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TAGLIERE v. HARRAH'S ILLINOIS CORPORATION

May 10, 2005.

LUCILLE TAGLIERE, Plaintiff,
v.
HARRAH'S ILLINOIS CORPORATION d/b/a HARRAH'S CASINO JOLIET, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARLANDER KEYS, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a patron in Defendant's riverboat casino, sued Defendant under Federal Admiralty and Maritime Laws, 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1) (West 2005), for injuries suffered while in the casino. Defendant moves to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The Court agrees and, for the reasons set forth below, grants Defendant's Motion.

Background Facts

  On August 19, 2001, Plaintiff, Lucille Tagliere, entered the premises of Defendant Harrah's Illinois Corporation, d/b/a Harrah's Casino Joliet (Harrah's Casino), a riverboat casino, to gamble and otherwise patronize Harrah's Casino. While there, Ms. Tagliere apparently sat upon a chair, fell to the floor, and suffered "severe injuries of a personal and pecuniary nature." Pl.'s Comp. at ¶¶ 11-12. Ms. Tagliere alleges that Harrah's negligence was the direct and proximate cause of her injuries. Id. at ¶¶ 10-12.

  At the time of Ms. Tagliere's accident, Harrah's Casino was a permanently moored riverboat.*fn1 See Aff. Of Brent Willits. On June 26, 1999, the Illinois legislature amended existing laws to allow dockside gambling on moored vessels. Harrah's riverboat has not been used to transport cargo or passengers since that time. Aff. Of Brent Willits.

  Procedural History

  Ms. Tagliere filed suit in federal court on August 10, 2004. The case was originally assigned to Judge David H. Coar. Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on October 26, 2004. On December 3, 2004, the parties consented to proceed before a Magistrate Judge, and the case was reassigned to this Court.

  Discussion

  Plaintiff asserts that this Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to the Federal Admiralty and Maritime Laws of the United States, 28 U.S.C. § 1331(1) (West 2005). Defendant disagrees, arguing that the Seventh Circuit has recently ruled that federal courts do not have maritime jurisdiction over permanently moored casinos, citing Howard v. Southern Illinois Riverboat Casino Cruises, Inc. 364 F.3d 854 (7th Cir. 2004).*fn2

  Defendant overstates the Seventh Circuit's holding. In Howard, the Seventh Circuit analyzed whether an employee injured while working on a moored casino can sue his employer under the Jones Act, 46 App U.S.C.A. § 688(a). Id. at 858. A plaintiff satisfies the jurisdictional requirements of the Jones Act if he can demonstrate that: 1) his duties contributed to the function of the vessel; and 2) he has a "`substantial employment-related connection to a vessel in navigation.'" Id. at 856 (emphasis added) (quoting Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 373 (1995). In focusing upon whether a moored casino riverboat is a vessel in navigation, the court looked to the casino's purpose and actual use. The court concluded that "an indefinitely moored dockside casino with no transportation function or purpose is not a vessel `in navigation.'" Howard, 364 F.3d at 857.

  Notably, the test for determining jurisdiction under the Jones Act is different from the test for determining jurisdiction under general admiralty and maritime law; unlike the dispute presented in the Howard case, the present inquiry does not hinge upon the existence of a "vessel in navigation."

  Traditionally, in determining whether federal admiralty or maritime jurisdiction exists, courts analyzed whether the tort occurred on navigable waters. Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 531 (1995). The United States Supreme Court further refined the test, in Executive Jet Aviation, Inc. V. City of Cleveland, 409 U.S. 249 (1972), by requiring parties seeking federal maritime jurisdiction to also establish that the underlying incident had some connection with maritime activity. Id. at 534.

  Three subsequent Supreme Court opinions further defined the scope of the new "nexus test" announced in Executive Jet. In Foremost Ins. Co. v. Richardson, 457 U.S. 668, 675 (1982), the Court found that the collision of two pleasure boats had the requisite nexus to maritime activity, because of the potentially disruptive impact the collision may have had on maritime commerce, coupled with the traditional admiralty court concern over navigation. In Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358, 362 (1990), the Court restated the nexus test, requiring: 1) the potential disruptive impact on maritime commerce; and 2) the activity giving rise to the incident must bear a substantial relationship to maritime commerce. The Sisson Court instructed that the proper analysis must focus on the general features of the incident involved, and must look at the potential, as opposed to actual, disruption to commerce. Id. at 363.

  Finally, in Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 539 (1995), the Supreme Court again noted that the first prong of the nexus test turned on "a description of the incident at an intermediate level of possible generality." The second prong of the nexus test hinged upon "whether a tortfeasor's activity . . . is so closely related to activity traditionally subject to admiralty law ...


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