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Grant v. Entertainment Cruises Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 19, 2018

TAMEA GRANT, Plaintiff,
v.
ENTERTAINMENT CRUISES, INC.; SPIRIT CRUISES, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES E. BOASBERG JUDGE

         Pro se Plaintiff Tamea Grant, a deckhand on a local cruise ship, brought this suit against Entertainment Cruises, Inc., and its subsidiary Spirit Cruises, LLC, alleging that her former captain intentionally struck her with a rope during a docking incident and then denied her medical assistance. After two rounds of briefing, what remains of her case is a single count under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, which allows a seaman injured on a vessel in navigation to recover from his employer. Defendants, contending that they cannot be held liable for this intentional tort, now move for summary judgment. Because the Court finds that there are several material facts in dispute, it will deny the Motion.

         I. Background

         At the summary-judgment stage, courts must consider the facts in the evidentiary record. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Here, however, the only evidence proffered by either party consists of snippets from Plaintiff's deposition related to the incident. To provide the reader with some context, accordingly, the Court draws general background from the Complaint and uses the deposition where available.

         A. Factual History

         In contrast to her 20-year career with the U.S. Navy, Grant's time working on Defendants' vessels was rather abbreviated. See Second Amend. Compl., ¶¶ 4, 15. In March 2015, Spirit Cruises hired her as a deckhand, during which time her job duties included greeting guests, docking and undocking the ship, “stand[ing] lookout, ” and assisting with some maintenance and cleaning. Id., ¶¶ 4, 16.

         On April 25, 2015, Plaintiff's assigned vessel hit a few snags when trying to embark its passengers. First, while standing on the gangway, Grant “heard yelling and witnessed the Captain” removing several intoxicated guests, which put him “in a bad mood.” Id., ¶ 18. The first mate then instructed Grant to help the Captain handle the ship's ropes - “an alarming request, ” as that was typically the first mate's job. Id. They removed the boat lines and the Captain began to back the vessel away from the dock, but he was then told that an employee had been “fired and needed to leave the boat” “immediately.” Id., ¶ 19. This necessitated a trip back to the dock, where the boat would need to be re-tied and the gangway re-set. Again, it was usually the first mate's responsibility to assist the Captain in these endeavors, but on this night, Grant was told to help. Initially, Plaintiff resisted because “she could see the anger mounting in the Captain[']s face, ” but, not wanting to be the next one told to walk the plank, she ultimately relented and went to help. Id. In the middle of preparing to lift the gangway, the Captain suddenly “yanked the gangway . . . [and] began slamming it back and forth in the walkway.” Id. Another officer was concerned that she had been injured, but Plaintiff informed him that she had “moved [her] hand.” Id.

         Later, she was not so lucky. When Grant subsequently prepared to dock the boat again, the line became jammed. She asked the Captain for help, at which point he attempted to dislodge a stuck rope or line, but ended up swinging the rope and hitting her on the head. See Opp., Attach. 1 (Deposition of Tamea Grant) at 82:16-22. To Grant, this assault was “intentional[].” Id. at 82:16-22. This incident caused “severe headaches, ringing in her ears, memory loss, visual disturbances, searing pain in [her] elbow joint, and . . . golfer's elbow.” SAC, ¶ 32. When she told the Captain that he had hit her, “his reaction was to smile, ” and he refused to engage in any discussion with her. Id., ¶ 23. Her effort to relay the severity of her injuries was similarly unsuccessful, and the Captain both refused to provide her medical assistance and forbade anyone else from doing so. See Grant Depo. at 104:12-22. Grant then disembarked and went to her car. As she began to dial 911, another deckhand appeared in her passenger window; fearing that the employee might have been sent to “inflict more harm, ” Plaintiff “feared for her life and fled the parking lot.” SAC, ¶ 24.

         B. Procedural History

         Two years later, Grant filed two separate suits against Entertainment Cruises and Spirit Cruises in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Both actions alleged three violations of the D.C. Human Rights Act and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. See ECF No. 1 (Notice of Removal), Exh. A. Defendants successfully removed the cases to federal court, and this Court consolidated them. Id.; Minute Order of August 29, 2017. The cruise lines then moved to dismiss all of her claims as time-barred. See ECF No. 10. In response, Plaintiff requested leave to amend her Complaint, throwing the DCHRA and emotional-distress counts overboard in favor of four counts under D.C. labor-law statutes and a Jones Act claim. See ECF No. 21; No. 17-1410, ECF No. 16. The Court granted her Motion to Amend the Complaint and, accordingly, denied Defendants' first Motion to Dismiss as moot. The cruise lines again moved to dismiss, which the Court largely granted. It allowed her to proceed on one count for unsafe working conditions and invited her to re-plead the Jones Act claim. See ECF Nos. 24, 29. Grant took the Court up on this offer and successfully moved to file a Second Amended Complaint. See ECF Nos. 33, 36. Again, Defendants moved to dismiss, this time arguing that the Jones Act preempts her D.C. claim. See ECF No. 40. The Court agreed and dismissed her state-law cause of action. See ECF No. 46. Discovery now complete, the cruise lines have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the sole remaining count for liability - namely, under the Jones Act.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment may be granted 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); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). A fact is “material” if it is capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the litigation. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. A dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion” by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. PEPCO, 447 F.3d 843, 850 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Aka v. Wash. Hosp. Ctr., 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (en banc). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must “eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.” Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

         The non-moving party's opposition, however, must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials, and must be supported by affidavits, declarations, or other competent evidence, setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The non-movant, in other words, is required to provide evidence that ...


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