkt. # 14-7 at 1, 4-5.

         On July 6, 2015, plaintiff sued Coastal Villages Longline, LLC, and its parent company; F/V Lilli Ann, LLC; and the F/V Lilli Ann, in rem. Dkt. # 1. He filed an amended complaint on October 25, 2015. Dkt. # 4. Plaintiff claims that defendants breached the maritime duty to provide maintenance and cure by failing to take all reasonable steps to ensure that plaintiff received proper care and timely treatment for his sleep apnea. Defendants move for summary judgment, arguing that their maritime duty of maintenance and cure did not extend to requiring plaintiff to get medical care for a medical condition unrelated to his employment - and that even if it did, they did not breach that duty. Dkt. # 13.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact which would preclude the entry of judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits, if any, that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has satisfied its burden, it is entitled to summary judgment if the nonmoving party fails to designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Id. at 324. An issue is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact finder could find for the nonmoving party. In re Barboza, 545 F.3d 702, 707 (9th Cir. 2008). The Court will view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Mueller v. Auker, 576 F.3d 979, 991 (9th Cir. 2009).

         B. Defendants' Maritime Duty to Provide ...


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