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03/03/89 Merril M. Huch, v. S.J. Groves and Sons

March 3, 1989





536 N.E.2d 90, 180 Ill. App. 3d 501, 129 Ill. Dec. 406 1989.IL.268

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County; the Hon. Horace L. Calvo, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE HARRISON delivered the opinion of the court. WELCH, P.J., and LEWIS, J., concur.


Plaintiff, Merril M. Huch, filed an action in the circuit court of Madison County to recover damages from defendant, S.J. Groves and Sons, Inc., d/b/a Lock 26 Constructors, for personal injuries he sustained in the course of his employment. Plaintiff brought his action pursuant to 46 U.S.C.A. § 688 (West 1975), commonly known as the Jones Act. Following certain pretrial discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiff was not a "seaman" and therefore was not entitled to sue under the Jones Act. Defendant's motion was granted, and judgment was entered in its favor. Plaintiff now appeals. We reverse.

Under section 2-1005(c) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110, par. 2-1005(c)), summary judgment is proper only "if the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Illinois courts have repeatedly emphasized that the purpose of summary judgment is not to try a question of fact, but to determine whether a triable question of fact exists. (Miller v. Smith (1985), 137 Ill. App. 3d 192, 196, 484 N.E.2d 492, 496.) Summary judgment is a drastic remedy. It must be awarded with caution in order to avoid preempting a litigant's right to trial by jury or his right to fully present the factual basis of the case where a material dispute may exist. In passing on a summary judgment motion, the trial court is therefore required to construe the pleadings, affidavits, depositions and admissions on file strictly against the moving party and liberally in favor of the opponent. Only if these materials establish that the movant's entitlement to summary judgment is clear and free from doubt may such a motion be granted. (137 Ill. App. 3d at 196, 484 N.E.2d at 496.) This is not such a case.

The sole question presented by defendant's motion for summary judgment here was whether plaintiff was a "seaman" within the meaning of the Jones Act and therefore entitled to sue defendant, his employer, under the Act for negligence. This court has adopted the test set forth by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Johnson v. John F. Beasley Construction Co. (7th Cir. 1984), 742 F.2d 1054, 1062-63, cert. denied (1985), 469 U.S. 1211, 84 L. Ed. 2d 328, 105 S. Ct. 1180, for determining whether an injured party has seaman's status. (Dungey v. United States Steel Corp. (1986), 148 Ill. App. 3d 484, 493-96, 499 N.E.2d 545, 552-53, cert. denied (1987), 484 U.S. 819, 98 L. Ed. 2d 38, 108 S. Ct. 75; Dale v. Luhr Brothers, Inc. (1987), 158 Ill. App. 3d 402, 407, 511 N.E.2d 933, 935, cert. denied (1988), 486 U.S. 1007, 100 L. Ed. 2d 198, 108 S. Ct. 1734.) Specifically, we have held that there is an evidentiary basis for submitting to the trier of fact the question of an injured party's status as a seaman if:

"(1) the person injured had a more or less permanent connection with a vessel in navigation, and (2) the person injured made a significant contribution to the maintenance, operation, or welfare of the transportation function of the vessel." 158 Ill. App. 3d at 407, 511 N.E.2d at 935.

The pleadings, affidavits and depositions on file in this case indicate that defendant had a contract with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to construct the replacement Lock and Dam No. 26, second stage lock, in the Mississippi River near Alton, Illinois. Defendant created a cofferdam by erecting cells which enclosed the construction site. To facilitate work on the cofferdam, defendant obtained barges. It used these barges to move material and as a place for doing fabrication work.

Plaintiff was an operating engineer, that is, one who operates heavy equipment. On June 19, 1985, plaintiff was hired by defendant to replace a worker who had become sick. After reporting to work, plaintiff was taken by boat to one of the barges used by defendant for work on the cofferdam. The barge was located in the middle of the river and was moored to the cofferdam by mooring lines. It was not self-propelled and had no steering capacity. It had to be pushed into place by tugboats and then secured with mooring lines.

The barge was made of steel and had a flat deck. It was called a "fab barge" because it was used for the fabrication of steel material. The barge was not equipped with a cabin, galley, fresh water storage, permanent toilets, or fixed navigational lights, but it did have a trailer, which was used by workers to change clothes, eat lunch, and protect themselves from the elements. Also located on the deck of the barge was a 14- or 18-ton "cherry picker" crane. Plaintiff's job on the barge was to operate this crane.

On the day plaintiff was injured, the barge was moored in the middle of the river. Plaintiff was transported there by boat. Upon his arrival, plaintiff was directed to move "some ladders and things" for the pile drivers so that the barge could move further ahead and work on the piling could be performed. After completing this assignment, plaintiff went to the trailer to take his break. When the break was over, plaintiff decided to go back outside to look around. As he exited the trailer and started down the steps in front of it, one of the steps gave way and he fell to the ground. In plaintiff's words, "I went down twisted my knee and hit my elbow and jammed my shoulder." That fall, and the resulting injuries sustained by plaintiff, are the basis for plaintiff's Jones Act claim against defendant. There is no dispute that the circuit court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment only because it believed that plaintiff could not, as a matter of law, be regarded as a "seaman" within the meaning of the Jones Act. On this appeal, plaintiff argues that the circuit court's decision cannot be sustained because a genuine issue remains as to plaintiff's status as a "seaman." We agree.

As we have indicated, there is an evidentiary basis for submitting to the trier of fact the question of the injured ...

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