MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is defendant Harrah's Illinois Corporation's motion to dismiss Count III of plaintiff Peggy Watters' complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the court grants defendant's motion.
The complaint alleges the following facts which, for the purposes of ruling on this motion, are taken as true. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 81 L. Ed. 2d 59, 104 S. Ct. 2229 (1984). On July 6, 1996, plaintiff Peggy Watters ("Watters") was working as a crew member for the Southern Star, a vessel owned, operated, and maintained by defendant Harrah's Illinois Corporation ("Harrah's"). While working on the boat on that day, Watters sustained injuries to her back and body.
On January 5, 1998, Watters filed a three-count complaint in this court. Count I is a claim for personal injury under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. App. § 688. Count II is a claim under general maritime law for unseaworthiness. Count III is a claim under general maritime law for maintenance and cure. Among other remedies, Count III seeks an award of "$ 100,000.00 for [Harrah's] arbitrary and capricious refusal to pay maintenance and cure."
In response to Watters' complaint, Harrah's filed an answer to Counts I and II and a motion to dismiss Count III. Harrah's motion to dismiss Count III is premised on Harrah's argument that a plaintiff should not be allowed to recover punitive damages in a maintenance and cure action.
A. Standard for deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss
When deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Cromley v. Board of Educ. of Lockport, 699 F. Supp. 1283, 1285 (N.D. Ill. 1988). If, when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court must dismiss the case. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6); Gomez v. Illinois State Bd. of Educ., 811 F.2d 1030, 1039 (7th Cir. 1987). However, the court may dismiss the complaint only if it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957).
Punitive damages in a maintenance and cure action
The precise issue before the court is whether a plaintiff who sues a private party under general maritime law for willful failure to pay maintenance and cure can recover punitive damages. Neither the Supreme Court nor the Seventh Circuit has ever directly addressed this issue. Similarly, the parties did not cite and the court could not find a case from the Northern District of Illinois which directly addresses this issue. Thus, this is a case of first impression in this district.
Although there exists no precedent binding on this court, there are several sources which provide guidance in deciding the issue. First, there are three Supreme Court cases which are particularly relevant to this court's decision. In addition, there are cases in other circuits which directly address the issue. The court will address these cases after a brief discussion on maintenance and cure liability in general.
1. Maintenance and cure liability
Under general maritime law, when a seaman becomes ill or injured during the period of his service, the shipowner is liable to the seaman for maintenance and cure. Aguilar v. Standard Oil Co. of N.J., 318 U.S. 724, 730, 87 L. Ed. 1107, 63 S. Ct. 930 (1943). "Maintenance" is "the payment by a shipowner to a seaman for the seaman's food or lodging expenses incurred while he is ashore as a result of illness or accident." Barnes v. Andover Co., 900 F.2d 630, 631 (3d Cir. 1990). "Cure" is "the right to necessary medical services." Guevara v. Maritime Overseas Corp., 59 F.3d 1496, 1499 (5th Cir. 1995) (en banc).
The liability for maintenance and cure "extends during the period when [the seaman] is incapacitated until he reaches the maximum medical recovery." Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 531, 8 L. Ed. 2d 88, 82 S. Ct. 997 (1962). This liability is not predicated on the fault or negligence of the shipowner; rather, it is an incident of the marine employer-employee relationship. Aguilar, 318 U.S. at 730. The rationale for imposing such liability was summarized in Calmar S.S. Corp. v. Taylor as follows:
The reasons underlying the rule, to which reference must be made in defining it, are those enumerated in the classic passage by Mr. Justice Story in Harden v. Gordon, C.C., Fed. Cas. No. 6047: The protection of seamen, who, as a class, are poor, friendless and improvident from the hazards of illness and abandonment while ill in foreign ports; the inducement to masters and owners to protect the safety and health of seamen while in service; the maintenance of a merchant marine for commercial service and maritime defense of the nation by inducing men to accept employment in arduous and perilous service.
Calmar S.S. Corp. v. Taylor, 303 U.S. 525, 528, 82 L. Ed. 993, 58 S. Ct. 651 (1938).
2. Relevant Supreme Court decisions
The essential starting point in analyzing the issue of whether punitive damages are recoverable in a maintenance and cure action is an examination of relevant Supreme Court decisions. There are three, Cortes v. Baltimore Insular Line, Inc., 287 U.S. 367, 77 L. Ed. 368, 53 S. Ct. 173 (1932), Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 8 L. Ed. 2d 88, 82 S. Ct. 997 (1962), and Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19, 112 L. Ed. 2d 275, 111 S. Ct. 317 (1990), which affect this court's ultimate decision. The court addresses each of these cases in turn.
a. Cortes v. Baltimore Insular Line, Inc.
The first Supreme Court decision pertinent to this court's discussion is Cortes v. Baltimore Insular Line, Inc., The Cortes opinion is important because it establishes that there are two distinct types of maintenance and cure actions: a tort-like type and a contract-like type. For the sake of clarity, the court will discuss Cortes in two parts. The first part discusses the opinion itself, while the second part summarizes the impact of Cortes on this court's decision.
1. The Cortes opinion
In Cortes, the plaintiff was the administrator of the estate of seaman who had died of pneumonia. Cortes, 287 U.S. at 370. The seaman had contracted pneumonia while working aboard the defendant's ship. Id. The plaintiff sued the defendant to recover damages for the seaman's death, which the plaintiff alleged was caused by the failure of the master of the ship to give the seaman proper care. Id. The district court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiff. Id. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that the seaman's cause of action for negligent care or cure was ended by his death and did not accrue to the administrator. Id.
The Supreme Court was faced with the issue of whether a seaman's cause of action for personal injury which was caused or aggravated by the shipowner's failure to provide maintenance and cure survives the seaman's death. Id. at 371. The Court began by explaining that the only way that the cause of action survived the seaman's death was if a statute continued it or gave it to another. Id. The Court noted that the Jones Act "gives a cause of action to the seaman who has suffered personal injury through the negligence of his employer." Id. at 372. Further, the Court explained, if death resulted from such injury, the Jones Act also gives a cause of action to the seaman's personal representative. Id. Thus, the narrow issue before the Court was whether "the negligent omission to furnish care or cure is death from personal injury within the meaning of the statute." Id.
In an opinion written by Justice Cardozo, the Court held that a seaman does have a cause of action under the Jones Act where the seaman's injury was caused by the shipowner's negligent failure to pay maintenance and cure. Id. at 374-76. The Court further held that if death results from such injury, the Jones Act provides a cause of action to the seaman's personal representative. Id. at 376. The Court provided the following reasons for this holding:
The failure to provide maintenance and cure may be a personal injury or something else according to the consequences. If the seaman has been able to procure his maintenance and cure out of his own or his friends' money, his remedy is for the outlay, but personal injury there is none. If the default of the vessel and its officers has impaired his bodily or mental health, the damage to mind or body is none the less a personal injury because he may be free at his election to plead it in a different count. ... While the seaman was still alive, his cause of action may have overlapped his cause of action for breach of the maritime duty of maintenance and cure, just as it may have overlapped his cause of action for injury caused through an unseaworthy ship. ... In such circumstances it was his privilege, in so far as the causes of action covered the same ground, to sue indifferently on any one of them.
Id. at 374-75 (internal citations omitted).
2. The impact of Cortes
The Cortes Court indicated that there are actually two different types of maintenance and cure actions: a tort-like type and a contract-like type. See Guevara, 59 F.3d at 1511. The tort-like type involves personal injury which is caused or aggravated by the shipowner's failure to pay maintenance or cure. Id. When the seaman suffers personal injury from such failure to provide maintenance or cure, the seaman can recover for that injury either under general maritime law in a maintenance and cure action or under the Jones Act. Id. In fact, such actions are frequently brought under the Jones Act. Id. at 1512 (citations omitted); see also Barnes, 900 F.2d at 634 ("The Jones Act also has been held to provide an action for a seaman against the shipowner for negligence in failing to provide maintenance and cure.").
In contrast to the tort-like type of maintenance and cure action, the contract-like type involves monetary outlay and not personal injury. Id. In such a case, the seaman does not have a cause of action under the Jones Act. Id. His only cause of action is under general maritime law for failure to pay maintenance and cure. Id.
b. Vaughan v. Atkinson
The second Supreme Court decision pertinent to this court's discussion is Vaughan v. Atkinson. Vaughan is important to this Court's opinion because it discusses the recovery of attorney's fees in a maintenance and cure action. The court's discussion of Vaughan will be in two parts, with part one discussing the opinion itself and part two discussing the impact of Vaughan on this court's decision.
1. The Vaughan opinion
In Vaughan, the plaintiff seaman brought a suit to recover maintenance and cure and for damages for failure to pay maintenance and cure. Vaughan, 369 U.S. at 527-28. The Court held that the defendant's deliberate failure to pay maintenance and cure gave rise to a claim for attorney's fees as well as general damages. Id. at 528-31. The Vaughan Court did not address the issue of punitive damages because plaintiff made no claim for punitive damages. See Hines v. J.A. LaPorte, Inc., 820 F.2d 1187, 1189 (11th Cir. 1987) (per curiam).
2. The impact of Vaughan
Vaughan clearly stands for the proposition that attorney's fees are recoverable in a maintenance and cure action where the shipowner's failure to pay maintenance and cure was willful and recalcitrant. However, while that much is clear, what is not so clear is whether Vaughan stands for the broader proposition that both attorney's fees and punitive damages are recoverable in such a case.
This lack of clarity is due to the language that the Court used in explaining why the plaintiff was entitled to recover his attorney's fees. In one sentence, the Court describes the defendant's failure to pay maintenance and cure as "callous," "recalcitrant," and "willful and persistent." Vaughn, 369 U.S. at 530-31. This language has led some to believe that Vaughan supports the award of punitive damages in maintenance and cure cases. See GRANT GILMORE & CHARLES L. BLACK, JR., THE LAW OF ADMIRALTY § 6-13 (2d ed. 1975). In other sentences of the opinion, however, the Court explains that failure to pay maintenance and cure may entitle a seaman to recover "necessary expenses"; notes that the plaintiff "was forced to hire a lawyer and go to court to get what was plainly owed him"; and states that "it is difficult to imagine a clearer cases of damages suffered for failure to pay maintenance." Vaughn, 369 U.S. at 530-31. This language has led others to believe that Vaughan only supports the award attorney's fees as an item of compensatory damages. See MOORE'S FEDERAL PRACTICE P 54.78 (2d ed. 1994).
Having noted the lack of clarity, however, this court agrees with the Fifth Circuit that the court "need not definitely resolve whether Vaughan awarded attorney's fees as an item of compensatory or punitive damages." Guevara, 59 F.3d at 1503. As the Fifth Circuit so aptly stated:
The award clearly has a "make-whole" compensatory aspect and, based upon the facts of Vaughan, the award also has a punitive aspect to the extent that it punished an abuse of the litigation process. . . . The Vaughan award was clearly not a punitive damages award in the tort sense of punishing the underlying conduct that gave rise to the litigation, and the developing case law does not support such a position. . . . Simply put, all we can confidently say about Vaughan is that it entitles an injured seaman to recover attorney's fees--perhaps as part of compensatory damages--when his employer willfully fails to pay maintenance and cure. We cannot definitively conclude, however, that Vaughan establishes any broader principle to support [a] rule that tort-like punitive damages, not limited to attorney's fees, are available in cases of willful nonpayment of maintenance and cure.