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Wilcox v. Hamilton Construction, LLC

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

June 18, 2019

JAMES WILCOX, Plaintiff,



         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff James Wilcox's motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. No. 15). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court hereby DENIES the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was employed by Defendant Hamilton Construction LLC, as captain of the tugboat Cosmic Wind. (Dkt. No. 17 at 1.) In February 2016, Plaintiff was injured while jumping between two boats owned and operated by Defendant. (Dkt. No. 1 at 2.) Plaintiff became trapped between the boats, suffering crush injuries to both of his legs. (Id.) As a result of his injuries, Plaintiff was unable to work for a period of approximately two months, and remains not yet fully cured. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at 3, 17 at 2-3.) Since the time of Plaintiff's injury, Defendant has made maintenance payments to him at a rate of $56.00 per day. (Dkt. No. 17 at 1-3.)

         Plaintiff moves partial summary judgment, arguing that he is entitled to $103.00 per day in maintenance. (See Dkt. No. 15.) Plaintiff alleges that $56.00 per day is insufficient to pay for his basic living expenses, which include food, utilities, and $2, 300 mortgage payments for a house he shares with his wife. (Id. at 1-2.) Defendant argues that it should only be required to pay $56.00 per day, as that is the reasonable cost of living for a seaman living alone in Plaintiff's locality. (Dkt. No. 17 at 2-3.)


         A. Summary Judgment Legal Standard

         The Court must grant summary judgment “if the movant shows 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). A dispute of fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of fact is material if the fact “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. At the summary judgment stage, evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in the nonmovant's favor. Id. at 255.

         B. Maintenance Payments

         “Maintenance and cure are designed to provide a seaman with food and lodging when he becomes sick or injured in the ship's service; and it extends during the period when he is incapacitated to do a seaman's work and continues until he reaches maximum medical recovery.” Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 530 (1962). When there are ambiguities or doubts as to the application of maintenance, they are resolved in favor of the seaman. See Warren v. United States, 340 U.S. 523, 530 (1951). Whether Plaintiff is owed maintenance is not disputed here- only the amount is contested. (See Dkt. Nos. 15, 17.) In deciding the appropriate maintenance amount, the Court awards the plaintiff his actual costs incurred, as long as those costs do not exceed the reasonable costs incurred by a seaman living alone in the plaintiff's locality. See Barnes v. Sea Haw. Rafting, LLC, 889 F.3d 517, 539-40 (9th Cir. 2018). To determine the appropriate amount, the plaintiff must first make a prima facie showing of his actual living expenses that were necessary to incur during the plaintiff's convalescence. Id. Once the plaintiff makes that showing, the burden shifts to the defendant to demonstrate that the plaintiff's actual expenses were unreasonable, based upon the average cost of a seaman living alone in the plaintiff's locality. Id.

         1. Plaintiff's Actual Expenses

         Plaintiff alleges that his living expenses total $3, 100 per month, requiring a daily maintenance payment of $103.00. (Dkt. No. 15 at 2.) Plaintiff lives in a house with his wife in the Tahoe area of California. (Id. at 1.) His expenses include utilities, food, and a $2, 300 mortgage. (Id.) The inclusion of mortgage payments when calculating actual living expenses is proper, because it is a payment that Plaintiff is required to incur for continued shelter. See Hall v. Noble Drilling (U.S.) Inc., 242 F.3d 582, 591 (5th Cir. 2001). Because Plaintiff's evidentiary burden is “feather light, ” see Barnes, 889 F.3d at 540, Plaintiff's statements and evidence (see Dkt. No. 15) are sufficient to meet his burden of proving his actual living expenses.

         2. Reasonableness of Expenses

         Because Plaintiff has met his prima facie burden, Defendant has the burden of proving that Plaintiff's expenses are unreasonable for a single seaman living alone in Plaintiff's locality. Barnes, 889 F.3d at 541. Defendant has presented evidence showing that the average living expenses for a single seaman in the Tahoe area are $56.00 per day. (Dkt. No. 17 at 7.) Plaintiff does not dispute the accuracy of this amount. (See generally Dkt. No. 23.) Instead, Plaintiff argues that Defendant makes no showing that $103.00 per day is unreasonable for someone in Plaintiff's living ...

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