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Johnson v. Wang

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

October 31, 2017

DONALD P. WANG, et al., Defendants.




         Before the court is Plaintiff George Johnson's motion for partial summary judgment against in personam Defendant Donald P. Wang, who is proceeding pro se. (Mot. (Dkt. # 24).) Mr. Wang opposes the motion. (Resp. (Dkt. # 25).) The court has reviewed the motion, the parties' submissions in support of and in opposition to the motion, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [1] the court DENIES Mr. Johnson's motion for partial summary judgment for the reasons set forth below.


         On November 10, 2016, Mr. Johnson filed this lawsuit against Mr. Wang and in rem Defendant the F/V Thor ("the Thor")-a fishing vessel. (Compl. (Dkt. # 1).) Mr. Johnson alleges that Mr. Wang failed to pay him $7, 380.00 in wages for 492 hours of work converting the Thor into a tuna boat and failed to fulfill his promise to let Mr. Johnson master the Thor during the tuna fishing season. (Id. ¶¶ 4-6.) Mr. Johnson asserts no specific causes of action (see generally id.) but seeks the following relief: the arrest, condemnation, and sale of the Thor; compensatory, double, and punitive damages for Mr. Wang's alleged failure to pay wages; prejudgment interest; and attorney's fees and costs (id. ¶¶ 7-8).

         On July 11, 2017, Mr. Johnson moved for partial summary judgment against Mr. Wang for the alleged unpaid wages.[2] (Mot. at 1.) In support of his motion, Mr. Johnson proffers his declarations and Mr. Wang's deposition testimony. (See generally MDJ (Dkt. # 17) at 1, Ex. 1 ("1st Johnson Decl."); Mot. at 2, Ex. A ("Wang Dep."); Errata (Dkt. # 28), Ex. 1 ("2d Johnson Decl.").)[3]

         According to Mr. Johnson, he entered into an oral contract with Mr. Wang to prepare the Thor for the 2016 tuna fishing season.[4] (Mot. at 1; 1st Johnson Decl. ¶ 6.) Mr. Johnson claims that Mr. Wang promised that he could skipper the boat for a 20% crewshare if Mr. Johnson agreed to work at a rate of $15.00 per hour restoring the Thor and converting her into a tuna jig boat. (1st Johnson Decl. ¶¶ 4-5.) Based on this understanding, Mr. Johnson contends that he performed 492 hours of shipyard work on the Thor during the summer of 2016. (Id. ¶ 5.) However, Mr. Johnson asserts that once he completed the work, Mr. Wang put the Thor up for sale and did not pay him. (Id. ¶ 8.)

         In opposition to Mr. Johnson's motion, Mr. Wang presents a differing version of events. (See generally Wang Decl.) According to Mr. Wang, he never contracted with Mr. Johnson or authorized any of the work Mr. Johnson contends he did. (Id. at 1.) Mr. Wang testifies that the Thor was ready to go fishing when he bought her, and he did not know whether Mr. Johnson performed any work on her. (See Wang Dep. at 23:20, 25:14.) He also testifies that Mr. Johnson had been on the Thor, but only to evaluate the vessel for going fishing. (See Id. at 22:10-13.) Mr. Wang also contends that he had no reason to check whether any work was done because he never authorized any work on the Thor, but admits that Mr. Johnson could have performed work without his authorization. (Wang Deck at 2.) Mr. Wang further contests Mr. Johnson's claim that Mr. Johnson worked on the Thor in June and early July 2016 because Mr. Wang did not purchase the Thor until later that July. (See Id. at 2; see also Wang Dep. at 12:25-13:2; 1st Johnson Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. 7.)

         The court now addresses the motion.

         III. ANALYSIS

         At the outset, the court notes that the basis for Mr. Johnson's motion is unclear. Mr. Johnson states only that he seeks partial summary judgment on his claim for unpaid wages because "[s]eamen are entitled to quantum meruit compensation for work performed in anticipation of a fishing season before the contracts required by 46 U.S.C. § 10601 are executed." (See Mot. at 4.) He further states in his moving brief that a "more equitable quantum meruit rate can be determined at a later time" (id.), but then states in his reply that "this motion is limited to a demand for quantum meruit wages" (Reply at 2). Based on the nature of Mr. Johnson's briefing, the court assumes that Mr. Johnson seeks quantum meruit compensation pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 11107 based on an alleged oral contract. The court therefore assesses whether the parties formed an oral contract and if so, whether quantum meruit recovery is appropriate. See Dunn v. Hatch, No. 1:15-cv-00479-BLW, 2017 WL 1839279, at *1 (D. Idaho May 8, 2017) ("[M]aritime law penalizes ship owners for failing to enter into written contracts by awarding deck hands enhanced damages when they prove they had only an oral contract, and that it was breached." (citing 46 U.S.C. § 10601)).

         To the extent that Mr. Johnson intended to argue some other basis for summary judgment, Mr. Johnson was responsible for making that clear to the court. The fact that Mr. Johnson cites only scant legal authority only amplifies the lack of clarity. (See generally Mot.) Indeed, he cites only three sources to support his motion-a case from the High Court of American Samoa and two maritime treatises-none of which are particularly helpful to the court's disposition. (See Id. at 4.) In this regard, Mr. Johnson's brief falls below the minimum standards for practice in this court. The court expects a party to clearly state the basis for its motion and, when the party makes a statement in a brief about what the law is, to follow that statement by a citation to specific legal authority. With this context in mind, the court addresses Mr. Johnson's motion as set forth above.

         A. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)[5]; see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Galen v. Cty. of L.A.,477 F.3d 652, 658 (9th Cir. 2007). The moving party bears the initial burden of showing there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that he is entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets his burden, then the nonmoving party "must make a showing sufficient to establish a genuine dispute of material fact regarding the existence of the essential elements of his case that he must prove at trial" in order to withstand summary judgment. Galen, 477 F.3d at 658. In determining whether the factfinder could reasonably find for the nonmoving party, "the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc.,530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). Summary judgment ...

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