ALLAN A. TABINGO, Petitioner,
AMERICAN TRIUMPH LLC, and AMERICAN SEAFOODS COMPANY, LLC, Respondents.
Tabingo was seriously injured while working aboard a fishing
trawler owned and operated by American Seafoods Company LLC
and American Triumph LLC (collectively American Seafoods).
Tabingo alleges the lever used to operate a hatch in the
trawler's deck broke when an operator tried to stop the
hatch from closing. The hatch closed on Tabingo's hand,
leading to the amputation of two fingers. He brought numerous
claims against American Seafoods, including a general
maritime unseaworthiness claim for which he requested
punitive damages. American Seafoods argued that as a matter
of law, punitive damages are unavailable for unseaworthiness
is a general maritime claim. Neither the United States nor
the Washington State Supreme Court have ruled on whether
punitive damages are available under this theory. However,
the United States Supreme Court has recently held that
punitive damages are available for maintenance and cure,
another general maritime claim. The Court held that because
both the claim and the damages were historically available at
common law and because Congress had shown no intent to limit
recovery of punitive damages, those damages were available.
Here, we follow the United States Supreme Court's
rationale and find that, like maintenance and cure, punitive
damages are available for a general maritime unseaworthiness
claim. We reverse the trial court and remand for further
Tabingo was a deckhand trainee aboard the fishing trawler
American Triumph, owned and operated by American
Seafoods. "Fishing trawlers" are vessels that catch
and haul fish onto their decks using large nets. After the
fish are aboard and dumped from the nets, one deckhand opens
a steel hatch using hydraulic controls while another deckhand
shovels the fish through the hatch for processing. Though
deckhands can push most of the fish below decks with shovels,
the design of the vessel requires them to get on all-fours
and use their hands to move the final fish.
February 2015, Tabingo was tasked with moving the fish below
decks. He was on his knees near the hatch's hinge,
gathering the last remaining fish, when another deckhand
started closing the hatch. Realizing how close Tabingo's
hands were to the hatch, the deckhand attempted to correct
his mistake. However, the hatch's control handle was
broken and the deckhand could not stop the hatch. The
hydraulic hatch closed on Tabingo's hand, resulting in
the amputation of two fingers. Tabingo alleges that American
Seafoods knew about the broken handle for two years before
the incident but had failed to repair it.
filed suit against American Seafoods. He claimed negligence
under the Jones Act (also known as the Merchant Marine Act of
1920 (46 U.S.C. § 30104)), as well as several general
maritime claims, including one for unseaworthiness of the
vessel. He requested compensatory damages against American
Seafoods for all of his claims, and punitive damages for his
general maritime claims, including his unseaworthiness claim.
Seafoods filed a motion for partial summary judgment moving
to dismiss Tabingo's punitive damages claim. It argued
that Tabingo had not stated a claim for which relief could be
granted under CR 12(b)(6), and asked that the trial court
follow a recent Fifth Circuit case, McBride v. Estis Well
Serv., LLC, 768 F.3d 382 (5th Cir. 2014) (plurality
opinion), holding that punitive damages are disallowed in
general maritime law cases. American Seafoods claimed that
punitive damages are prohibited under the Jones Act's
provision for maritime negligence actions, and because the
unseaworthiness claim was joined with a Jones Act negligence
claim, punitive damages are barred for the unseaworthiness
claim as well.
oral argument, a King County Superior Court judge granted the
motion for partial summary judgment on CR 12(b)(6) grounds.
The judge found that, based on Washington and federal law,
the measure of damages available in a Jones Act negligence
claim and an unseaworthiness claim are identical. Because of
this, the Jones Act circumscribes the damages available under
the doctrine of unseaworthiness. The trial court ruled that a
plaintiff may not seek nonpecuniary damages in either general
maritime or negligence claims and, because punitive damages
are nonpecuniary, dismissed Tabingo's punitive damages
filed a direct interlocutory petition for review with this
court, which was granted. Ruling Granting Review, Tabingo
v. American Triumph, LLC, No. 92913-1 (Wash. Jun. 28,
seaman request punitive damages under a general maritime
issue here is a challenge to a motion to dismiss for failure
to state a claim on which relief can be granted. CR 12(b)(6).
The trial court may grant a CR 12(b)(6) motion when the
plaintiff can provide no conceivable set of facts consistent
with the complaint that would entitle him or her to a relief.
Becker v. Cmty. Health Sys., Inc.,184 Wn.2d 252,
257-58, 359 P.3d 746 (2015) (citing Corrigal v. Ball
& DoddFuneral Home, Inc.,89 Wn.2d 959,
961, 577 P.2d 580 (1978)). All allegations set forth by the
nonmoving party are presumed to be true. Kinney v.
Cook,159 Wn.2d 837, 842, 154 P.3d 206 (2007). If it is
possible that facts could be established to support relief,
the motion will not be granted. Kumar v. Gate Gourmet
Inc.,180 Wn.2d 481, 488, 325 P.3d 193 (2014). A trial
court's ruling to dismiss a claim under CR 12(b)(6) is a
matter of law this court reviews de novo. See
Kinney, 159 ...