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Paul Lopez v. Calumet River Fleeting

May 11, 2012

PAUL LOPEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CALUMET RIVER FLEETING, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Paul Lopez has sued Calumet River Fleeting, Inc. (Calumet). He asserts a claim under the Jones Act and common law claims for Calumet's failure to provide a seaworthy ship and to enforce his right to receive maintenance and cure from Calumet. Lopez has moved for a preliminary injunction reinstating maintenance and cure and increasing the amount of maintenance. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Lopez's motion in part and denies it in part.

Background

Lopez alleges that he worked for Calumet as a deck hand on the tugboat "Krista." On June 10, 2009, while Lopez was working on the boat, he injured his left leg. The injury left him unable to work as a deck hand.

After the accident, Calumet paid Lopez maintenance and cure. Under maritime law, "maintenance" refers to food and lodging, and "cure" involves medical care. See Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404, 129 S. Ct. 2561, 2569 (2009).

Calumet provided regular payment of fifteen dollars per day for Lopez's housing and food and paid for all of his medical bills. Calumet also voluntarily paid Lopez advance wages, intending to deduct the wages from whatever recovery Lopez earned for his injuries. The advance wages were approximately $696 every two weeks.

Lopez filed this suit in September 2011 to recover damages for his leg injury. On February 16, 2012, Calumet informed Lopez that it had concluded it no longer had to pay maintenance and cure and that it would be ending those payments as well as the advance wage payments. Calumet says that it was entitled to terminate the maintenance and cure payments because it learned from Lopez's medical providers that he had reached maximum medical improvement and was no longer entitled to maintenance and cure by law.

Lopez filed a motion requesting that the Court order Calumet to resume paying maintenance and cure. As the parties were briefing the motion, they also discussed Lopez's treatment and the opinions of his doctors. Calumet came to the conclusion that it should reinstate maintenance and cure, and it did so. It did not resume making the voluntary advance wage payments.

Discussion

Although Calumet has reinstated Lopez's maintenance and cure payments, Lopez argues that the Court should order Calumet to increase the maintenance payments and pay him attorney's fees and punitive damages for interfering with the maintenance and cure.

To win a preliminary injunction, a party must show that it has (1) no adequate remedy at law and will suffer irreparable harm if a preliminary injunction is denied and (2) some likelihood of success on the merits. If the moving party meets these threshold requirements, the district court weighs the factors against one another, assessing whether the balance of harms favors the moving party or whether the harm to the nonmoving party or the public is sufficiently weighty that the injunction should be denied.

Ezell v. City of Chicago, 651 F.3d 684, 694 (7th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted).

"Maintenance . . . is designed to provide a seaman with food and lodging when he becomes sick or injured in the ship's service." Vaughn v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 531 (1962). Courts interpret liberally the duty of employers to provide maintenance and cure, and "[w]hen there are ambiguities or doubts, they are resolved in favor of the seaman." Id. at 532. An employer who willfully and wantonly disregards its maintenance and cure obligation can be liable for punitive damages and the attorney's fees incurred by the employee to obtain maintenance and cure. Atl. Sounding Co., 557 U.S. 404, 129 S. Ct. at 2575; Manderson v. Chet Morrison Contractors, Inc., 666 F.3d 373, 382--83 (5th Cir. 2012).

Lopez may be entitled to attorney's fees and punitive damages, but his entitlement is a matter to be addressed at summary judgment or trial, not on a motion for a preliminary injunction. See Manderson, 666 F.3d at 382--83 (considering entitlement to attorney's fees after bench trial); Rose v. Miss Pacific, LLC, No. 3:09-cv-00306-ST, 2012 WL 75028, at *8--9 (D. Or. Jan. 10, 2012) (granting summary judgment on claim for punitive damages); Moore v. Sally J, 27 F. Supp. 2d 1255, 1262 (W.D. Wash. 1998) (finding that plaintiff was entitled to attorney's ...


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